Number Talks were developed as a strategy by Kathy Richardson and Ruth Parker. The whole purpose behind number talks is so that children conceptually understand math instead of memorizing rules and procedures. Everyone can follow a formula or pattern but the beauty of math shines when students UNDERSTAND what is actually happening. Number talks aid in this understanding. Before conducting number talks, I recommend reading my blog post on teaching children how to have constructive conversations.

Conducting a Number Talk

Number talks should become a part of your daily routine. To conduct a number talk, select a math problem, provide students time to come up with an answer and/or strategy to start solving the problem. Number talks happen apart from the daily math lesson and last about 15 minutes. Mental math is used.

Then:
Have students give you a thumbs up on their chest if they have an answer. If students thought of more than one strategy have them put up fingers too. Wait till most students have their thumbs up.

Solicit responses, “Anyone willing to tell us their answer?” Record all of the answers – refrain from saying good job or saying an answer is right or wrong.

Then ask, “Anyone with a different answer?” Keep recording answers.

Then, “Anyone willing to share how they found their answer?” — if a student is struggling to explain their thinking ask “Do you want more time to think about it?” Record student thinking on board. Take time to name the strategy used.

Ask the class, “Can you see what they saw?” Get a thumbs up from students who used the same strategy.

“Anyone who saw it differently willing to share?”

When students are sharing their thinking, ask…

“How did you know…? ”
“Why did you do that…?”
“Can you explain why..?”
“What if…?”
“Will this strategy always work with…?”

Record strategies on anchor charts to help students see their thinking and as a reference.

Common Addition Strategies

1. Counting All
2. Counting On
3. Doubles/Near Doubles
4. Making Tens
5. Making Landmark/Friendly Numbers
6. Compensation
7. Breaking into Place Value
8. Adding Up in Chunks

Common Subtraction Strategies

1. Counting Back
2. Adding Up
3. Removal
4. Using Place Value and Negative Numbers
5. Adjusting One Number to Make an Easier Problem
6. Keeping a Constant Difference

Common Multiplication Strategies

1. Repeated Addition or Skip Counting
2. Making Landmark or Friendly Numbers
3. Partial Products
4. Doubling and Halving
5. Breaking Factors into Smaller Factors

Common Division Strategies

1. Repeated Subtraction
2. Multiplying Up
3. Partial Quotients
4. Proportional Reasoning

SOURCE: Parrish, Sherry. 2010. Number Talks: Helping Children Build Mental Math and Computation Strategies. Math Solutions.