Talking Counts: An intervention programme to investigate and develop the role of exploratory talk in young children's arithmetic

  • Awarded to: Carol Murphy
  • Co-investigators: Associate Professor Ros Fisher Professor Rupert Wegerif
  • Funding Awarded to Exeter: £ 63,875
  • Dates: 1 January 2009 - 30 April 2010
  • Sponsor(s): Esmée Fairbairn Foundation


The project is in line with recent concerns to enhance pupils’ conceptual understanding of mathematics and confidence with mathematical ideas (Williams, 2008) and the increased interest in the effective use of talk in the mathematics classroom (Ofsted, 2006). It is proposed that early intervention to engage children in mathematics will support them in becoming active learners and improve mathematical understanding.

Studies have shown that, with explicit teaching, the use of exploratory talk has shown clearer conceptual understanding of problems and greater gains in reasoning tasks (Mercer, Wegerif and Dawes, 1999) and in academic achievement such as mathematics (Mercer and Sams, 2006).

In the 'Talking Counts' project two key areas are explored. The first is how explicit teaching strategies prepare young children to use talk in an exploratory way in the specific context of arithmetic. The second is to examine the role of talk in children's understanding of key ideas that underly the 'milestones' in developing calculation strategies.


  • To develop a teaching intervention based on research that will have an impact on the teaching of arithmetic at KS1.
  • To work with practising teachers to develop practical classroom strategies that will encourage exploratory talk within collaborative group work.
  • To analyse the group interactions and the learning of arithmetic that take place through exploratory talk.

Specific Objectives

  • To develop detailed guidelines and a professional development pack for use in teaching through collaborative group work within the specific content of arithmetic at KS1.
  • To evaluate the effectiveness of the teaching approaches through analysis of both quantitative and qualitative data.
  • To evaluate the effectiveness of the professional development pack in transferring the approach from the classrooms in which it has been originated to other schools and classrooms.

Project design and methods

Phase 1: Developing resources (January to April

  • Work with two KS1 teachers to develop collaborative group activities
  • Data collected through baseline standardised tests, diagnostic tasks, video recordings of group work, summaries of teacher meetings, teacher interviews and evaluations
  • Develop a trial set of guidelines and activities

Phase 2: Evaluation and transfer (May to August 2009)

  • Further development of the materials with an additional ten transfer KS1 teachers
  • Evaluate the effectiveness of the trial guidelines and activities
  • Continue to collect data as in Phase 1
  • Develop a resource pack for wider dissemination



Mercer, N. and Sams, C. (2006) “Teaching Children How to Use Language to Solve Maths Problems”, Language and Education, 20(6), 507 - 528

Mercer, N., Wegerif, R. ad Dawes, L. (1999) “Children’s Talk and the Development of Reasoning in the Classroom”, British Educational Research Journal, 25(1), 95-111

Ofsted (2006) The annual report of Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Schools 2005/6, London: Stationery Office

Williams, P. (2008) Independent Review of Mathematics Teaching in Early Years Settings and Primary Schools, Nottingham: DCFS Publications