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Get Students Talking in the Classroom! Use Number Talks to Expand Students’ Math Engagement and Deepen Understanding

Imagine a math class where all students have a voice, where mathematical conversations are dynamic and understanding soars. In this blog post, we will dive into the transformative power of Number Talks for educators who seek to create a more vibrant and inclusive math learning environment. 

The practice of number talks is a highly effective pedagogical method that has the power to revolutionize how elementary students interact with and perceive mathematics. In these short, focused discussions, students mentally solve mathematical problems and share their thought processes with their peers, emphasizing the problem-solving process over the final answer. Rooted in research-backed strategies, number talks provide students with opportunities to develop critical thinking skills, number sense, and a profound comprehension of mathematical concepts.

Number talks play a crucial role in enhancing students' mathematical fluency, promoting peer-to-peer learning and discourse, building confidence, and deepening their understanding of mathematical relationships. Research has shown that regular number talks significantly improve students' number sense, as they gain an enhanced ability to understand and work with numbers flexibly. Students who regularly engage in number talks become more adept at performing calculations mentally and quickly, leading to enhanced mathematical fluency.

The Importance of Number Talks

  • Developing Number Sense: Research indicates that number talks can significantly improve students' number sense—the ability to understand and work with numbers flexibly. (Reference: Parrish, 2010)

  • Enhancing Mathematical Fluency: Regular number talks help students become more fluent in mental math, enabling them to perform calculations quickly and accurately. (Reference: Hattie, 2009)

  • Building Confidence: Number talks create a safe and supportive environment where students can share their mathematical thinking without fear of making mistakes, leading to increased confidence in math. (Reference: Boaler, 2016)

  • Promoting Mathematical Discourse: Number talks encourage students to articulate their thought processes, fostering rich mathematical discussions and peer-to-peer learning. (Reference: Herlihy & Herlihy, 2018)

  • Deepening Understanding: Through number talks, students gain a deeper understanding of mathematical concepts and the relationships between numbers. (Reference: Fosnot & Dolk, 2001)

Number Talk Resources for Educators: 


Boaler, J. (2016). Mathematical Mindsets: Unleashing Students' Potential through Creative Math, Inspiring Messages, and Innovative Teaching. Wiley.

Fosnot, C. T., & Dolk, M. (2001). Young Mathematicians at Work: Constructing Number Sense, Addition, and Subtraction. Heinemann.

Hattie, J. (2009). Visible Learning: A Synthesis of Over 800 Meta-Analyses Relating to Achievement. Routledge.

Herlihy, C., & Herlihy, B. (2018). The Power of Number Talks: A 5-Year Follow-up. Mathematics Teaching in the Middle School, 24(4), 240-247.

Parrish, S. (2010). Number Talks: Helping Children Build Mental Math and Computation Strategies, Grades K-5. Math Solutions.

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