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Who’s Doing the Talking? Number Talks

Written by Donna Boucher

Donna has been a teacher, math instructional coach, interventionist, and curriculum coordinator. A frequent speaker at state and national conferences, she shares her love for math with a worldwide audience through her website, Math Coach’s Corner. Donna is also the co-author of Guided Math Workshop.

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 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.

This post contains affiliate links, which simply means that when you use my link and purchase a product, I receive a small commission. There is no additional cost to you, and I only link to books and products that I personally use and recommend.

Our district purchased Number Talks: Helping Children Build Mental Math and Computation Strategies as a professional development resource for the campus instructional coaches.

What a gem! 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 starting with the DVD–look at some of the video clips and you’ll be hooked! I have been modeling number talks in our 3-5 classrooms, and it’s a blast.

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.

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? 🙂

30 Comments

  1. Elizabeth

    Sold! I will have this book in my cart on Amazon by the end of the day 😉
    Thanks as always, Donna!!

    Reply
    • Donna Boucher

      Have fun with it, Elizabeth!

      Reply
  2. Tammy

    This book is on my list of books to purchase. I’m continually amazed at the strategies kids will invent when given the chance to discover them on their own.
    ❀ Tammy
    Forever in First

    Reply
    • Donna Boucher

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

      Reply
  3. Anonymous

    I just ordered this book! I love it!

    Reply
    • Donna Boucher

      Woo hoo! Look forward to amazing math conversations with your kiddos!

      Reply
  4. Hoose Kindergarten Blog

    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.

    Reply
    • Donna Boucher

      Love it! How I wish I was taught math this way. 🙂

      Reply
  5. Renee S

    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!

    Reply
    • Donna Boucher

      I’m glad to hear this book is so popular!

      Reply
  6. Anonymous

    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!

    Reply
    • Donna Boucher

      Awesome! We never stop learning, right?

      Reply
  7. Amy B

    I don’t have this book and now I WANT it!!!! Thanks Donna, you are amazing! Happy Thanksgiving!
    Amy Burton

    Reply
    • Donna Boucher

      Sounds like you need to start a Christmas wish list at Amazon, Amy! Ha ha.

      Reply
  8. Jill

    MUST HAVE but it takes a lot of practice and and lot of missteps to get it really going right.

    Reply
    • Donna Boucher

      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. 🙂

      Reply
  9. Sally

    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

    Reply
    • Donna Boucher

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

      Reply
  10. Anonymous

    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!

    Reply
    • Donna Boucher

      That’s honestly why I like the Number Talks book. It lays it all out for you!

      Reply
  11. Bree B

    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.

    Reply
    • Donna Boucher

      You will love number talks, Bree, and so will your students! Talk about high engagement!

      Reply
  12. Jan Blase

    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.

    Reply
    • Donna Boucher

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

      Reply
  13. Kim Rios

    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!

    Reply
    • Donna Boucher

      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. 🙂

      Reply
  14. Terri Taylor

    Can I use it in my middle school class

    Reply
  15. LEM

    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!

    Reply
    • Donna Boucher

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

      Reply
  16. Kim

    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!

    Reply

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