How do I lead a Number Talk? How do I lead a Dot Talk?

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Number Talks promote flexibility, accuracy, and efficiency in mathematical thinking through the discussion of mental math strategies. A Number Talk is a 10 minute, whole-class mental math activity where students find the solution to a math problem in their heads. They then engage in a teacher-facilitated discussion encouraging them to explain their thinking, justify their reasoning, and make sense of each other's strategies.

Facilitating a Number Talk

All Inquiry Based Lessons (grades 2–5) begin with a Number Talk on the Daily Review slide of Day 1. First grade lessons begin with a Dot Talk, which will be discussed later in this help topic.

An example of a daily review slide for a number talk, with the following problem for students: 'Solve the expression below (in your head) in as many different ways as possible: 237 minus 149.'

  1. Teachers should project the Daily Review slide on the board and ask a student volunteer to read it aloud.
  2. Students then work silently to solve the problem mentally.

    • No pencils and paper or whiteboards should be used. About 2 minutes of wait time is necessary to allow students to reflect on and struggle with the mental math.
    • Emphasis should be placed on the thinking process more than the answer itself. It is important to encourage students to find solutions using multiple strategies.
    • Teachers can even allow students to show the number of ways they found the answer to a problem on their fingers.
    • Silent signals can be used to indicate progress. A thumb up might mean "I have a solution." Students can raise an additional finger for each additional strategy they think of.
  3. After wait time, the teacher should select multiple students to share their solutions. Students can silently validate their classmate's answers by using hand signals for "I agree" or "I disagree." All answers should be shared up front. Mistakes should be treated as learning opportunities.
  4. At this point, teacher might give students an opportunity to turn and talk, so everyone has an opportunity to share their answer and strategy. This part is optional.
  5. As facilitator, the teacher should call on students one by one, simply recording student thinking, whether right or wrong. This gives students an opportunity to see multiple strategies and respectfully agree or disagree with one another. Students can make sense of each other's strategies and make connections between them.

Teachers might wish to use the following prompts during or after a Number Talk:

  • Who would like to share how they got their answer?
  • Who did it exactly the same way as ____?
  • Did everyone understand ____'s way?
  • Can someone explain ____'s strategy in your own words?
  • Who has another way of solving it?
  • Did anyone use a different method?
  • Can you find 2 strategies that are similar?
  • Which strategy seems the easiest to you?
  • Which strategy would you want to try tomorrow?

Facilitating a Dot Talk

All 1st grade Inquiry Based Lessons begin with a Dot Talk on Day 1. Similar to a Number Talk, Dot Talks promote mental math and using multiple strategies. In a Dot Talk, students look at a pattern of dots for 3 seconds and share strategies for how they figured out the total number of dots.

An example of a daily review slide for a dot talk, with the following problem for students: 'What do you see in the dot set below?'

For a Dot Talk, teachers may wish to recreate the dot pattern multiple times and draw circles around the dots to represent the groups of dots that students saw.

Just as in a Number Talk, students should be encouraged to explain their thinking and respectfully agree or disagree with their classmates.

Teachers might wish to use the following prompts during a Dot Talk:

  • How many dots are there?
  • How did you see the dots?
  • What was the first thing you saw when you looked at the dots?
  • Did you group the dots in any way?