Number Talks

In my last post, I talked about the importance of fostering mental math strategies in class.

A great resource for how to think about doing this in your class is Sherry Parrish’s book Number Talks: Helping Students Build Mental Math and Computation Strategies, Grades K-5.   I highly recommend taking some time to read the book over the summer.   It even includes a DVD with videos of model number talks.

So what is a number talk?

It’s a 10-15 minute conversation about a computation problem that is purposefully designed to allow students to communicate and justify their thinking.

What might it look like?

In the early grades, it might involve asking students for different pairs of numbers that add up to 10.

In the later grades, it might involve asking students for different ways to solve a multiplication problem like 25 x 16.

After sufficient wait time, students share their strategies, including justification for why a particular strategy works.

What I love about number talks is that they can easily be incorporated into a class.  Often, as teachers, we are bound to a particular curriculum that is beyond our control.  However, most of us can find 10 or 15 minutes to add in a number talk, even if it’s not every day.

I also love that they challenge different students.  Higher-level students can think of more complex solutions or multiple solutions while lower-level students can access the problem with a simpler solution.  And all students can benefit from hearing alternative methods.

Finally, I love that they allow for rich discussions to take place.  Students can talk about which solutions are mathematically correct or which may be more efficient.

Have you tried number talks in your class?  How have they worked?

Want to know more?

Check out this article:

Parrish, S. D. (2011). Number Talks Build Numerical Reasoning. Teaching Children’s Mathematics, 18(3), 198-206.