There are a lot of core math concepts that children are taught from a young age. In my classroom, and with my own kids at home, I always try to make learning fun and engaging. Daily number talks are a great way to cover these core skills, help children learn from each other and have meaningful math discussions.
My children enjoy doing the number talks each day and I love the learning that happens. We have great discussions and our talks allow me to hear and understand my children’s thought process.
The number talks below are a collection of 11 talks that I have used in my classroom over the last few years. From kindergarten aged children through the primary grades. I selected talks that were simple to prepare, created a lot of great discussion and learning and the children enjoyed and were engaged in.
What is a Number Talk?
If you are new to number talks, a few components of a number talk is:
- A math problem is presented
- (Generally) Number talks are solved using mental math (not worksheets or pencil and paper)
- Children independently try to figure out the problem
- A few children share their solution to the problem and how they got the solution aloud
- Teacher or children record the strategies for solving the problem on the board or chart
- Number talks are 5-15 minutes long and (ideally occur) daily
The focus of a number talk is not children getting the correct answer, but rather sharing all of the possible ways to get to the answer.
I enjoy teaching math and have found number talks very beneficial. There are lots of different ways to do these talks. I encourage you to find a way that works for you and the children you are working with.
All of the materials that I use for my number talks are things that I have available to me in my classroom. Your number talks do not need to use the same materials – use what you have.
I hope that the number talks below give you ideas to bring number talks into your own classroom, or at home.
Often number talks are a problem written on the board, which is a great way to do a number talk. I tried to used hands-on items for my talks because I was teaching young children. Also, I found that when I used actual objects children were more engaged.
Most of the number talks that I used involved the numbers 1-10. If you are working with older children, you can always increase the numbers so that children are being challenged.
Whatever way you choose to do your number talk, children are learning math and you are encouraging them to think about numbers and math concepts.
Number Talk #1
Number talks seem to happen naturally a lot in kindergarten. The activity that I did today included children thinking about estimation and mental math. All you need are 3 clear jars and some balls.
First show children the middle jar (with 5 balls). I asked children to estimate how many balls were in the jar.
I lot of kids counted, others took a quick guess. We took the balls out and counted them together. We discussed how our estimates do not have to be exact, but also how one thousand would not be a good estimate for the number of balls in the jar.
I then showed the jar with 2 balls. Children estimated how many balls they saw. They were encouraged to use words, such as more than or less than the other jar.
Finally, I showed the final jar with the most number of balls. This time I only quickly showed the jar and then covered it up. I wanted children to do a quick estimate without having the option to count.
I gave children some time to figure out how many balls they thought were in the jar. Next, I had a few children explain their estimates.
Some children may be able to vocalize that they estimated that there were about 10 balls because they knew that it was more than the middle jar, which had 5, and they thought the jar looked like it had about double.
The jars with the colorful balls work well to keep children’s attention and encouraged conversation.
Balloon Number Talk #2
All you need for this Balloon Number Talk are a few small balloons and a clear jar. Blow up some of the balloons and put them in the jar.
I showed children the jar and then had them tell me how many balloons were in the jar. This may sound really simple, but this is why number talks are so valuable – because of the different answers/strategies you will get.
Children can share how they figured out the number of balloons. Some children will count with their fingers in the air to solve how many there are.
Other children counted 3 blue balloons and then 2 red balloons and they added those together to equaled 5 balloons in total! I intentionally only put 2 colors of balloons in the container in hopes that a few students would count in this way.
Other children may notice that there were 2 balloons on top and 3 on the bottom and then they got to 5.
Regardless of how children come to the number, the idea that they can explain how they got there is what is important. As children answer, and share their strategies, the rest of the class listens and learns and hopefully uses their peers ideas the next time they are solving a similar problem.
You can also write down children’s solutions as they say them to reinforce what they are saying and even keep the solutions to post in the classroom.
Felt Board Number Talk #3
I recently created a DIY felt board that I have started using for our number talks. Since it is big, children are immediately drawn to it. (Link to DIY felt board instructions at bottom).
Recently, we have been talking, and learning about shapes. Today I used 5 felt shapes: square, diamond, circle, triangle and a trapezoid.
Simply show children the 5 shapes and ask which one they feel doesn’t belong.
I got lots of answers! I always encourage students to use the word “because” in their answer. By using this word their answer becomes more higher level and tells more about their thinking.
Children may note that the circle is the one that is different than the rest: “I think that the circle doesn’t belong, because it doesn’t have any corners or straight sides.”
Children may answer that the triangle didn’t belong “because it is the only shape that has 3 sides.”
Others may feel that the diamond (rhombus) doesn’t belong because it is smaller than the rest. I moved the diamond on top of the other shapes and we discovered that it did appear to be the smallest.
This is a great number talk for children to be able to hear, and learn from their peers solutions. There are reasons for each of the shapes to be the one that doesn’t belong. Children will hear that there is one than one solution – as long as they can explain their thinking.
