If you are a classroom teacher at any grade level, I encourage you to make number talks a regular part of your daily math routine. If you’re not sure what this means or what a number talk looks like, I’ve got you covered. In this article, I will share a basic overview of number talks, why they are so important and how you can get started.
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What are Number Talks?
First of all, let’s talk about what a number talk is. A number talk is a quick time of mental math practice for your students to focus on developing skills and strategies around math operations (addition, subtraction, multiplication or division).
They should only last about 10-15 minutes, but can (over time) produce deep and meaningful changes in how your students approach and think about numbers and operations.
If this sounds like just another fad or yet another thing to add to your already full plate, I’d encourage you to consider why these brief mathematical conversations will be so beneficial to your students.
Why Incorporate Number Talks in the Classroom:
I could probably go on and on about the benefits of number talks and all the different ways to incorporate them, but today I will just hit on the what I believe are the biggest benefits.
Which of these would be most impactful for your students?
1. Number talks teach kids to think like a mathematician.
Talking about math is essential. It’s what mathematicians do. While students may think that mathematicians simply sit around working out computation problems, that’s not at all an accurate picture.
Mathematicians ask big questions, come up with ideas, look for answers and talk about it with other mathematicians.
We know that scientists come up with theories (or hypotheses) and then test them. Mathematicians do the same thing. Their ideas are called conjectures. They then prove them by reasoning (or talking) about them using logic in order convince other mathematicians.
Related: 10 Things Every Good Mathematician Should Do
2. Number talks help kids develop a conceptual understanding.
All too often, kids focus on formulas and algorithms without actually understanding what or why they do them. By seeing multiple methods of solving the same problem (mentally), kids have a deeper understanding of the math and their own ideas are then solidified.
This is not to say that there’s anything wrong with formulas, they are certainly helpful and efficient. But they don’t show or explain the meaning behind the math that kids are doing.
Developing a conceptual understanding, on the other hand, will help kids to actually understand and make sense of the formal algorithms.
3. Number talks give kids the opportunity to make connections & come up with their own strategies.
When you present a problem to students that is new or just a little ahead of where you are in your current curriculum, it gives kids the opportunity to think about and apply what they already know to something new.
This helps them to bridge the gap and form connections in their brain. It also challenges them to come up with their own strategy because no one has yet told them “this is how you do it.” You might think that kids won’t be able to do that and it will leave them frustrated. But I think you’ll be surprised and just how creative and free kids are when they can approach a problem in their own unique way (I’ve seen it over and over again!)
4. Algorithms and formulas apart from understanding leads to nonsensical reasoning and solutions.
In a number talk, kids are forced to think about not only how to solve the problem, but justify their reasoning and think about whether the answer actually makes sense.
If kids are only shown a particular strategy or formula to follow, they don’t have to give any thought to whether or not it makes sense.
Thus, they will often think of them as arbitrary, and no longer think about what they’re doing or what their final answer is in a logical way. This can lead to answers that are clearly not right or don’t make sense, but kids don’t think about that.
5. Number talks strengthen mental math skills.
This should be fairly obvious, because number talks focus on solving problems mentally, but I’ll mention again here anyway.
Because kids are challenged to solve a problem without pencil, paper or calculator, they have an opportunity to work on mental math skills that often gets neglected.
And by strengthening these skills, kids will gradually work towards more meaningful and efficient strategies that they may never have thought of or solidified in their minds without the opportunity given in a number talk.
And strengthening these skills will only lead to deeper conceptual understanding, which leads to better understanding of formal algorithms.
Related: Printable Mental Math Game
I’m sure there are many more benefits to regular number talks, but these are some that I have seen in students.
If you are already doing number talks, great! I hope you share my enthusiasm and see the benefits to your students!
Get Started with Number Talks:
If you’ve never tried number talks and want to know more, I’d encourage you to check out my course on Meaningful Number Talks. It walks you through in greater detail all the steps to get started and includes tons of examples. Plus, it includes printables to use in your classroom so you can begin to implement number talks right away.
You can complete the course in a weekend and get started with number talks on Monday!
I’d also encourage you to check out these additional resources on classroom number talks and math conversations. I have found all of these books to be extremely helpful!
Additional Number Talk Resources:
- Making Number Talks Matter by Cathy Humphreys & Ruth Parker
- Number Talks: Whole Number Computation Grades K-5 by Sherry Parrish
- Number Talks: Fractions, Decimals & Percentages by Sherry Parrish
- Intentional Talk by Elham Kazemi
Want a FREE set of planning pages to get started with number talks? Simply fill out the form below!