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Mr. Joseph Quinn » Number Talks, what are they and why do them?

Number Talks, what are they and why do them?

What are Number Talks? 

A Number Talk is a vehicle for students to develop efficient, flexible, and accurate computation strategies that build upon the key foundational ideas of mathematics such as composition and decomposition of numbers, our system of tens, and the application of properties.

A Number Talk is a five to fifteen minute discussion in which students verbally share their mathematical thinking as the teacher records the process on the board for everyone to see. They provide structured practice for mental math and promote the value in using mental math to compute. Number Talks teach the importance of being flexible with numbers and using a variety of strategies for computation.

Number Talks are implemented during the "warm-up." The problems and numbers use in the number talks are designed to elicit certain strategies that focus on number relationships, place value, and properties. As students explain and defend solutions, they will have an opportunity to collectively reason about solutions and to make connections between key mathematical structures. These number talks are a key component for students to develop flexibility with numbers.

Number Talks bring to life these standards for mathematical practice:

  • Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others
  • Look for and make use of structure
  • Look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning

One school district did nothing other than implement Number Talks in their classrooms. After only two years, student achievement in mathematics increased dramatically.

The Routine/Procedure

  1. Teacher presents the problem (images and/or horizontal expression or equation) and gives wait time.
  2. Students mentally figure out the answer and give a hand signal that they have at least one solution. Students use fingers to show how many different solution methods they have.
  3. Teacher first calls on students showing 1 finger (indicating they have one solution method). Then teacher calls on other students.
  4. Students share their answers.
  5. Students share their thinking while the teacher records the solution method on the board.
  6. Incorrect solutions and methods can and should be a valuable part of Number Talks.

Teacher Roles:

  • Create a safe environment for learning
  • Plan an appropriate problem (or sequence of problems) and targeted strategies
  • Establish a Number Talks classroom routine/procedure
  • Facilitate meaningful interaction
  • Collect, save and post strategy charts

Benefits of Number Talks

  • Encourages math communication from all students
  • Provides structured practice for mental math
  • Promotes the value in using mental math to compute
  • Promotes the importance of being flexible with numbers
  • Using a variety of strategies for computation

Strategies that Students Might Use

Here is a list of strategies that by the end of the school year, students will be familiar with.