Asking Prompting Questions During Math Instruction: Resources for Teachers

prompting questions during math

Elita has done a great job explaining the three-part math lesson with posts on Bansho, Gallery Walks, and Math Congress. The Literacy and Numeracy Secretariat has an excellent resource on the three-part lesson in math, which also includes a series of webcasts. (Aside: if you haven’t had a chance to visit, I highly suggest you review the many excellent resources that are available on One of the key components of the three-part math lesson is the student collaboration and communication that occurs.   It’s important to note that teachers play a key role in helping students engage in mathematical communication and collaboration.  How can teachers help students contribute during math lessons? This webcast featuring Marian Small is a great starting point: Marian Small: Asking Prompting Questions During Instruction (scroll down to the sixth video…it’s just under 4 minutes long and provides great info).

Some of the key points that Marian Small makes:

  • Generic prompting questions (e.g. “Why do you think that..”, “What did you do here?”) are useful and help students explain their thinking
  • However, it’s really helpful when teachers truly understand the math they are teaching, so that they are able to formulate specific questions based on the concepts being discussed (e.g. “Why did you decide to do it in this order?”)
  • Teachers often ask questions to check for understanding, but they should really be asking questions to initiate thinking (what a great point!)
  • Teachers need to ask themselves: “Why am I doing this? Mathematically what are the kids going to get out of this? What is the important mathematical idea that I want to come out of this?” This line of questioning will really help teachers to develop initiating questions along these important mathematical concepts
  • Look at the types of questions you ask students to solve; for example:
    • “If you cut this shape of the dotted line, what will the two parts look” (this type of question will elicit discussion that is over quickly, with the majority of conversation being “teacher voice”) vs
    • “What shapes can you create by cutting up this shape?” (this type of question is much richer, provides a key ideas for students to explore, and initiate a deeper conversation with much more “student voice”)

The link provided above has other webcasts that would be beneficial for teachers regarding discourse in the math classroom.  The webcasts feature Marian Small, Deborah Ball, Steven Katz, and (my favourite!) Lucy West.

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