Number Talks: First in a series

Number talks:  This is the first in a series of blogs on number talks.

Number talks are everywhere in elementary classrooms!   There are numerous blogs, books, videos, and talks on number talks.   There are even many definitions.  The one I like  comes from our Curriculum Lead, Brian Bushart:   “A number talk is a powerful tool for helping students develop computational fluency because the expectation is that they will use number relationships and the structures of numbers to add, subtract, multiply and divide.”   I like to add “and it’s fun, because we are playing with the numbers”.  

A number talk is NOT:

  • A time to teach how to do something.  Occasionally, I will slip a “lesson” in to show a strategy I want to highlight.  It takes the form of “I once saw a student named Oscar solve a problem like this in this way:___________”   I am very stingy in using this, because a strategy or way of thinking is more powerful if it comes from the students.
  • A story problem….these are great opportunities for talking and learning, but they are not number talks.  
  • Computing on paper–although some students may need a sticky note for “holding onto” thinking.  This is a support for differentiation as your students may need it.
  • Long…not more than 10-15 minutes.
  • A time to “correct” student thinking.  Again, as students discuss their thinking, it is far more powerful to glean that “aha!” moment from their peers.

A number talk IS:

  • A numbers only math problem carefully selected by the teacher  to provide practice on a specific skill.
  • A single problem, OR a string of related problems.
  • Dot arrangements-yes these are for students of all ages!  
  • An opportunity for students to try out and make sense of the thinking of others.
  • Mental computation
  • Formative assessment-and you will learn a LOT about your students’ thinking!

Getting Started:  

If you have never included a number talk in your math time, be kind to yourself and start small.  Like one every week to week-and-a-half.  As you get more comfortable with number talks, you can plan them more frequently.  Most teachers I work with plan them about 3 times a week.  

  • Planning:  The Why, the What, and the How.
  • Establishing norms in your classroom so that number talks are “safe”
  • Setting up the routines in your classroom
  • How to record your number talks.
  • How to gather data throughout the number talks.

Share you have learned with others so that number talks spread!

Some favorite resources for Number Talks:

  • Number Sense Routines, by Jessica Shumway
  • Making Number Talks Matter, by Cathy Humphreys and Ruth Parker
  • Number Talks, by Sherry Parrish.  This one has TONS of possibilities, as well as a DVD of sample number talks with real kids.  
  • Follow #NumberTalks on Twitter!  Then follow some of the folks there!



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