Math Talk – a powerful tool

Gopal Midha

math-talk When we think of a math classroom, the image that comes to our mind is that of students silently scribbling into a notebook with a confused look, practicing questions to become faster at solving them (aka drill work) or loud sing-along memorization of tables. What if there was another way? What if we could talk and learn math?

Math Talk is not a new idea. Lampert and Blunk wrote a wonderful book on this back in 1998. Unfortunately, it is an idea that seems to have been forgotten. It is a good time to bring this idea back to strengthen our classrooms. What is more, it is surprisingly easy to implement.

Most of us don’t talk mathematics. We did not experience it during our schooling. For most of us, math is only about using numbers in a certain way to get the right answers. That is like describing language as using consonants and vowels to spell words correctly. Both language and mathematics are more than that.

But then, how does one talk mathematics? Let us take a math question as an example:
10 – { } = [ ]

Before reading further, why don’t you figure out one value for the curly bracket and one value for the square bracket that makes the statement true.

Now let us add another equation
10 – { } = [ ]
{}+[ ]+[ ] = 13

Do your values work for both? If not, can you try and find out what could be the values for the two kinds of brackets? Be mindful of the strategies that you use. Write them down as you go about solving it. Observe how you feel as you go about it. Take your time. It is worth it.

Got the values? If so, look back and see what strategies you used to find the values. Was it trial and error or was there some reasoning? Is there more than one solution? Why not? Would you solve a similar question differently the next time?

These questions took you back to what happened within you as you solved the questions. And the answers are usually insightful. So, not only did you begin to think mathematically, you also learnt a bit more about yourself. A good education is what gives you both!

The author is doing his PhD at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville. Prior to this, he has worked extensively with schools, state departments and MHRD on projects to strengthen teachers and educational leaders. He may be reached at

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