how we do math talks

how we do math talks

Or sometimes known as number talks. Although I do math talks with all my students, I’m sharing student voices from just my two 8th grade classes.

[01/26/14: I now have included voices from my 6th graders also. Too good not to share.]

If you’re not sure what math talks are, here are a few resources:

(Someone should write a book on math talks for higher grades. Hurry up before I beat you to it!)


What we do at the beginning of each class
  • Monday/Wednesday: mental math
  • Tuesday/Thursday: visual patterns
  • Friday: reflection
How we do the mental math
  1. Question is projected for students to see as they walk in.
  2. When tardy bell rings, I set the timer for 1 to 5 minutes, depending on the question.
  3. Students estimate the answer via all mental math — no calculators, no talking, no air writing.
  4. When timer goes off, I set the timer again for 1 minute for students to talk with their neighbors.
  5. I randomly call on 3 students — using Popsicle sticks or whatever — to share their thinking about the problem. I scribe as these students share. Everyone writes with me on their own notebook paper.
  6. Then I ask the class if anyone used a different strategy than what the 3 students just shared. 
Mental math resource: you can use just about any problem for this, including word problems. Just use the word “estimate” often.
How we do the visual patterns

1. Draw the next step.

2. How many squares are in the figure you just drew?

3. How many squares are in step 43?

4. What is the equation for this pattern?
  1. One visual pattern and the 4 questions are projected for students to see as they walk in.
  2. When tardy bell rings, I set the timer for 5 minutes.
  3. When timer goes off, I set it again for 1 minute for students to talk with their neighbors.
  4. I randomly call on 1 student to share his/her drawing of the next step and how many ____ are in this step.
  5. I ask the class if anyone has the answer to “How many ____ are in step 43?” I write downALL answers given.
  6. Then I ask 3 people to share how they figured out the answer to question #3 and/or how they found the equation.
[01/26/14: To save time, we now go straight to sharing the different equations for the pattern.]
Visual patterns resource: I use this little site.



How we do the reflections

  1. I project this prompt for students to see as they walk in: Look back at our math talks for this week. Was there something else you wanted to share on those days but didn’t? Whose strategy was new to you that you really like?
  2. I also verbally add, “In addition to reflecting on the math talks, you can also tell me how math was this week for you. Do you feel you have a good grasp on what we’re doing? Why or why not? You have 5 minutes to write. So, write. Keep that pencil moving the whole time.”
  3. I set the timer for 5 minutes. When timer goes off, I say, “Please finish your sentence. Pass forward your papers. I look forward to reading your reflections this weekend. Thank you!”

How I grade these math talk
I give credit for completion. When a kid is absent, he/she can just write down the date of absence and that’s that.


What I don’t do

  1. A common practice with number talks is asking kids to signify that they have the answer by putting a thumbs-up against their chest (instead of raising their hand). I don’t do this because the thinking time is set by a timer, and I’m not calling on anyone during this time anyway. Nor do I want to scan a room of 40 students to see where their thumbs are.
  2. I don’t have kids go to either side of the room (or to the center of the room) based on their answer — Brad Fulton does this with his students arguing that it forces all students to participate. I tried this, and it only confirmed my suspicion that many kids simply go to the same side that Linda Smartypants goes to.
  3. I don’t teach kids — nor discourage them — to set up an input/output table to find the common differences to figure out the equations. I just don’t because doing so seems to render the visual patterns themselves insignificant.


Stuff I often say during math talks

  1. Thank you for sharing.
  2. Please let me know if I’m not rephrasing you correctly.
  3. I want to make sure we’re writing down your thinking correctly, please slow down and tell us more about this step.
  4. I’m not worried about the correct answer right now, I’m just interested in how you thought about the problem.
  5. Your sharing of how you arrived at the incorrect answer is really important — I think we learn a lot from our mistakes, and as you can see, you weren’t the only one who thought about it that way.
  6. Did you change your mind or question your strategy after you talk with your neighbor?
  7. Who did the problem differently than the 3 people whom I called on to share?
  8. I really appreciate how you questioned [and responded to] _____’s sharing.
  9. I know it’s kind of tough to articulate your thinking. That’s okay. Take your time. 
  10. Math teachers sometimes get it wrong too. 

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