Math Talk/Number Talks


Number talks are brief discussions (5–15 minutes) that focus on student solutions for a single, carefully chosen mental math computation problem. Students share their different mental math processes aloud while the teacher records their thinking visually on a chart or board. It is effective because:

  • students move away from memorization and toward mathematical reasoning;
  • students verbalize their reasoning to each other;
  • students are exposed to multiple strategies to solve the problem; and
  • feedback is immediate, either from the teacher or other students.

What do they look like?

  1. Present the class with a problem (students are seated in a common area with no math tools).
  2. Give think time. Use silent signals to encourage all students to think and respond.
  3. Call on a student. Have the student explain their thinking and then give their answer. Focus on the process not the answer.
  4. Offer the strategy to the class. Students will elaborate (if correct) or ask questions (if misguided).
  5. Invite other students to share their strategies.

Try using “hands-free” questioning. Once we call on a student to answer out loud, all other stduents are done thinking.

Teachers capitalize on this by:

  • asking provocative questions;
  • providing safe opportunities for students to verbalize reasoning ;
  • not providing judgement or answers too quickly—stepping back from the role of the expert in the room;
  • embracing and capitalizing on erroneous reasoning;
  • providing opportunity for all students to think;
  • allowing enough wait time;
  • using hands-free questioning;
  • allowing students time to think and then respond quietly to partners rather than out loud to the class;
  • explicitly teaching students how to have group conversations, to ask each other to elaborate, to ask clarifying questions, to invite contributions from others;
  • restating student thinking and encouraging conjecture and predictions; and
  • asking students to agree/disagree/explain reasoning.

Further Reading:

  • Fraction Talks
  • Humphreys, Cathy and Parker, Ruth. (2015). Making Number Talks Matter: Developing Mathematical Practices and Deepening Understanding, Grades 3-10. Stenhouse Publishers.
  • Parrish, S. (2010). Number Talks: Helping Children Build Mental Math and Computation Strategies. Sausalito, CA.: Math Solutions.
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