Number Talks

Number talk is really another term for mental math. Research has shown that 75% of math by adults is done by mental math (source: K-5 Teaching Resources, an online teacher math development centre), so shouldn't we ensure that our students develop the skill? 

Number talks are a short, daily routine that provides children with ongoing number practice. Just like reading every day builds literacy fluency, number talks help to build math fluency. Number talks encourage children to think actively about numbers as well as encourage divergent thinking about number problems. If you are new to number talks and would like to see a model, there are many teacher videos on Youtube. Here is one example.

For short sessions like Number Talks, I choose a transition time in the morning for two reasons: young children have more stamina in the morning and our afternoon timetable has fewer transitions.

In order for number talks to be effective I would suggest these elements:
  • teacher led
  • purposeful talk
  • occur daily for 5-10 minutes
  • use concrete models
  • begin with the guided release model
  • encourage different ways to solve the problem
  • accept all answers
  • emphasize how answers are arrived at and not the answer
  • promote conversation
  • provide a safe environment (community of learners should be established before you begin)

The framework that I use for number talks looks like this: 
  • Teacher presents the problem (using dot cards, number line, ten frame, models...)
  • students figure out the answer (I use a signal like touch your chin to ensure that enough wait time is provided for my younger students or if working in pairs turn and face me)
  • four or five students share the answer (by choice)
  • students share their thinking (I like to use ab partners which helps shy students contribute ideas but not requiring them to speak in front of large group until ready)
  • the class agrees on the right answer (self-correction is a part of the learning)

Here are a sampling of open ended teacher questions that I have learned from colleagues like Janey Lee or found on primary math internet sites. What I have learned is to think about my language before I begin so that it is clear and purposeful ie: use thinking instead of answer:

Who would like to share their thinking?
• Who did it another way? 
• How many people solved it the same way?
• Does anyone have any questions for ____? 
• Can you tell us where you got that 5? 
• How did you figure that out? 
• What was the first thing your eyes saw, or your brain did? (this works especially well with dot cards)
Here are a few examples of Kindergarten activities for Number Talks that I have gathered from colleagues, math guides like Math Their Way or internet sites for kindergarten math:

Dot Cards
Number of the day
Estimation Jar
Number Line
Hundred Chart
Ten Frames
Number Problems
Number posters (Math Makes Sense, Nelson Math Source)
Math Books (there is a substantial list at K-5 Math)

This is an example of a Kindergarten teacher using rekenreks for number talks.

How do you do number talks? I would love to hear your thoughts and add to my tool box.

Here is a great resource that I used for this blog and regularly visit for my teaching in general.



  1. I need to do more of this. Thanks for the virtual reminder and the fabulous ideas. Must do more mental math. Must do more mental math.

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  2. I think that the only way to make it happen is to put it into your daily schedule. That's what worked for me. Liz :)


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