Stand and Talk

Sumita Jaggar, teacher leader with the Monterey Bay Area Math Project, tells us how to use the "Stand and Talk" activity to engage students in conversations about math concepts or ideas that provide them with enough base understanding to tackle a problem.

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Sumita Jaggar supports new math and science teachers at UCSC, with almost 20 years of experience in middle school, teaching math and science. She also works as a teacher leader with the Monterey Bay Area Math Project.


Hi, my name is Sumita Jagger. I work now supporting new math and science teachers at UCSC, but before that, I worked in middle school teaching math and science for almost 20 years. I also work as a teacher leader with the Monterey Bay Area Math Project. Today, what I’m going to be talking to you about is my favorite activity that I use to both build classroom community and also get students to actually talk about mathematics in math class. It’s called a “Stand and Talk”.

So what we’re going to do in a stand and talk is: students are going to stand up and talk to each other, but they’re gonna talk to each other about something that we provide them. I think this activity is appropriate for upper elementary through grades 12. What you’re going to need is enough handouts for students to work in pairs. Normally on a quarter or a half sheet of paper.

I have done stand and talks using a projected image, but I find when the image is projected students tend to talk less to each other and my goal here is to get students talking as much as possible.

Here are some of the ideas that I use stand and talks with. I might provide a problem stem or an image with a big idea in mathematics. Sometimes I do a same-but-different or a graph minus some of the contextual information. So here are some examples. In this first example, what you can see is a problem and all it has is the problem stem. The question is missing. In this situation, when students talk about the content on that page, what they end up doing is discussing in detail all the nitty gritty pieces of information that are important in that problem and thinking about the context.

Often they’ll already start to solve the problem that you have in mind all before the problem has been provided. The idea is to build students prior knowledge so that when the question is ultimately asked students have enough base understanding of what the problem is about that they can tackle the mathematics involved.

In the second example what you can see is a comparison just building the vocabulary around polygon. In this situation, students will naturally figure out a definition for polygon and they’ll start to talk about their properties all before you ever do your lesson on polygons. The function of the stand and talk in this situation is to get all students on the same page and ready to think about deeper mathematical ideas.

This next example is a same-but-different example that I’ve used to draw out some key ideas and conversation around data. When students compare a histogram and a bar graph, they naturally begin to talk about numerical and categorical data without a lecture from me. They also start to think about what type of information is portrayed in each type of graph, and they’ll even naturally just talk about how those graphs are constructed.

One of my very, very favorite ways to use a stand and talk is to create a graph. I’ll pull any graph from the internet, but what I’ll do is cover up the labels on the axis. Students are so naturally curious and excited to figure out what the graph is about and what they do is they make sense of what’s going on in the data, they look for the trends, they figure out all their contextual clues, and they’re really invested in learning about what the data actually portrays. In this case that I’ve given you, this is a graph about which companies earn the most from video games.

So here’s how you do a stand and talk. First, you have your piece of paper or your handout for each pair of students ready to go. The very first time you do a stand and talk, I spell out direction super clearly. It feels like it takes a long time but, after doing it once or twice, the students really get the hang of it and then you’re able to speed up any future times.

Here’s what I say: “when I’m done talking, I want you to follow my directions exactly. You’re going to take at least 16 steps. Don’t walk around in a circle and don’t stay near your desk. Move 16 steps away from your desk. Bring nothing with you at all. Your hands should be empty and find one other student. There are no groups of three. If you are the odd person out, come and see. You’re going to talk with your partner for two minutes about what I give you. Notice at least 15 things. It’s okay. If you notice something really simple, like what color the paper is or something more complex. If you run out of things to say, it’s okay to repeat yourself, but you must keep talking for two full minutes. You can also talk about what you’re wondering about.”

When you’re done giving the directions, you’re going to call on a student to repeat those directions, to make sure everyone knows what to do. And then you set students standing and talking. They’ll mingle around the room and you mingle with them making sure you have a piece of paper, one piece of paper for every pair of students. If a group of three forms, separate them, help them find another partner.

And once every group has a paper set a timer for just two minutes. When the timer goes off, obviously students are going to return to their seats. After the class has settled, you are going to call on students randomly to share what they talked about. They talked for two minutes, so they have something to share.

Your job here is to keep the conversation flowing, keep the mood light, keep the students talking. It’s okay if they say something simple, but don’t allow students to pass. It’s also okay if they repeat something they heard from somebody else. Do your best in this part towithhold judgment or commentary.

Your idea here is to bring students, invite students into the math classroom, a place where many students haven’t felt comfortable talking. So we don’t want to establish that there’s a right way or a right question to ask. We want to give them praise just for contributing. If you really feel the need to comment on a contribution, what you can do is repeat or rephrase what the student has said.

I think the strategy is really helpful when I’m using a more complicated word problem, and I’m not sure that my students are going to understand the context. I want all of the students to understand what the ideas are in the problem, and some idea of how to start the problem, but we don’t do the problem as a class.

We just get them started and then they have the ability to do the problem. I also feel like the strategy works really well to have students learn, to listen to each other and value each other’s contributions. Once the stand and talk and the follow up discussion is completed, then they’re ready to launch into the main part of the lesson for the day. It might be providing them the rest of the problem or giving a mini topic about something like polygons.

Sarah VanDerWer was the one who came up with this strategy. And if you Google her name, you can find even more information and examples and ideas. I really hope that this strategy is valuable for you in getting students talking about math, have fun.

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