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Who’s Doing the Talking? The Power of Number Talks

So, I’m starting out today with a pop quiz. Ha ha. What do the following number sentences have in common? NO calculators!

They all equal 120, don’t they? Do you see why? Each of the expressions is really just another way to write 15 x 8. The numbers 15 and 8 have been decomposed (broken down) into smaller factors in each of the expressions. Rich problem sets such as this one are the basis for number talks in the classroom.

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Years ago, our district purchased Number Talks: Whole Number Computation, Grades K–5 as a professional development resource for the campus instructional coaches. I’m not exaggerating when I say it was transformational for me! In short, it should be in every single elementary math classroom.

Number talks, as described in this particular book, are short, 10-15 minute, warm-up activities focusing on mental math strategies. The book includes a great section describing what number talks are and how to use them in the classroom, and then the rest of the book is organized by grade levels—explaining what number talks look like at each grade level and providing pages with problem sets that can be used to promote certain strategies. Here’s a peek inside the book.

number talks

Now, it doesn’t appear to be a friendly book at first glance. In fact, several coaches said they found it intimidating. That’s why I would suggest you start by viewing some of the video clips sprinkled throughout the book. Seeing numbers talks in action in real classrooms makes it seem so much more doable.

Now, I want you to think carefully about the title of the book—Number TALKS. Who is doing the talking? If you said the teacher, you’d be wrong! The kiddos are the star of this show. Basically, this is another one of those situations where you don’t teach—the kiddos discover! Your job is to plan problem sets that will lead them toward a particular strategy (and they’re included in the book), scribe their thinking, and facilitate new learning.

Here’s my testimonial. You might think your students won’t have the strategies that the kids in the video use. Let me tell you, they will surprise you! I have never seen students more engaged and excited about math than I have when I’m doing number talks. And the speed of the results shocked me! In just a couple weeks’ time, students became much more confident in their strategies and grew in their ability to explain their mathematical thinking. A teacher in one of the video clips states that she has walked through a door, and she will never go back. I can guarantee that you will feel that way, too!

Can you tell I like number talks?

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    1. You will LOVE it! And you’re right, the kiddos have amazing strategies and they feel so empowered when they get to share.

  1. I own the book and try to do a number talk with my kindergarteners each day. It is amazing the strategies they come up with to solve problems. And how efficient they become with those strategies.

  2. I love this book! I use it every day with my grade ones!

    I also love your blog! I check it every day and use a ton of the ideas.

    I am also having a math giveaway on my blog! Making 5 and 10 using dot patterns, finger patterns and numbers. If you post about it and let people know…I will send it to you for FREE!

  3. I got to borrow this book from a friend for a weekend and I couldn’t read/view it enough! It is an incredible resource! I had been using Number Talks in my class for a couple years and I was still able to learn and improve my practice from this book and its videos!

    1. Right, Jill, and many teachers find the process intimidating at first. It’s not how most of us learned. I suggest diving in! The results are amazing. 🙂

  4. This book looks great! Brain research tells us that children need to talk and interact as part of the learning process. Experience tells me that conversations enhance learning. I’m going to have to look into this book!

    Sally from Elementary Matters

    1. Hi, Sally!! Mathematical discourse also addresses the CC Standards for Mathematical Practice. But I think the best part is that the kiddos love it!

  5. We have had a few number talks in our class this year and just today one of my grade 2 students asked me when we were having another number talk! Still trying to get an understanding of what strategy to teach and for how long before moving on to the next. But.. excited to see that the kids enjoy them so much!

  6. My school just recently purchased the Number Talks book and someone did a sample lesson in my fourth grade classroom. Since we had our initial afternoon professional development on number talks we have not had any time to look through the books and other materials to see where we want to start in our classrooms. I like your suggestion on starting with the DVD and then looking through the book to find the section that I want to start at. After reading your blog and additional replies to the topic I can see that I need to look at the book tomorrow and start incorporating number talks in my classroom. Thanks for the advice.

  7. I just found your site tonight via Pinterest. I love what I am seeing so far. The book Numbers Talk sounds awesome. I switched to 3rd grade this past year and I am always looking for ideas. I taught first grade for 20 years so it has been a big change. Still love teaching and finding new ideas. Thank you so much for sharing. Maybe someday I will be in the blogging world. It’s amazing!! Thank you again.

    1. Welcome, Jan! I’m glad you wandered across my blog and found some useful things. That’s what it’s all about!

  8. Towards the end of last year, our district trained all K-2 teachers in Number Talks, but we were just discussing the major gaps the current 3-6 grade students have with number sense and the challenges our teachers face with filling in the gaps while continuing to develop grade level concepts. I think this is the perfect answer, because the upper grade number talks can focus on the misconceptions teachers are seeing and students develop that Rich number sense and apply their understandings to the new concepts. This post sends me in the right direction for a resource to support them! Thanks!

    1. So glad it was helpful, Kim. How very powerful that your district trained all your K-2 teachers! That’s a big commitment. Time to move it up to 3-6. 🙂

  9. We used this book this year to pilot Number Talks in our intervention setting. Every one of our students talked about how valuable this was to their math learning. Making Number Talks Matter is also a really great resource for introducing NTs. This book is great for daily use. There is another one coming out in August for fractions, proportions, and (something else)… Highly, HIGHLY RECOMMEND for professional reading!

    1. Thank you for sharing the information about the other books! Yes, I can’t wait for the fraction number talks book!

  10. I LOVE this book! My grade 3s are rocking it this year by doing these regularly. I even had the aunt if one of my students (aunt is a teacher too) so excited about what her niece could do (niece had showed her during a visit) that she gushed to her own class about it!

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