Think with your feet – considering maths ideas through Oracy.

Think with your feet is another Oracy activity that enables children to discuss their mathematical ideas. This is more of a whole class discussion which leads the children to consider and perhaps change what they originally thought.

The idea of this is to have a discussion in small groups about a topic. You could use the concept cartoon to begin a discussion. Once you have given enough time to discuss the idea you come back together as a class.

The next step is to divide the classroom up into sections. Each section would be for a different opinion. You could ask for some opinions and ideas first to enable you to create the sections. The children then have to decide for themselves which idea or opinion they agree with. Tell them to think with their feet and they move to the relevant part of the room.

Think with your feet enables children to think for themselves and then re-evaluate their thinking and change their minds.

The teacher then asks a couple of children from each section to explain why they have chosen this idea. On hearing the ideas shared the children are then given the opportunity to change their ideas or opinions. If they do this they are allowed to move again to the relevant section that shares their ideas. Repeat once more asking for ideas. This time you can ask the children who changed their ideas or opinions.

It can be quite revealing and interesting as to what they have discovered and you may learn quite a lot about what the children have picked up from one another and their discussions.

Odd one out – using Oracy activities to support Maths.

Using Oracy enhances learning particularly when children are using discussion to discover a concept for themselves. Using the odd one out activity allows you to check understanding and develop ideas.

This activity can be used as a warm up or in fact in any part of the session. When I plan the odd one out activity I tend to throw in a red herring or have a few ideas going on to give the children the opportunity to discuss their ideas in more than one way.

Using the odd one out activity

Take a look at this odd one out activity. This is for a Year 2 class.

This odd one out activity allows for a discussion about odd and even numbers and one and two digit numbers.

In this particular activity the aim was to encourage the children to talk about why a number could be the odd one out and why. We were thinking about classifying the numbers in different ways. The discussion led children to consider and talk about one and two digit numbers, odds and evens as well as numbers that are divisible by 2.

Valuing different ideas

The beauty of the odd one out activity is there may well be more than one correct answer. This allows your children to think for themselves and be confident that even if they have a different idea it does not mean they are wrong. The talk in this activity encourages children to value one another’s ideas.

All too often children are afraid of getting the answer wrong. They have a belief that is encouraged by our teaching that Maths is all about right and wrong answers. In fact what we want the children to achieve is a mathematical discussion about their ideas as that is where the learning is. Different ideas means we consider other possibilities.

Concept cartoons – how does Oracy support Maths?

We have covered many topics within Oracy and how we can teach skills of speaking and listening to our children. Let’s take one of the Oracy activities – concept cartoons – and see how this can support your teaching of maths.

Using concept cartoons to start a lesson

I tend to use the concept cartoons at the start of a maths lesson. This really unpicks the misconceptions that have come about as a result of previous lessons in a unit of work.

For example, when teaching addition children sometimes make the place value error of reversing the digits. Using concept cartoons enables the children to figure out what went wrong for themselves.

Oracy can really support Maths – encourage children to use a concept cartoon and sentence stems to discuss the misconception.

This is far more powerful than the teacher standing at the front of the class and telling the children where they went wrong. Encouraging discussion about misconceptions means that children will discover what went wrong for themselves. They will unpick their own learning which means their brains make new connections and pathways to connect the learning.

What about the end of a lesson?

You may well decide to use a concept cartoon to further develop a concept you have been teaching in the lesson to end your lesson.

Using concept cartoons at the end of your lesson can really cement the understanding for many children.

Using concept cartoons at the end of your lesson can for some children make all the difference. If you know there is likely to be a misconception that will crop up you can give the children some time to explore the idea in talk partners or trios. The beauty of this is the children have already had the lesson to try out the concept. This discussion then ties up their experience and may well be the difference between leaving the lesson almost there and fully there!


This type of talk is presentational rather than exploratory and with that comes a range of different skills.

