Number talks can be one of the most powerful additions to your math routine. Why? Because your students will explore math in a way that they may have never done before. During a number talk, students think about problems in flexible ways and then reflect on classmate’s strategies. The most exciting part for the teacher is often listening to all of the unique, creative problem-solving strategies that their students use.
If you’re not already familiar with how to do number talks, don’t be intimidated! It’s actually really simple to get started. Here’s a post where I guide you step-by-step through the process.
Here are 5 great reasons to begin using number talks in your classroom ASAP!
For the purposes of this article, when I say “number talks,” I not only refer to the traditional number talks where you present an expression and solve it, but also to other types of math talks like the ones you’ll find inside Math Conversations.
Number talks teach students that math is flexible.
Math often seems like a black or white, right or wrong subject. This is a common misconception by both adults and kids. But there is SO much more to math than correct answers, and when your students realize that it can be life-changing. The emphasis must be on the THINKING, not the ANSWER, and number talks are the perfect opportunity to reinforce this.
Consider the difference it could make when you ask your students to solve 15+25 in as many ways as possible, rather than to simply tell you the answer. Here are just a few of the ways your students might share after getting comfortable with number talks.
Students are introduced to new strategies…by each other!
As a teacher, you know how important it is to introduce students to new mental math strategies. But sometimes the most valuable strategies can come directly from your students! Kids often see things differently than we do, and it can be fascinating to listen to how they solve problems when they are given the chance to share. Too often classrooms don’t allow for this time – time for students to share their thinking and learn from each other rather than from the teacher or from a worksheet. Listening, sharing, and reflecting on classmate’s strategies is one of the most important aspects of a number talk.
Math confidence soars.
There are students who never speak up in math class because they have math anxiety or because they are scared of saying the wrong answer – I bet you can think of a few right now. The beauty of math talks is that the emphasis is taken off of this correct answer, and put onto the thinking. Some types of math talks literally have no right answer. When students realize this it can be empowering. They finally are comfortable to speak up because as long as they can justify their answer, it’s not possible to get it wrong!
Conceptual understanding is built.
We know how important conceptual understanding is, but it can be hard to set aside the time to build and reinforce it. The wonderful thing about number talks is that this is built right in. When you focus on the many ways that a problem can be solved, it forces students to think in strategic and flexible ways. This helps them build that conceptual understanding that will become the foundation for their number sense. When students truly UNDERSTAND math, rather than simply memorize it, it empowers them to be able to solve anything.
Number talks level the playing field.
In a number talk, all the students and teacher are equals. No one is “teaching” and no one is better than others. It is a time for sharing, for listening, and for reflecting. You might hear students saying things like, “Oh, I see how ______ is thinking! He added instead of subtracted! I like that strategy!” or “________’s strategy doesn’t make sense to me yet. Can you explain it again?” In a number talk, everyone learns – even the teacher. It can be empowering for students once they realize that number talk time is a safe place where answers are not judged as right or wrong, but respected and reflected on instead.