Discussion Supports [MLR 8]

Plan and support student discussions about mathematical ideas, representations, content, and strategies
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About This Strategy

The Discussion Supports strategy, based on the Open Up Resources Mathematical Language Routine, is a collection of strategies and moves that can be combined and used to support discussion during almost any activity. Academic discussions don't happen naturally; teachers need to plan and support productive talk. To support planning and supporting effective discussions, this strategy includes multi-modal approaches for helping students comprehend complex language and ideas via discussion, and can be combined and used together with any of the other OUR Mathematical Language Routines or BetterLesson Discussion Strategies.

A variety of approaches can be used to support rich and inclusive discussions about mathematical ideas, representations, contexts, and strategies. When there is an opportunity for discussion in a lesson, using purposeful discussion supports can invite and incentivize more student participation, conversation, and meta-awareness of language. This strategy provides guidance to help identify when and how to build student discussion into your lessons, how to provide appropriate support for students during discussion, encourage and structure student participation during discussion, and build in share-outs and reflection after discussion. Eventually, students will become more comfortable using discussion strategies independently to engage deeply in discussions with their peers. 

Implementation Steps

  1. Identify an opportunity in a lesson for student discussion and the purpose of that discussion. In any lesson, students should be given multiple opportunities to:

    • explain and demonstrate about their mathematical thinking, negotiate meaning with others, and collaboratively solve problems. 

    • discuss important concepts of the unit 

    • practice a variety of language functions (for example, justifying claims with evidence, explaining reasoning, critiquing the reasoning of others, and comparing approaches). 

    • pose and answer questions, clarify what is being asked and what is happening in a problem, build common understandings, and share experiences relevant to the topic.

  2. In preparation for a discussion, anticipate where students might need support in understanding concepts or mathematical terms, and provide multiple ways for students to access these terms. Providing visuals or manipulatives, demonstrating problem-solving, engaging in think-alouds, and creating analogies, synonyms, or context are all ways to amplify language so that students can improve their understanding of key terms.

  3. Before beginning student discussion, provide students with 1-2 minutes of quiet think time or writing time to consider their response before they begin discussing with a partner or small group to complete their response.

    • While students are preparing for discussion, circulate and look for students who are "getting it" and/or using a variety of strategies to solve the problem. You can then ask these students to share their strategies if other students are struggling. 

  4. As students share their responses with their partner or group, circulate and encourage listeners to push speakers to use academic language central to the lesson. As you circulate:

    • Remind students of key vocabulary terms, using visuals or pantomime as necessary. Listen for students who use key vocabulary in their discussions and amplify this language by repeating it back or by calling it out. 

    • Revoice student ideas to demonstrate subject-specific language use by restating a statement as a question in order to clarify, apply appropriate language, and involve more students.

    • Encourage students to re-voice their partners' reasoning.

    • Press for details in students' explanations by requesting for students to challenge an idea, elaborate on an idea, or give an example. This is intended to get more participation from students, deepen student understanding, and provide extensions. Encourage thinking aloud, revoicing, and pressing for details (e.g., "How do you know _____ is (or is not) a perfect cube?" "Tell me more about...").

      • Consider using Bounce Cards, a strategy used to support students to engage in dialogue about content in a productive way. Students can choose to "bounce" ideas off what students said, "sum it up" or rephrase what students said, or "inquire" to clarify and understand through questioning. Examples are linked in the resource section below.

    • Show central concepts multi-modally by utilizing different types of sensory inputs: acting out scenarios or inviting students to do so, showing videos or images, using gesture, and talking about the context of what is happening.

    • Practice phrases or words through choral response. 

    • If needed, provide sentence frames to support students with explaining their strategies. For example, "I noticed that ______." or "First, I ________ because ________." 

      • Consider using more content-specific frames as needed to help students produce statements that use mathematical language. For example, "For Triangle __, I chose side ___ as the base because ________." or "The next time I need to find the area of a triangle, the strategy I will use is ________, because ________." or "The surface area of shape _____ is larger (or smaller) than shape _____ because..."

      • Consider providing students with a checklist that lists sentence stems to have students check off how many times they use them.

      • See the "Accountable and Academic Student Talk Stems" strategy in the BetterLesson lab for more suggestions.

  5. If students have an opportunity to share out after the discussion, give students time to make sure that everyone in the group can explain or justify each step or part of the problem. Then make sure to vary who is called on to represent the work of the group so students get accustomed to preparing each other to fill that role. 

    • When students share their answers with a partner, prompt them to rehearse what they will say when they share with the full group. Rehearsing provides opportunities to clarify their thinking.

    • After students have shared their explanations, call on other students to restate and/or revoice their peers' descriptions using mathematical terms. If students are not able to restate, they should ask for clarification. This will provide more students with an opportunity to produce the language needed to describe the final point.

  6. If students have an opportunity to write after the discussion, encourage students to borrow words and phrases from their discussions for their written responses. 

  7. After some discussions, it can be helpful to have students reflect on their own participation during the discussion in order to set goals for future discussions. Consider having students use a rubric to reflect as an individual or as a group on their participation and their use of discussion supports. See the "Accountability Structures: Self or Group Participation Rubric" strategy in the BetterLesson lab for more details and resources.

Tech Tools


  • Padlet is a digital corkboard type tool that students can use to gather information or reflections. Teachers can easily access each student's Padlet with a shared link. 

  • Students can use Padlet as a digital discussion platform to share their approaches to a given problem or question, and to compare their problem-solving strategy with their peers' strategies. 


  • Flipgrid is a video discussion platform great for generating class discussion around topics, videos, or links posted to the class grid. Students can video record their responses to share with the teacher or class.

  • Students can use Flipgrid to share their approaches to a given problem or question via video, and to hear their peers' problem-solving strategies.


Screen Recorder (i.e. Screencast-O-Matic or Screencastify) 

  • Screen recording tools such as Screencast-O-Matic or Screencastify allow students to capture their group work and discussion when using a laptop or tablet. 

  • Recording their group work increases student accountability. While teachers may not watch all screencasts, they can select a few that are strong models to share with the class to help other students understand what great discussion looks and sounds like.