We recently asked a group of experienced Investigations teachers the following question: How do you think about creating a math community? What’s critical, particularly at the beginning of the year? In Part 1, we shared their thoughts about setting up the classroom, organizing the math materials, and establishing and maintaining norms. Here, we share their thoughts about Math Workshop and discussions – two structures they cited as critical to a successful and productive math learning community.

Math Workshop

One of my biggest challenges during Math Workshop is keeping the flow going, keeping everyone engaged. I need to circulate and keep everyone on task but also I want to have everyone be independent enough so that I can really look and see what the kids are doing (or not doing). I try to support them with good questions and really have a dialogue that gets at their mathematical thinking and helps them clarify their ideas and come to a deeper understanding. – K teacher

I go over the Workshop with students – what materials, how to use them, what is expected. I give them a second to settle down and get started, and then I walk around to figure out what students are doing, how they’re doing, and to check on students who might need a little bit more help. Sometimes I pull a group to play a game or do an activity with me. I love that things repeat because students are seeing ideas in different formats, getting the same skills again, and they’re building new strategies and understandings. Normally students pick, and I say pick at least two. And if it’s a game that we’ve practiced two or three sessions ago and that they’ve done repeatedly sometimes I say, “If you really love this game you can pick this but I really want you to work on the new one(s) too, because we really need to get a handle on those.” – 1st grade teacher

The key to Workshop is to not get caught up in spending too much time with students who are needy. I encourage and move on, really pushing them to take what they know and do their best to persevere through a problem. This develops confidence and independence in them so they can better solve unique problems. I always take time at the end of the Workshop for a discussion to reinforce the learning target, clear up misconceptions, and give the kids a chance to hear/see the way their peers solved some problems. This all takes practice, patience, and time. At the beginning of the year, I do give a little more support, then gradually lessen my support. – 3rd grade teacher

Before our first Math Workshop time, we go over the norms for success. I make an anchor chart with “looks like, sounds like, feels like” so students know what the expectations are. At the beginning of the year, I check in with all students frequently to make sure they are on task and being productive. As the year goes on, I trust that students are doing what is expected, so I can focus my attention on students who need help. – 5th grade teacher


My goal is equitable representation, making sure that everyone has a voice. And Turn and Talks help with that. Everyone gets a chance to talk to their neighbor and express their mathematical ideas and reasonings, and gets practice listening to someone else’s ideas. Any time I can get a volley and dialogue between students, that’s a good thing. It can be challenging in kindergarten, but it’s really important to help kids talk to each other. I support that in a variety of ways – a cue to look at the person who’s talking, to show them that you’re listening, or a reminder to speak with a big voice and try their best to explain what’s going on their head. With repeated practice, they get better and better. – K teacher

To have productive math discussions, students are asked to turn and talk or have a solved problem in front of them to refer to before sharing with the class. As I observe them at work, I jot down ideas I want to reinforce and make sure these students share at some point. This helps students to see that there is more than one approach and that everyone’s ideas are important. I also ask students to repeat or explain what someone else said. I ask questions like, “Who can add on?” “Did anyone else try it this way?” and “Who did it a different way?” I encourage risk taking and make a big deal when that shy student takes a risk. My responses are always positive as well – “I like the way you thought about that,” “I can tell you really worked hard on your solution,” etc. – 3rd grade teacher

I teach expectations for class discussions. This includes hand signals for “I agree” (me too) and “I respectfully disagree” (students cross their fingers – American sign language for the letter R). Students know to show these signals close to their heart and not wave their hands in the air. Using these signs is helpful to the teacher, because I can quickly see how the students are thinking about a problem. It is helpful to the students, because they can quietly and privately share their opinion, and are not interrupting the explanation of the student who is sharing their thinking. – 4th grade teacher

Right off the bat I try to model respect for students, and have high expectations that they do the same. Without respect, the classroom will not be a safe place for students to share their thinking and take risks. I am very open with students about things that are a struggle for me or mistakes I’ve made. By showing that everyone makes mistakes, students feel safe. There are also some great growth mindset picture books that we read and discuss to emphasize this idea. – 5th grade teacher

We are thankful to the teachers who contributed, and hope these varied ideas are helpful to readers, looking for solutions that work in their classroom. 

Megan Murray
Tag(s): class discussion | classroom culture | Math Workshop | tips |