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Math Discourse- Sentence Stems

Student Led Discourse- Step 1: Sentence Stems

Our discourse is student led. In my crew (that’s what I call my class), students do the heavy lifting in the discourse. What I mean is, they do the noticing, they ask the questions & they even call on one another. The number one question I get asked is, How do you get students to talk like that?”

Answering that question isn’t simple! However, one of the first things I use is sentence stems. I use sentence stems to teach students how to have a student led discourse and then use them to dive deep into our math content. We start slow. I don’t put all of the sentence stems up all at once. Instead, I roll them out a few at a time. Then we practice. Once we’re good at using those and ready for the next challenge I add more. The first sentence stems I roll out are general and teach students the act of participating in discourse. While students are learning to participate in discourse I teach them the routines and expectations of discourse. After we have the culture of our discourse established start a diving to analysis of math content by asking questions, comparing strategies and more.

Here’s a typical roll out of Sentence Stems during Math Discourse…

The sentence stems “I notice” and “I wonder” are the first set of statements I teach my students. These very general statements allow our discourse to go in many directions. These sentence stems allow all students to contribute something which communicates our value of all voices and ideas are welcome and worthy in discourse. I use these to teach students the essentials of a discourse- the norms, how to call on one another, active listening expectations.

Next, I give students sentence stems to describe their own work. Students describe how they solved by telling what they did and why they did it. I’m often prompting “tell us what and why” while students use these sentence stems.

After students can describe their own work I introduce sentence stems to get them comparing and contrasting strategies and models. We start to work on proving thinking with evidence from the math model.

The main thing to remember is to ease into the sentence stems with no pressure. So, if a student has their own idea and doesn’t use a sentence stem- great! If a student isn’t sure what to ask then a sentence stem is there to help. They are resources for when needed.

Real Life Problem Solving:

Are your students still not talking? Try pointing to the display of sentence stems and saying something like, “Can anyone explain how their strategy was different? You might use this sentence stem to start… (Point to: “I used the same strategy but” or “I solved differently”.)

How do I even start? Get your students in a circle (standing, seated, socially distanced). The ask them to talk about something they will love (dogs? Food? Sports?). After a few minutes stop them and reflect. How did we do with participation? Taking turns? Sharing the mic?

Discussion Norms! As one of your first student led discussions ask students what they think a discussion should look like, sound like & feel like. Let them discuss and you take notes to refer back to! Use this to create some norms or ground rules everyone can agree on!

Virtual Learning?? I know, I get it. We are all struggling with how school will look this year and how we can ensure high quality instruction even if we are teaching virtually. Personally, I’ll still be teaching students how to engage in discussions even online. I’ve created some slides with sentence stems that you’ll be able to use when teaching online.

Ready to Start?

If you’d like to try out Student Led Discourse and want to grab my sentence stems visit my TPT store. You can grab the fully editable color & black and white versions there for only $2!

If you use these let me know! I get so excited knowing that students are talking and leading their learning across the country!

Let’s Connect!

I’d love to connect with you monthly, with freebies, tips and tricks from my own classroom to yours. Just leave your email and name below. As a thank you I’ll send you a free math warm up to use in your classroom today!

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Hi, I'm Mona!

I help 1st – 5th grade teachers like you develop a classroom that lays the foundation for engaging and rigorous student led math instruction.

Learn more about me and how I can help you here. 

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5 Steps to a Student Centered Math Class!

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