Academic Discourse in the Classroom

Instructor: Yuanxin (Amy) Yang Alcocer

Amy has a master's degree in secondary education and has taught math at a public charter high school.

In this lesson, you'll learn how discussions are just as useful in a math class as they are in an English class. You'll also learn some techniques to help you get the most out of your discourse.

Academic Discourse

Academic discourse, or the discussion of a school subject matter, isn't just for English or political science classes. It's also for math classes. It's a discussion that isn't strictly limited to teachers themselves; students also benefit from such a discussion. In fact, as a math teacher, you can incorporate academic discourse into your daily routine in order to help your students with their understanding of math.

Academic discourse increases student learning
academic discourse

Using Questions

So, how can you do this?

First, you can begin by using questions. Not just any questions, but smart questions. Use questions that help understand how your students are thinking and guide your student's thinking towards the right steps. This takes practice, and it requires you to understand your students as well.

When asking students questions, it's important to wait at least three seconds after you've asked a question to let students respond. This allows your students to comprehend your question, think of an answer, and verbalize it. Give even more time for foreign students who need additional time to process the new language. Studies have shown that the longer your wait time, the better your students answer.

Encouraging Thinking

If you set up the right environment, academic discourse encourages your students to think. Tell your students that it's okay for them to ask questions, and smile after your students answer your questions. When students feel comfortable in your classroom, some will take the next step and make learning something they do on their own. You'll see them actively taking in and processing information in their own way. It is these students who will ask questions about what they are learning. These questions may even stump you and encourage you to learn more.

History of Classroom Learning

Education is always changing with emerging research. In the past, education was focused on student memorization. Then studies showed that students learned more if they were given the chance to use and speak what they are learning. So, teachers began asking questions one student at a time, with students giving short answers. Research indicated that the more students use and practice academic language, the better and more proficient they become in it.

This is where academic discourse comes in. Now, it's not about the students giving short answers to a teacher's questions, but it's focused on students actively engaging in academic discussions with the teacher and other students. The more opportunities students have to use and practice what they are learning, the more they will think and learn. A 1970 report found high-achieving students spoke about 55 percent of the time in class while low-achieving students spoke only 20 percent of the time.


There are different techniques that you can use to encourage discourse in your classroom. You can begin the school year by having a discussion with your students about the importance of classroom discussion not just for you but also for them. Then you can encourage participation by restating student observations and asking for more input. Another way to encourage discussion is by changing your intonation and your communication style to match those of your students. When students feel that you are on their level, they are more apt to open up since they will feel that you will understand what they are about to say.


Here's an example to show how you can have a successful academic discourse in your math class.

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