Numeracy: Let’s talk numbers

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By John Spooner class teacher and freelance writer, Norfolk

Raise the profile of speaking and listening in maths with these lively 10-minute games and activities


Children practice making shapes for the build-it game

The National Numeracy Strategy is clear about the importance of speaking and listening in the development of mathematical learning. The document states that: ‘High quality direct teaching is oral, interactive and lively.’ ‘Interactive and lively’ means more than quick-fire questions from the teacher and instant recall from the children. The most effective lessons typically involve a mixture of lower-level questioning (recall of facts), higher-level questioning, and discussion.

Higher-level questioning encourages children to make connections and be creative. In order to respond effectively, children will require longer than the average one second ‘wait-time’ that follows most teacher-directed questioning. Children might be asked to explain how they would estimate or check an answer. They might be asked to describe their method, make generalisations or explain how they’d test a hypothesis. General statements offer a good way of encouraging discussion. Children enjoy the opportunity to disprove a theory – especially if it comes from the teacher! – and need to realise that not all of the patterns they observe can be translated into hard and fast mathematical rules.

Explaining methods and theories can be difficult and children should be encouraged to use diagrams and apparatus to help them. As well as using language structures learned in literacy, such as the use of connectives, they also need to be immersed in the specific vocabulary of numeracy and understand that everyday words such as take away, odd, product and negative have specific mathematical meaning.

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