Classroom Strategies

Get Every Student Engaged in 10 Minutes or Less

As a math teacher, it can sometimes feel like all the thought-provoking conversations are happening in other classrooms. ELA teachers have these amazing, complex texts as jumping off points and, well, we’ve just got (math) problems. Luckily, there is one thing we can do to get students thinking critically, engaging in conversations with one another, and to spark genuine curiosity and creativity in the math classroom: Number Talks.

Number Talks allow students to solve computational problems using mental math and then share and analyze the different strategies used. Number Talks can be done in less than 10 minutes and make a great option for starting your math class because they engage every student. 

There are many ways to engage your class in a Number Talk, but the steps can help you get started and figure out what works best for you and your students. 

Before class: Pick a problem and brainstorm the types of solutions your students might come up with

  1. Present the problem.
  2. Give students a set amount of time to come up with a solution using mental math strategies.
  3. Have students share their solving strategy with a partner or small group first, then shift to a whole-class discussion. This ensures every student will have a chance to share their thinking, and it supports a strong classroom community in which students feel comfortable taking academic risks and working together. 
  4. As students share with the entire class, record their strategies on the board.
  5. Determine the correct solution to the problem and compare and contrast various solving strategies for efficiency.

You can repeat this process with as many problems as you’d like. Generally, a Number Talk should include similar problems so that students can practice using similar strategies on different problems. Depending on the grade level you’re working with, you can choose to select whole number addition or subtraction problems, decimal multiplication problems, or fractions. 

If your students are nervous about sharing their ideas at first, remind them that the purpose of the Number Talk is to generate as many different strategies and ideas as possible. Eventually, you will work together to determine the correct answer so there isn’t too much pressure on being right—it is all about exploring mathematical ideas and being creative. 

Need some inspiration for your Number Talk? Check out the problems below to get started with Whole Number Number Talks.

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About the Author: Fishtank Learning offers free ELA and Math curriculum to challenge, engage, and inspire students. Fishtank Learning is rooted in 2 core beliefs: 1. When they receive the support they need, all students can master grade-level content, solve critical problems, and discuss complex ideas. 2. Teachers are in the best position to see what their students need, so we aim to provide them with the right balance of flexibility and support in our resources.