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The Teacher Tip

Use Questions to Help Students Understand Mathematical Arguments

July 5, 2018

Adapted from Putting the Practices Into Action by Susan O’Connell and John SanGiovanni. 

The Common Core requires all students to “construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others” – a skill valuable not just in mathematics but in many other areas of life. Learning to understand others’ arguments, decide whether they make sense, and ask useful questions to clarify or improve those arguments can be a challenge for students.

Try this: Frequently ask specific questions as students share their answers in class, including, “Do you agree with…?” “Does that make sense?” “Even though Jen did it differently, does her way work?” As you use questions like these, create student-to-student dialogue rather than relying solely on teacher-to-student discussions (“Do you agree with Katie’s argument? Why or why not?”)

When students critique others’ arguments, they apply their skills as mathematical thinkers to evaluate and assess others’ thinking and, at the same time, extend their own.

To learn more about Putting the Practices Into Action and download a sample chapter, visit

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