How Do I Make a Purposeful Number Talk?

Number Talks are a fantastic way to get students to think about problems and solving in multiple ways.  The purpose of Number Talks is to help increase mathematical discourse and to become stronger and clearer math students! We want students to be able to communicate their math thinking in a strong, clear and purposeful way.  This year has been a year of researching and trying out different Number Talks. There were some amazing successes and some “not so much” and probably won’t do again Number Talks. That had me thinking… What has made a Number Talk successful?  What is a purposeful Number Talk? Over the course of the next few months, I decided to look at the ones that were successful, and those that were not, and find out what the qualities of the problem were that helped the student. There are three parts to a Number Talk that I have found when choosing one to use.

  1. Multiple Representations – I use the math web from Principles to Actions
  2. Picking a Number Talk that is accessible for all students
  3. Picking a variety of problems and not sticking with a certain operation for too long but rather using the spiral effect in my Number Talks

One of the vital pieces is picking a problem knowing that it can be represented in a variety of ways.  If I pick a Number Talk that me, as the teacher, only sees in a way or two, then I know it probably won’t have a high success rate.  Therefore, I try to do the problem in multiple ways before I do the math problem as a Number Talk. Along with this, I pick Number Talks that are easily broken down into different numbers if I am doing an operation that is one of the four types of operations.

The second part is to make sure that I also do a visual Number Talk once a week.  This includes a Dot Talk or a “Which One Doesn’t Belong” as it has students be more comfortable with the problems.  The website is a great resource for all levels of learners! It is a way that I know is accessible for all of my learners.  My classroom is a full inclusion classroom where I have students with a range of abilities. I have students with autism, Down syndrome, emotional and behavioral needs, learning disabilities, and speech disabilities.  Visual problems are a great way to reach all learners. Many of my students, I have found, are willing to participate in visual patterns as there are so many different answers and not a “right” way to do it. As soon as a problem containing an operation appears, there are many in my classes that are not willing to engage in the problem.  However, as the year progressed, students felt more comfortable sharing in the classroom because I have used visuals and it really has increased their confidence in sharing!

The third piece of picking a purposeful Number Talk is not sticking with the same type of problem but always returning to problems that we have done before!  CPM is a great model for mixed spaced practice which has helped show success in my Number Talks as well. As stated before, I always have a visual problem during the week but then I do include two problems per week that have operations.  It varies but I always do one from the week before and then a new operation or one that we haven’t seen in a while. As I’ve been implementing, I have found that my first Number Talk of the week, which is on Tuesday, is always a visual pattern. This may be a dot talk, a which one doesn’t belong or a pattern problem.  Then on Wednesday and Thursday, I choose to do one with operations.

Two examples with high success:

This picture was successful because there were many ways to approach a fraction problem.  It was successful because many students feel comfortable when the fractions are “so simple” as the students said.  I also took this problem from my CC3 lesson in chapter 7! Students then connected their learning in class to the learning of the Number Talk.



The second picture was successful because it was a visual but also it was a low floor high ceiling type of problem.  The students were able to use different grouping strategies to solve the problem. However, I had many students think outside of the box and found larger boxes instead of just counting the tiles.  Problems that are visual have always been highly successful in my 8th grade classroom. At the end of the day, if you want a successful Number Talk, do a visual problem!


Over the course of this year, I have really found that doing Number Talks multiple times a week has been the key to increasing the participation in my classes.  I also make sure that I take only ten minutes of my class to do the Number Talk. Students are used to the routine and has become such a part of our classroom! Along with the frequency and length are the three parts:  multiple representations, accessible to all learners and a mixed spaced practice approach. Students look forward to the Number Talks as an important part of ramping up their communication before their Team Work for the day!


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