Number Talks

  • Why Number Talks?

    Number Talks provide students with opportunities to explain their thinking in a safe environment. They offer teachers opportunities to gain insight into student thinking which could include sound understandings, connections, and misconceptions. This approach develops students' flexibility with numbers through the use of number relationships and the structure of numbers, and allows them to use mathematics that is meaningful to them. Number talks help to reduce focus on speed and the "correct" answer and instead emphasizing process and communication.


    In this video Ruth Parker and Cathy Humphreys discuss what Number Talks have done for students:  


     Making Number Talks Matter

    Ruth Parker & Cathy Humphreys: MAKING NUMBER TALKS MATTER © Stenhouse Publishers. Standard YouTube Licence. (


    Mathematical Practices:

    The specific task used may expand the Mathematical Practice possibilities, but in general, this routine will encourage students to use: 

    SMP 1: Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them
    SMP 2: Reason abstractly and quantitatively
    SMP 3: Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others
    SMP 6: Attend to precision
    SMP 7: Look for and make use of structure.
    SMP 8: Look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning


    What are Number Talks?

    A Number Talk is a brief and frequent instructional routine in which students consider and discuss an image or expression. Students strengthen their understanding of number relationships and develop computational reasoning through this routine. Number talks can support the learning of students at any age, and can improve access and engagement for many students. 
    Number Talks are structured as short sessions, only 5-15 minutes, alongside (but not necessarily related to) the ongoing math curriculum. Number Talks are most effective when done frequently.


     How to Learn Math

    From Stanford Online's "How To Learn Math for Teachers and Parents": Number Talks © Youcubed at Stanford. Standard YouTube Licence. (


    How do I Implement Number Talks?

    To start a Number Talk the teacher writes a problem on the board that can be approached with mental math. Students mentally solve the problem, showing the teacher whether they have a solution by quietly giving a thumbs up at their chest. This prevents students who solve it quickly from shutting everyone else down. Students can also hold up additional fingers for multiple strategies allowing students to keep thinking even after they have an answer. Once all or nearly all students have a thumb up the teacher asks students what their solution is. The teacher write down all without giving any indication of right or wrong. After all answers have been shared out ask for volunteers to share out their thinking. Students explain while the teacher scribes. Students listen and ask questions to understand, but do not correct their peers thinking. Ideally, by the end of the discussion the class has 3-6 different approaches.

    This Process and Resource Guide provides simple steps for planning and implementing number talks across the grades. There are many useful resources to support implementation of Number Talks in the classroom.


    The video below features a 3rd grade class from the North Thurston School District doing a number talk.


    MEC Number Talk 3rd Grade © MEC Math. Standard YouTube Licence. (