Math talks, Number talks, meaningful math discussions

Math talks are short activities (around 10-15 minutes) designed to provide opportunities for the students to make connections in mathematics and explain their thinking to their peers. There are questions/problems/pictures that encourage students to think of different strategies and realize that there is no one way to solve a problem. There are many ways to see and understand mathematics. Math talks help students see the flexibility in math and promote a positive attitude towards math as they help students see themselves as valued math thinkers. In the words of one of my students “Math talks make math interesting.”

A math talk can be a problem asking for one solution, a problem that has many answers, or just a visual or a story that allows the students to make their own observations. It could be a problem solved the wrong way with a misstep.

Below are some more benefits of using math talks in your instruction.

  • Takes the focus away from the teacher and allows students to listen and learn from their peers.
  • Encourages students to think like mathematicians and use mathematical language to explain their thinking.
  • Reinforces mental math strategies.
  • A great opportunity to revise different concepts and show the connection between them.
  • Creates a safe space to make mistakes and take risks.
  • Allows the teacher to identify misconceptions.
  • Gives the students the opportunity to make observations and find connections in mathematics.

Here are a few things to remember when doing a math talk.

  • Once you have posed the problem allow the students enough thinking time. Some students will come up with a strategy or a connection faster than others. Ask the students that are ready to note down their idea/strategy and keep thinking about other ideas. This will give the rest of the students more time and will keep the faster students thinking.
  • Set up small group conversations. Students can work in pairs or groups and discuss a problem before having a class discussion. Explaining their thinking in a smaller group is easier for many students. (I sometimes ask students to explain their partner’s strategy)
  • Record all the answers (right or wrong). They will be surprised by how much they can learn from a wrong answer.
  • Remind students to use sentence starters like “I agree with, I disagree because I would like to add, I am wondering, I saw a different way, I am not sure about”
  • Remind students to use respectful language and avoid sentences like “this is so easy”

Math talk activities might look like pictures, arrangements, puzzles, word problems, a solved problem, comparing two solutions, and much more. Before you choose a math talk make sure that you have a defined goal. What do you want to achieve with this math talk? Clear misconceptions? Remind a strategy? Make sure that you discuss the wrong solutions/strategies as well.  Explore where the solution went wrong. Ask students to find the missteps. I love to create wrong solutions and once they figure it out ask “why is this wrong”. There is great learning in these discussions.

I have created a brand new collection of math talk task cards (125 print and digital) that include

  • Balance the scale (addition, multiplication, division)
  • Estimating on the number line. (fractions, addition, division)
  • Would you rather …? comparing, place value
  • Arrangements /Patterns
  • How do you see it? How do you count?
  • What do you see? What do you think…?
  • Blocks arrangements.
  • Ants under the hats (addition, subtraction,
  • multiplication, division)
  • Find the problem by looking at the solution steps.
  • Find the misstep in the solution.
  • Find connections.
  • Using multiplication table stepstones.
  • Decomposing numbers (place value)
  • Fractions
  • Polygon Properties
  • What is different? What is the same?

Here is a small sample

The resource comes in a digital (google slides version) 125 slides, in a print version of task cards (125 task cards), and a bundle of both

Here is the free version for you to get an idea.

Find more puzzles/math talks below

Are you smarter than a chicken? Math Puzzles chickens brainteasers warm-ups print digital task cards

Math Puzzles, logic, numbers – warm-ups, challenge, centers – print and digital