How To Launch Number Talks In Your Classroom

Starting a new routine in your classroom can feel overwhelming. Sometimes we even abandon implementing something new because we don’t know where to start or we have too many unanswered questions. 

“What materials do I use? Will I have to create everything I need?”

“Do I have the time in my daily schedule to designate for this new component?”

“What does this new routine look like in my classroom with my style of teaching and management?”

I had all these questions and more when I decided to  launch Number Talks in my classroom. It took weeks of research and planning to wrap my head around the idea and then bring it to fruition as part of my math routine. Today, Number Talks flows into my math block with ease and comfort. I am well versed on the topic and so are my students. Here are some suggestions and information for launching Number Talks in your classroom. 

The Purpose of Number Talks

The purpose of Number Talks is to build number sense and mental math in your classroom. We want students to see that there is often more than one way to solve a problem. We want students to have the confidence to mentally manipulate numbers. Finally, we want students to be fluent in math facts.

Number Talks should last 5-7 minutes in your classroom and include discussion and collaboration. With repetition and practice, students will begin to see how manipulation of numbers is a strategy that can be used daily both inside and outside of the classroom. 

Set Your Students Up With The Skills They Need

First, I start with the introduction of mental math strategies. You have to provide the proper TOOLS if you expect students to view numbers differently. I spend time on how to mentally execute  these strategies and how to apply them to specific numeric scenarios. The posters below stay up in my classroom all year as a reference for students. With time, you’ll see students refer to these posters less and less. 

Number Sense Strategy Posters available in our Number Talks resources

The only way something becomes a habit is if you practice it enough with daily repetition. Number Talks should become part of your math schedule with opportunities for peer collaboration. Let your students hear from fellow classmates about how they solved a problem. This will foster the idea that learning evolves from CONNECTING and building on the thinking of others. 

Build a Number Sense Rich Environment 

Typically, students are not accustomed to mental math and using number sense as part of their problem solving. My absolute favorite question to ask students when they present an answer to me is “Does that make mathematical sense?” Usually I’m searching for clarity from students when I ask this question or I need  to redirect their thinking. Expect your students to feel odd or even uncomfortable as you launch Number Talks in your classroom. They need time and practice to gain the confidence needed to verbally share their mental thinking and number sense skills. There is a level of PRODUCTIVE STRUGGLE that is required for Number Talks and this can be overwhelming for students. 

Number Talks questions from the 6th grade version

MODEL your own thinking and reasoning with your students. If a word problem we’re solving in class discusses 24 jars of jelly beans containing 19 candies each, I may say to my students “Well, I know that 24 times 2 is 48, so 24 times 20 is 480. 24 times 19 must be 19 less than 480.” This is all done mentally and using friendly numbers that most students feel comfortable with. Soon students will start to share their own strategies for manipulating numbers. ENCOURAGE conceptual explanations rather than procedural computation. CELEBRATE the variety of ways to solve a problem and VALUE all student contributions. 

Use MISTAKES to drive instruction. Mistakes are organically created opportunities for the exploration of other strategies. Review properties of operations, and problem solving techniques. 

Number Talks question from the 3rd grade version

What does Number Talks look like in my classroom?

We all have busy classroom schedules and there is never enough time to get everything done. Number Talks isn’t designed to add another lengthy routine to your schedule. Number Talks will be a QUICK 5-7 minute discussion that packs a strong academic punch. In the past I have used Number Talks as my morning work component or to launch my math block. I project the prompt of the day on my active board, give 1-2 minutes of think time, and then let the collaboration begin. Sometimes I allow the students to share their strategy in groups, but typically I schedule the sharing as a whole group discussion so I can reinforce key concepts.

I have designed a Number Talks resource for every grade from K-6. It has everything I wished I had when I first started Number Talks in my classroom and everything you’ll need for the entire year. There are 250 ready to go prompts for you, both in digital and print formats. CLICK HERE to read more about this resource.

Number Talks materials available for grades K-6

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