Coach's Top Ten: Number Talks

Making Math Count in WHPS

Everyone is starting up Number Talks for the year. Some of you may be starting for the very first time. Here are 10 ideas to help you maximize the impacts of Number Talks in your classroom.

  1. Get started by watching videos provided on the CD. A picture is worth a thousand words and a video is worth ten thousand words. Seeing Number Talks in action will help you envision the work in your own classroom. The video provides examples of hand signals and recording methods and really brings to life the directions in the book.
  2. Teach the routines. During the first few lessons, emphasize hand signals and procedures of Number Talks. Students need explicit directions on procedures as well as the math. Harry Wong says, "The number one problem in the classroom is not discipline; it is the lack of procedures and routines." Take time to put the routines in place and set up students for success with Number Talks.
  3. Use the problem strings. Number Talks presents sets of 3 to 5 problems designed to encourage students think and build on their understanding in math. When first introducing Number Talks, you may only have time for 2 to 3 problems, but as students grow proficient with procedures, present all of the problems in a string in one lesson. This will help students see patterns and deepen their understandings.
  4. Don't be afraid of wait time. Students need time to find solutions using mental strategies. Once students have a solutions, they can seek additional strategies to solve the problem. Give every student an opportunity to find the answer.
  5. Start with the answers. All answers are shared and recorded without judgement. Be strategic in calling on students so that the student "that always has the right answer" isn't the first to share. This will encourage students to share a variety of answers. It is important to remind students that we learn from all answers, right or wrong. Common errors are vital to deep understanding.
  6. Students turn and talk. Individual students sharing a strategy with the whole group is great, but turn and talk can give everyone a voice. I especially like to have students turn and talk if some students are having trouble solving or finding a strategy. Then when students share with the whole group they can tell their own strategy or a cool strategy from a partner.
  7. Be strategic. Students share strategies. Consider who shares first and later so that you maximize participation. If a student is having trouble coming up with a strategy, have another student share and then the student can retell the strategy in his or her own words. Encourage participation from everyone.
  8. Record students thinking. As students share, write the strategies on the board so all students can see and follow the thinking. Ask clarifying questions to make sure you record the strategy correctly. Also hold students accountable for place value, recording exactly what they say. If a student says 2 for 2 tens or twenty, record only 2 and check for accuracy with the student. This will allow students to correct explanations and solidify understanding of place value.
  9. Nudge students to efficient strategies. As students share strategies, label the strategies, such as "You used a friendly number." Ask students to evaluate which strategy seems quickest or easiest. Different students may answer this in different ways, and that is okay.
  10. Reflect on learning and strategies to encourage application. At the end of the lesson, ask students If they noticed any patterns or found a strategy particularly helpful. Challenge students to consider when they might use these strategies and how these mental math strategies may help solve problems during the math lesson.