There are a range of things to consider when deciding whether to have a debate in class. Firstly, there needs to be a variety of viewpoints or sides of an argument to be debated. Then you need to consider if the children have enough knowledge to enable them to debate a subject. The third thing is that debate brings about a level of competition – some children will love the competition and others will not. Weigh it up and give it a go!

There are a number of different ways to set up a debate and it would be wise to investigate these before you begin. Many debates are set up so there are 2 opposing teams of four speakers. The rest of the class would act as the audience. There is also a chairperson whose role would be to introduce each speaker and organize the floor debate. A time keeper would also be a good role to ensure people stick to time.

Why not show a video clip of a debate before you start so the children have a clear idea of what this should look like.

The right audience

If we always experience the same audience when talking then we get stuck in a comfort zone. Liven this up and provide a number of opportunities to talk to or in front of different audiences. If the children only ever talk to their teacher they will never get up and talk in front of a group of parents. Spice it up and plan for opportunities beyond the classroom.

Below are some suggestions for different audiences:

  • Peers
  • Older
  • Younger
  • Large / small group
  • Expert
  • Live
  • Recorded
  • Familiar – teacher or parent at home
  • Unfamiliar – group of parents or new parent

Providing a context

So if you teach the language needed for the purpose how do you ensure you provide opportunities to use these skills?

Providing opportunities to speak in a variety of contexts will undoubtedly boost confidence and engagement in the children. Opportunities such as these will deepen their subject knowledge as well as their understanding. There are so many different opportunities within the school environment to expose the children to such as teaching a new concept to a peer in Maths or standing up and giving a talk about something you enjoy doing as part of a parents evening.

Check out the various contexts below. Which ones could you incorporate in your lessons?

  • Giving a presentation
  • Podcast
  • Debate
  • Storytelling
  • Tour guide
  • Discussion
  • Conversation
  • Speech
  • Interview
  • Teaching others
  • Playing a game
  • Stand-up comedy
  • Radio broadcast
  • Public service announcement
  • Sports commentary

Why talk?

As adults we talk many times during the day and for a range of purposes. We know how to change our tone and our body language to suit the purpose of the talk that is needed. Children may not yet have the skills to do this so seamlessly.

The purpose for talk is important as it may require a different set of language skills or different body language.

Here are some of the purposes for talk that you could teach your children:

  • To problem solve
  • To challenge
  • To influence
  • To entertain
  • To express yourself
  • To understand and reason
  • To inform
  • To organize and structure ideas
  • To acquire new language
  • To gather and share information
  • To generate ideas and opinions
  • To reach consensus or negotiate
  • To build relationships
  • To analyze and evaluate

Talk Towers

This idea will help children focus on the type of discussion they have had. It will give them a physical way of seeing the quality of their discussion.

What do you do?

Each group will have a set of Lego bricks to represent each child’s contribution to the discussion. When a child has spoken they will add a brick to the group’s tower. Each child will add a brick to the tower after they have spoken provided the contribution built on what was said previously. If the contribution did not build on what was previously said then a new tower is started.

This is quite a powerful exercise as it will demonstrate how successful a group has been and the quality of the discussion. If you have a number of very small towers then you will clearly see that the group were not particularly good at building on others’ ideas. They would then perhaps need to focus on what others’ have said in order to develop one line of inquiry rather than too many.

Fish Bowl

Not the sort with fish in it!

The idea of this is to set up two circles – an inner circle and an outer circle. The inner circle have a discussion while the outer circle listen to the discussion. The outer circle give feedback about the discussion after having observed it.

The focus for the outer circle is observation and listening skills. You can ask them to focus on specific things such as summarize what they have heard or perhaps ask them to have a focus linked to the Oracy Framework.

Filming discussions

A great way to give the children awareness of their discussions is to film them. It can be very enlightening to review a discussion by watching it back. I did this with a class to demonstrate to them that when they all talk at once nothing is achieved. They were quite taken aback at how this looked and how ineffective this was. From watching this film we were able to discuss what we should be doing and put things in place to learn from this and move forward. We used tokens for the children who dominated the talk and when we filmed the children a second time the discussion flowed much better enabling more children to have a turn talking.