Barbara Soots, Washington OSPI Mathematics Department, Washington OSPI OER Project
Material Type:
Teaching/Learning Strategy
Preschool, Lower Primary, Upper Primary, Middle School, High School
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  • Wa-math
  • Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction
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    Education Standards

    MPIR - Number Talks

    MPIR - Number Talks


    Number Talks are one of many Mathematically Productive Instructional Routines (MPIR). They are short (10ish minutes), daily exercises aimed at building number sense. This is one of six different MPIR covered in the Mathematically Productive Instructional Routines collection from the Washington Office of Public Instruction and the Washington Association of Educational Service Districts.

    Why Number Talks?

    Number Talks provide students with opportunities to explain their thinking in a safe environment. They offer teachers opportunities to gain insight into student thinking which could include sound understandings, connections, and misconceptions. This approach develops students' flexibility with numbers through the use of number relationships and the structure of numbers, and allows them to use mathematics that is meaningful to them. Number talks help to reduce focus on speed and the "correct" answer and instead emphasizing process and communication.

    In this video Ruth Parker and Cathy Humphreys discuss what Number Talks have done for students:

    Ruth Parker & Cathy Humphreys: MAKING NUMBER TALKS MATTER | Stenhouse Publishers | Standard YouTube License

    Mathematical Practices:

    The specific task used may expand the Mathematical Practice possibilities, but in general, this routine will encourage students to use: 

    SMP 1: Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them
    SMP 2: Reason abstractly and quantitatively
    SMP 3: Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others
    SMP 6: Attend to precision
    SMP 7: Look for and make use of structure.
    SMP 8: Look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning

    What are Number Talks?

    A Number Talk is a brief and frequent instructional routine in which students consider and discuss an image or expression. Students strengthen their understanding of number relationships and develop computational reasoning through this routine. Number talks can support the learning of students at any age, and can improve access and engagement for many students. 
    Number Talks are structured as short sessions, only 5-15 minutes, alongside (but not necessarily related to) the ongoing math curriculum. Number Talks are most effective when done frequently.

    From Stanford Online's "How to Learn Math for Teachers and Parents": Number Talks | Youcubed at Stanford | Standard YouTube License

    How Do I Implement Number Talks

    To start a Number Talk the teacher writes a problem on the board that can be approached with mental math. Students mentally solve the problem, showing the teacher whether they have a solution by quietly giving a thumbs up at their chest. This prevents students who solve it quickly from shutting everyone else down. Students can also hold up additional fingers for multiple strategies allowing students to keep thinking even after they have an answer. Once all or nearly all students have a thumb up the teacher asks students what their solution is. The teacher write down all without giving any indication of right or wrong. After all answers have been shared out ask for volunteers to share out their thinking. Students explain while the teacher scribes. Students listen and ask questions to understand, but do not correct their peers thinking. Ideally, by the end of the discussion the class has 3-6 different approaches.

    This Process and Resource Guide provides simple steps for planning and implementing number talks across the grades. There are many useful resources to support implementation of Number Talks in the classroom.

    The video below features a 3rd grade class from the North Thurston School District doing a number talk.

    MEC Number Talk 3rd Grade | MEC Math | Standard YouTube License

    Addtional Resources



    • Making Number Talks Matter, by Cathy Humphreys and Ruth Parker
    • Digging Deeper: Making Number Talks Matter Even More, by Ruth Parker and Cathy Humphreys
    • Number Talks: Whole Number Computation, Grades K-5, by Sherry Parrish
    • Number Talks: Fractions, Decimals, and Percentages, by Sherry Parrish

    Other Resources

    • Dot Cards (attached below)
    • Number Shapes (attached below)

    Mathematically Productive Instructional Routine Menu

    Number Talks are one of many Mathematically Productive Instructional Routines (MPIR). Click on one of the images below to see other examples:

    clothesline    teacher and students          boy thinking
                   Clothesline                              My Favorite kNOw                        Notice and Wonder

    number talk in math class     students discussing math          shapes
               Number Talks                                Ten Minute Talk                          Which One Doesn't Belong

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