July 28, 2016

Using Number Talks to Build Math Fluency and Flexibility

What are Number Talks?
Number Talks are a short, daily routine to focus on mental math computation. They are (typically) full class discussions, facilitated by the teacher, but guided by the students.

Why should I use Number Talks?
First of all, Number Talks are a quick and easy way to get a glimpse into the thinking of your students. Are they using the strategies you have taught? Which strategies do they prefer? Are they able to flexibly apply strategies? Are they able to describe what they are thinking?

Secondly, depending on what you learn about your students' mental computation skills during these Talks, you can guide their use of and understanding of new strategies.You can also use this time to model how to write down their thinking in a variety of ways.

Finally, you should use Number Talks because it is an amazing way to build a strong Math Community. Student voices are heard and validated. Students learn to listen to each other and "piggyback" off of ideas. Creativity is encouraged as students learn there are multiple ways to arrive at an "answer".

How can I implement Number Talks?
First, choose a time of day where you have 10-15 minutes and pick a discussion protocol. I use Think-Pair-Share for most of my Number Talks. (Article on TPS here.) Then, choose a few problems that will lend themselves to whatever strategy you are working on. Doubles plus 1? Make 10? Regrouping? Partial products?

As your students share their mental work with these problems, do your best to make their thinking "visible". Record their ideas with words, numbers, or pictures of any manipulatives they may have used in their visualizations on an anchor chart. Below are two digital examples of 2nd grade charts created during Number Talks.

That's all you need: Time, protocol, Math problems, something to record with, and lastly, an Open Mind. I think the best way to start Number Talks is just to jump in. As you and your students explore, you will discover more about the protocol you want to use and the types of problems you want to present to students. In addition, with practice, you will develop questioning skills that allow your students to take control and think and discuss more deeply.

My Experience
Number Talks have been an important part of what has transformed my thinking about Math Fact Fluency. I have personally had a lot of success with using Number Talks to teach, practice, and reinforce strategies for single digit addition and subtraction. Of course, Number Talks have not been limited to these categories, but they have made such a huge difference in my students' basic fact fluency, which is an important 2nd grade skill and standard.

Visit my shop to find a super-affordable unit for Addition Fact fluency, which includes multiple Number Talks for each strategy, in addition to flashcards, games, and quizzes:

Addition Facts By Strategy: Flashcards, Games, Number Talks, Quizzes

Further Learning On Number Talks
Short 3rd Grade Example: Short 3rd grade example video
Number Talks Guru book: Number Talks, by Sherry Parrish


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