Stretching, sliding and strategy: Indexicality in algebraic explanations

Susan Staats, Chris Batteen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


In this study, we describe the linguistic expression of strategy in explanations of algebraic procedures. Stating the steps of an algebraic procedure does not require a student to indicate the relationship between different mathematical actions, but describing algebraic strategy does. The coordinated nature of strategic proficiency suggests that linguistic forms known as indexical language, “ pointing words” that link speech to context, may be fundamental resources for expressing this type of competence. A class of first-year university mathematics students developed a habit of reporting procedures that we consider a speech genre. The classroom genre emphasised procedural explanations, but when students expressed strategic competence, they often relied on indexical language. Indexical verbs of motion like slide and drop proved to be a particularly efficient means of expressing algebraic strategies. This informal speech style extended the communicative capacity of the classroom speech genre, and allowed classmates to participate better in strategic mathematical reasoning.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)57-71
Number of pages15
JournalResearch in Mathematics Education
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2009


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