Research School Network: The importance of oracy in maths Tracey Adams, Assistant Director of St Matthew’s Research School, explores the benefits of prioritising oracy in maths teaching.


The importance of oracy in maths

Tracey Adams, Assistant Director of St Matthew’s Research School, explores the benefits of prioritising oracy in maths teaching.

by Research Schools Network
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As the Maths Lead at St Matthew’s Research School, I have always had a clear vision for mathematics teaching. I wanted to immerse our children in the creativity of maths, alongside giving them the language to be able to effectively and confidently communicate their understanding of key concepts and reasoning. 

Recommendation Two in the Improving Mathematics in Early Years and Key Stage One’ guidance report suggests that practitioners should Create opportunities for extended discussion of mathematical ideas with children’. 

This is at the very heart of what I consider to be high quality teaching of maths, across all phases. I also believe it is vital for developing children’s metacognition – their thinking about how they learn successfully in maths.

This link between oracy and maths is also tied to one of Kilpatrick et al.’s 1 five strands of mathematical proficiency – adaptive reasoning’ – where we look at developing our children’s capacity to think logically, reflect, explain and justify. So, how can we make space for oracy within our maths teaching and what will it look like?

Our initial starting place was to develop a consistent language and approach to teaching oracy, across all curriculum areas. As part our implementation journey, we:

- explored what oracy is;
- established and agreed goals around what talk would look and sound like for pupils and teachers; and
- identified key ways we would develop oracy in our classrooms, such as through Think, Pair, Share’.

It was also important to look at subject-specific talk. Laura Resnick, in the Educational Practices Series Accountable Talk’ 2, discusses the fact that we have to create opportunities for children to use talk within disciplines like maths, humanities and science, otherwise the knowledge our children have or are developing will remain static and unused’. 

Each subject that we teach has its own language and maths is no exception. To become fluent in a spoken language, learners need to be able to think in that language. It is the same in maths: we need to think in, speak in, and express ourselves in mathematical terms. We therefore need to provide opportunities for children engage in dialogue and argue about their ideas. This supports the unpacking of Maths and the unfurling of Maths language skills.

Here are some strategies to support children to speak like mathematician:

1. Encourage children to explore problems alongside their peers, through paired talk. Think carefully about the problems you present. Do they encourage discussion? Are there multiple answers for children to explore? Link this talk to manipulatives, encouraging children to represent and explain their thinking.


2. Give children a framework to support their talk around the maths they are encountering. Use sentence stems and model applying key vocabulary to describe and explain what they can see.


3. Start with a book. They are great for stimulating discussion around the mathematical concepts that can be seen in the images. Plan for these encounters, so that you can get the most out of them. Think about the questions you will ask before, during and after reading the book. Ensure the pictures represent the concepts you wish to explore; be clear about the vocabulary you will model and support the children to use, and where possible, ensure the images (contained within the book) are diverse and inclusive.


See recommendation 2 of the Improving Mathematics in Early Years and Key Stage 1’ guidance report for more on meaningful use of storybooks in maths.

If we want to support our children to engage with maths, then oracy is a key tool. As practitioners, we need to model, model, and model the talk we want to see, giving our pupils multiple opportunities to reflect, explain and justify, using the vocabulary linked to the concepts we are teaching.


1. Kilpatrick, J., Swafford, J., & Findell, B. (2002). Adding it up: Helping children learn mathematics. The National Academies Press.

2. Resnick, L. B., Asterhan, C. S., & Clarke, S. N. (2018). Accountable talk: Instructional dialogue that builds the mind. Geneva, Switzerland: The International Academy of Education (IAE) and the International Bureau of Education (IBE) of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

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