Math Talks, Part 1

One of the staples of my Free Form Friday (you can read more about this at is what I deem as a Math Talk (I also utilize these in my classroom throughout the week).  I have chosen this title as being more descriptive than a simple “Number Talk.”  Number Talks imply that it is simply about numbers, whereas a Math Talk is a broader activity that includes much more mathematical exploration and allows for multiple pathways, pattern recognition, estimation, argumentation and more.

I choose which of the resources or types of Math Talks to use based on what I am seeking to accomplish through them.  There are times that my students are struggling with a specific skill or concept.  There are times that the dialogue and discourse are low and we need to revisit the idea of communicating our thoughts and ideas in ways that increase understanding.  There are times I want to try to match a Math Talk which will directly target a skill, concept or mathematical practice that is key to a specific lesson.

In the beginning of the year, I use basic Number Talks, dealing almost exclusively with computation.  These are great for working toward fluency and efficiency in computation, but it is also a great way to begin to talk about multiple entries into a problem and multiple pathways to find a solution.  As Jo Boaler puts it, “Those who succeed in math are not those who have more intelligence or mathematical knowledge, but rather those who can work with numbers flexibly.”  She goes on to say that the reason students often fail Algebra I is that they do not have number sense, which is necessary in all higher levels of math.

Through Number Talks, we have talked about the distributive property, partial products, halving and doubling, and more. We have talked about strategies to be more efficient and effective with mental math. I have found that during core lessons throughout the week, my students reach for their calculator far less.  In fact, in the middle of a lesson students will use a strategy from a Number Talk and then look directly at me and respond, “That right there was a Math Talk, Mr. Jones!”

In my next post, I will address other types of Math Talks more specifically.  For now, I want to encourage you to make Math Talks a consistent part of your classroom – beginning with once a week but progressing from there.  I have seen the benefits for individual students as well as our class as a whole. And if you are still not convinced, let Sarah Vanderwerf convince you (in fact, she will convince you using ducks —

There are some GREAT resources out there for you to use so that you are not reinventing the wheel and spending precious moments of prep time trying to add more to your classroom.  I have spent almost 2 years curating resources for my Math Talks.  Here are some of the best:

  • Number Talks: Computation (by Sherry Parrish) – great book to get you started.  These talks are aimed at basic operations but really help develop a flexibility with numbers that is crucial for students.
  • Number Talks: Fractions, Decimals, Percents (by Sherry Parrish) – the second version which includes more strategies for rational numbers.
  • Making Number Talks Matter (by Cathy Humphreys and Ruth Parker) – a practical guide to help you implement Math Talks more consistently.
  • Thinking Visibly ( – SO many links on this one page … it might be THE ONLY resource you need for an entire year of Math Talks!
  • Steve Wyborney ( – a close runner-up to Thinking Visibly as the best and most abundant resource you can find for Math Talks!
  • Sarah Vanderwerf ( – she has some amazing things that you might add to your everyday routines beyond Math Talks.
  • Estimation 180 ( – these are great for estimation.
  • Open Middle ( – some creative (dare I say fascinating) problems that have multiple pathways and multiple solutions.
  • Which One Doesn’t Belong ( – I have found that the more choices, the more dialogue and discussion we have (4 doesn’t seem to be quite enough).

One comment on “Math Talks, Part 1

  1. Pingback: Math Talks, Part 2

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