Education Endowment Foundation:‘Talk’ me through TOLD: four key principles for encouraging high quality talk in mathematics lessons

‘Talk’ me through TOLD: four key principles for encouraging high quality talk in mathematics lessons

North London Alliance Research School
North London Alliance Research School

North London Alliance Research School introduces their latest Clip from the Classroom, which illustrates the TOLD principles in action. The TOLD acronym neatly summarises four key principles for encouraging high quality talk in mathematics lessons to deepen learning. 

Blog •3 minutes •

It’s fair to say that more talk’ does not necessarily result in more learning for all’. It’s the quality of the talk that counts!

Easier said’ than done’

It’s important to create a classroom culture where all voices are counted, and all learners can contribute equally.

Making sure all pupils Take Part’ in productive mathematical talk is crucial but it can be easier said’ than done’. Walshaw and Anthony (2008) cite a number of studies suggesting that particular pupils often dominate discussion in the mathematics classroom. This is something we’ve probably all experienced as teachers. Encouraging equal participation among all pupils can be tricky to navigate.

So, how can we promote equal contribution and increased participation in our mathematics lessons?

In this Clip from the Classroom, Beth Worlock, Mathematics Lead at Torriano Primary, suggests that: We need to invest in teaching talk to help reap the rewards of mathematical learning. Teachers play a pivotal role in modelling productive discussions and need to create effective conditions for talk in the classroom.”

She talks through some strategies they’ve found useful at Torriano Primary:

1) Establish talk guidelines from day one

Agreeing a shared set of talk guidelines with your class is the first step to doing this. It supports the teaching of speaking and listening skills, as well as promoting independence and participation. It establishes the culture and clear expectations so that all pupils understand what high-quality talk looks – and sounds – like, right from the outset.

Take time at the beginning of the year to practise using talk guidelines in partner or group talk scenarios such as trios.

Guidelines 003 page 0001
An example of Early Years Foundation Stage talk guidelines

2) Plan and model sentence stems

Sentence stems are a great way to begin because they help teachers to get into the habit of prioritising talk, with everyone taking part, while framing mathematical reasoning in a coherent way.

3) Talk ratios

Modelling effective talk ratios in a group and explicit strategies to help challenge or build upon a partner’s views are essential in establishing good talk habits.

4) Participation reflection

In addition, giving children time to independently reflect on their own participation or the participation of their peers is another way of creating equity in talk.

Better together

When we combine known strategies such as mathematical sentence stems in the context of well-practised groupings, we start to make the talk work’ as it increases equity in participation but also enables us to grapple with the important task of revealing mathematical thinking.

Our video is designed to provide a helpful snapshot of key strategies for each TOLD principle to enhance talk as a tool for mathematical learning in the classroom. Seeing examples of practice in action can be really valuable for teachers, helping us to review and reflect upon our approach. We hope this video helps you to think about what is working well for the pupils that you teach, and areas you might want to further develop. 

TOLD - Key Principles for Teaching High Quality

Further reading:

EEF (2020) Improving Mathematics in Early Years and Key Stage 1 guidance report

EEF (2017) ​Improving Mathematics in Key Stages 2 and 3 guidance report

Mulholland, K. (2023). TOLD: Four evidence-informed principles to promote high-quality talk in maths [EEF blog].

Walshaw, M., & Anthony, G. (2008). The teacher’s role in classroom discourse: A review of recent research into mathematics classrooms. Review of Educational Research, 78(3), 523