Estimation Number Talk #4
Another great thing about making number talks creative is that you can follow a theme. For fall, we were talking about apples and leaves changing color. You can easily change up your math talk to include items that go along with theme or study you are doing in class.
For this number talk, I placed apples into 2 separate jars. I asked children to figure out how many apples there were altogether. Children had to count, or add to find the total number and then explain how they got their solution.
This number talk is a simple way to introduce addition to young children.
Number Talk #5 Bead Rack
I loved using this number talk because when were were done our talk, I handed out a number bead rack to each child to work with for our math period.
For this number talk, I showed children a pipe cleaner with ten beads on it. I used 5 beads of one color and beads of another. With older children, you could use the same color bead.
I moved one bead to the side and asked children to figure out how many beads were on the other side. Children had to do basic subtraction for this number talk. You could try moving a different number of beads and asking children the question again.
Having children explain how they figured out how many beads were left will create a great math discussion.
Number Talk #6
This number talk is really simple and requires no prep, but it is a great way to get kids thinking about numbers.
With young children, simply showing them a number that you are working on and ask them to tell you everything about that number. This can give insight into their understanding of the number.
I wrote a number onto a board. Children then thought about all the ways they see the number 8 and all of the ways to make the number 8.
Children may show the number 8 in its place in a number line. Other children may show ways you can add to get to the number or simply represent the number with dots.
Number Talk #7
Typically with number talks, I focus on number sense and numeration. However, I sometimes like to use objects, or manipulatives, that we are working with to talk about numbers.
For this number talk you will need a collection of different wooden shapes. To start, I only revealed 3 shapes. I asked how many shapes children saw. We only spent a minute on the number of blocks, but I wanted to discuss how some children counted each shape individually whereas others counted 2 cubes and then added the cylinder.
I then moved on and showed children the 7 wooden 3D shapes.
Children may tell you that they see 7 shapes. I typically will then ask how they got to 7. Often kids will mentally count the blocks or tell me they pointed (in the air) with their finger to count.
Others were able to explain that they counted 4 on the bottom and 3 on the top and then added them together.
Others will do 2 + 2 + 2 + 1 based on the shapes being stacked. All of these strategies are valuable! I learn a lot when listening to children’s answers and learning how they learn.
You can extend this math talk by asking which shape does not belong. It leads to great discussions especially when learning about 3D shapes and geometry.
Number Talk #8
I love using dice for number talks. I got these oversized dice to use during our math classes and they have been a hit!
Learning to look at a collection of dots and be able to count, or estimate how many dots there are is commonly taught in kindergarten. This number talk uses this idea by using dice.
Quickly hold up one die, and then move the die so that children can’t see the dots and ask them how many dots there were. Gradually increase the difficulty, depending on the age of the kids, and show two dice.
When you show two, or even three dice, children have to be able to visualize the number of dots on each dice to then add them all together in their head to get the total amount on all of the dice.
Encourage children to explain how they counted to find the total. It is always interesting to hear how children solved the problem in their head.
Number Talk #9 Ten Frame
I love working with ten frames. It organizes math and makes counting easier for children.
There are several ways that you can do number talks with ten frames.
- Place objects in a few of the frames, quickly show children the ten frame and then have them tell how many items were on the frame.
- Show a ten frame with some items in the frames and ask children how many more items you would need to add to fill the ten frame.
- You could also place items on the ten frame, but not in any order and with empty frames between the items. Show children the ten frame quickly and have them figure out how many items there were in total.
- For older children, you could have two ten frames and have children add or subtract the items in the two ten frames.
Using ten frames for math talks are also a great way for children to start to see a ten frame as five on top and five on the bottom. This will make counting easier as they use the ten frames in your regular math periods.
Tile Manipulative Talk #10
This number talk uses plastic tile math manipulatives. I set the tiles out on the carpet in front of me with children around. I quickly placed a collection (less than 10) tiles on the carpet.
Next, I asked children to tell me how many tiles there are. If your tiles are organized, or stacked like the first picture, children may count by twos and then add one. They may also see that there are 4 in one column and the other column has one less.
I have also done this number talk by simply setting a collection of tiles on the carpet in no order at all. Children may quickly see certain amounts of each color and add or they may have another strategy for figuring out the total.
Estimation Talk #11
For the final number talk, you need 3 jars and a collection of items. I used clothes pins.
For two of the jars, count how many clothes pins are in the jars and put the total on the outside of the jar. The total in the other jar remains a mystery.
This number talk involves a lot of great discussion and problem solving. Ask children how many clothes pins they think are in the mystery jar.
Although there is no one exact answer because children will have to estimate, children may notice that it will be a number between 21 and 78. Children can see that the amount in the mystery jar is less than the amount with 78 and more than the jar with 21.
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