Education Endowment Foundation:EEF blog: Promoting high-quality talk in Maths

EEF blog: Promoting high-quality talk in Maths

Maths Content Specialist, Kirstin Mulholland introduces TOLD,” an acronym to encourage productive talk in Maths
Kirstin Mulholland
Kirstin Mulholland
Associate for school engagement and evidence use

Talk with the person next to you…”

As a teacher, I must have said these words thousands of times. Yet, when I reflect upon my practice, I wonder whether I gave the pupils the support, guidance, and even the range of opportunities they needed to effectively use talk to promote their mathematical understanding.

Blog •3 minutes •

There is a wealth of evidence which indicates that talk can play an important role in supporting learning. This is reflected in multiple recommendations across the EEF’s Improving Mathematics in the Early Years and Key Stage 1’ and Improving Mathematics in Key Stages 2 and 3’ guidance reports.

Other research, such as Howe et al. (2019), also highlights the significance of encouraging pupils to query and elaborate upon each other’s ideas, as well as supporting all pupils to engage in classroom dialogue.

So, how exactly can we approach promoting high-quality talk in our maths lessons?

It may be useful to begin by considering four key principles for encouraging productive talk in maths. These can be remembered using the acronym TOLD’:


T: Take Part

In order for high-quality talk to impact upon learning, we first need to ensure that all pupils take part. Reflecting upon my own experiences with the classes I’ve taught, I can identify many children who required encouragement to engage in discussions, as well as others who needed support with developing their listening skills.

It may be useful to scaffold pupils’ discussions, by directly inviting contributions from particular pupils.

It may also be necessary to establish clear expectations around participation, as well as prompting pupils to reflect on the quality of their discussions and whether all group members were able to contribute effectively.

O: Opportunities

There are many ways to provide opportunities for rich mathematical discussions. For example, Recommendation 2 of the EEF’s Improving Mathematics in the Early Years and Key Stage 1’ advocates using storybooks and games to discuss mathematical concepts, strategies and ideas. We can also encourage children to work on shared problems and tasks that elicit collaboration and discussions about learning.

When using opportunities such as these to discuss mathematical concepts, it is important to identify key questions and discussion points in advance to maximise the potential for learning. It is also useful to consider how we can increase opportunities for dialogue through open-ended questions such as How did you…?’ or Why does this…?’ which seek to gather a range of possible responses from pupils.

L: Links

Evidence suggests that supporting pupils to elaborate upon both their own responses, and those of their peers, can be particularly beneficial in promoting learning. To achieve this, questions such as, Who can build on what has been said here?’ support pupils to make links between their own ideas, and those of others in order to extend their thinking around mathematical ideas.

D: Debate

Evidence from Howe et al. (2019) emphasises the importance of allowing pupils to share and explain contrasting opinions and viewpoints. We can promote this through prompting pupils to debate whether key statements are true, false, or sometimes true. We can also provide worked examples to encourage pupils to compare and contrast multiple approaches and strategies. This allows for discussion about the advantages and challenges of different choices, supporting pupils to critically evaluate these, and deepen mathematical understanding which can inform their future actions.

Next time I want the class to: Talk with the person next to you…” I will try to consider how I can ensure pupils can take part’ with rich opportunities’ to make links’ to extend their thinking and debate’ challenging ideas.

This framework offers a support for teachers, helping us to identify opportunities to enhance pupils’ communication skills and explore mathematical ideas through high-quality talk.


Howe, C., Hennessy, S., Mercer, N., Vrikki, M., & Wheatley, L. (2019) Teacher – Student Dialogue During Classroom Teaching: Does It Really Impact on Student Outcomes?’, Journal of the Learning Sciences, 28(4 – 5), pp. 462 – 512.
DOI: 10.1080/10508406.2019.1573730