Getting Kids to Talk Math

Hey friends!!  Just popping in to chat a little about MATH TALK!  I completely admit that looking back I used to kinda stink teaching math.  You sit, listen to me teach, now go practice it on your own….you know how to do it, right? Yes, shameful head shrug!  I have told you a few times that I have this new LOVE for math.  We PLAY, we TALK, we get LOUD, we hold our friends ACCOUNTABLE, we EXPLORE, we REASON, we DEFEND ourselves…..we DO MATH TALK!  This quote below has been around, but it now screams at me!

My students can memorize numbers but will memorizing a 7 really tell you how many more make 10? We can know 2+3=5 but truly understanding that 2 is a part and 3 is the other and only once they are put together they are 5.  Or, how about this one…that thirteen is 10 and 3 not a 1 and 3.  I also admit that I am NOT a master math whiz…but I listen to my kids and I learn from them!  I could quote you again…you know that a great teacher teachers from the heart, not a book 😉  A math book does not know MY kids, but no fear because WE know them just fine!  I wanted to share this video with you of a few math routines/activities from my classroom!  They are raw so you’ll hear normal kid chatting, kids correcting other kids for not sitting on the carpet and more!  After you watch the video I’ll explain each part!

Awhile back I shared about my “partner teach.”  When we come to the math carpet each day students always make their way down WITH their partner then they sit down.  This helps eliminate the whole hey you are sitting there and my partner needs to.  It also helps build that relationship…a true partnership!  You noticed in the video I quote some of the things the students were stating to each other…”Do you agree?”  “Good job!”  I also shared the video where the partner said, “You have nothing to say?”  It’s amazing when you hear the KIDS saying exactly what you would say!
Along with working with their partner at the carpet each group plays their math games together as well. This year I’ve also started having the partners work on their independent paper together and it has worked wonders!  Before I started this I felt like I was quickly circulating around the room…helping those that were struggling, getting the fast finishers started, redirecting behaviors, etc, etc!
However, now the kids work with their math partners which wipes out most if not all my previously stated woes.  1) Their math partner is around the same level if not slightly higher…between the two they can usually always work through a “stumped moment.”  2) When the partners finish their sheet they place it into the cubby and grab the assigned math center and get started on that without me waiting for two students to finish in order to make a pair for a math center.  3)  I have taught the students how to hold one accountable during this independent work time and they honestly strive to work hard for each other…of course there are those exceptional times where there is a behavior issue, but for the most part the behaviors are eliminated.

See snap shots of the partners in action below!  Notice…just with a couple of shots you see both students fully engaged on the sheet…you see them pointing and touching to what they are discussing.



Here is another video of the students doing a partner oral counting routine…

A big part of math talk is the kids explaining their reasoning!  This is something that I don’t think is natural to most people.  Can you imagine being asked to explain your reasoning for everything?  Can you explain why you wore that?  Tell me more about why you stayed up late last night?  Yeah…we wouldn’t like it!  So, I remember this and know that it is a learning process for kids.  They first need to really understand a concept BEFORE they can explain their reasoning.  However, it usually takes them little time and they are explaining allllll about it!  Asking questions that lead to this explaining help as well; “How do you know?”  “How did you get that answer?”  Also, rephrasing what they’ve said but taking it a bit further,”So, what you are saying is…..”
The video above was kind of hodgepodge so I will explain a sample math day:

-Meet at carpet with partners
-Oral Counting with partners
-Number Sense {one more/one less} {Making Ten}
-Fluency Activity {Roll One more, Ten Frames in a Snap, etc} – -Leave carpet with partners
-Meet back at carpet with partners
-Main lesson focus for the day {whole-group}
-Explore the new lesson with partners –Leave carpet
-Meet back at carpet for explanation of independent practice
-Work on independent practice sheet with partners –Leave carpet
You can see we leave the carpet SEVERAL times!  I have found that this increases their stamina.  If you have my KinderMath unit that is where I get all of my number sense/fluency activities!  If you don’t have it…you can click below to view the unit.  It is a GROWING packet which means I will continue to add lessons as the year progresses 🙂

I LOVE making math partnerships fun too!  There are so many great Kagan ideas for parnters.  One of my favorites is called mirrors.  That is when two partners turn to face each other…one is the first leader..the other mimics everything they do. To set the “mood” you play music!  Below are two of my favorites…this did take a lot of modeling on my part and yes there are rules when it comes to having fun too 😉

This first one is has a funky beat…just the song don’t show the image on the video?!?! HA!

And you of course have to do some ballet…

I also love having the kids turn and talk about other things that have nothing to do with school!  It is important that they enjoy their time with their partners…I have them share their favorite foods, what animal they would like to be, etc.

I would LOVE to hear how your talking math in your classroom…until next time….


  1. A few questions:

    1. How long is your math block (for the math routines mentioned above)? If possible, could you break down how long each activity normally takes for you? Do you do separate math tubs with students as well (aside from whole group and partner practice as mentioned above)?

    2. I may have missed this- but are students picking their partners, or do you pre-assign? If you pre-assign, do they keep their partners all year long?

    This is great! Math is my week area. I feel like I just got into this sweet spot with literacy. Math is my new focus now! So looking forward to more math tidbits from you. 🙂

    1. Hi there! My math block is an hour each day…what I mentioned above takes about 50 minutes and math tubs are at the end of the math block. As you noticed I move pretty quickly through the routines, etc. When I send the kids back to work with their partners on the activity I give them from 7-10 minutes. I pre-assign my groups! I have it most successful to group a high with a medium-high, and a below level student with a lower-on level. Due to all that I pick the partners! 🙂 So exciting to hear that you have found your path in literacy!!! 🙂

  2. I had to grow in teaching Math as well. And I found out that even though I don't like Math personally, I do enjoy teaching it. Math Talk was something that I worked hard to instill last year, along with Math small groups. When I finally implemented the small groups (I didn't start until end of 2nd quarter), I felt bad because I realized the value in them! I felt like I had robbed the kiddos. But we kept rolling along and that love for teaching Math grew and grew. So I share your excitement about teaching Math!

  3. I know this might sound silly but what do you do if someone's partner is off school for the day or even a week. Do they join another partnership or do they work solo? I love this idea just want to work out those little kinks 🙂
    Thanks Sheri.

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