Adventures in First Grade

Monday, November 28, 2011

Number Talks

I hope that everyone had a happy Thanksgiving.  I don't know about you, but the break went by too quickly!!

A couple of weeks ago, I went to conference that was being offered about Number Talks:

Oh my goodness!  It is SO awesome.  One of the speakers was a good friend that used to teach third grade at my school.  She got her masters in Math and is now a Math Specialist.

The idea of Number Talks is to take about ten minutes of your day and write a math problem (the book gives you the questions for each day.  I think that is has them for grades K - 5.) on a piece of chart paper.  The children have to work the problems in their heads.  No paper.  No number line.  No manipulatives.  This is a time to share mental math strategies.The teacher will then record each child's solution.

When a child gets the answer, he makes a thumbs up, but holds it at chest level.  This is so the other children aren't distracted by those who "got it" early.  As the children are waiting on the others, they are to be thinking of different ways to figure out the problem.

We then broke into small groups and were the "students" in a Number Talk situation.    Of the eight of us students, we each figured out the question in a different way!  It was amazing. 

I remember thinking, oh this is neat, but we're ADULTS.  Of course it looks fabulous when the students are grown-ups!

The next Monday, I nervously introduced Number Talks.  I demonstrated how they were to show me that they had an answer and explained WHY we were doing it that way.  I then told them that they were to think of different ways to solve the problem while they were waiting on the other students.  Then I taught them the "Me Too" sign.  If someone solves the problem in the same way you were thinking, you don't shout out "That's what I did" or "I did that!"  You make the "Me Too" sign.  To make this sign you stick out your thumb and pinky with the rest of your fingers down facing your palm.  Then move your wrist back and forth (I think of it as the princess wave, just minus a few fingers!)

After explaining what I expected,  I drew the first problem (first grade begins with dot patterns).  I waited a few minutes and saw that my students were putting up their thumbs.  First I called on several children to see how MANY dots were in the pattern.  Then I nervously called on my first student to explain HOW their brain got that answer.  I expected to hear crickets at this point, but NO! They were VERY into it.  They had so many different solutions!  I couldn't believe how neat it was!

I am a much more visual learner, so I am going to show you a picture of the chart of our first Number Talk:

Just so you know, those weird tree things are actually hands where the children said they used their fingers to count!  The clouds with the numbers in them are think bubbles because some kids said they put that number in their head and then counted on.  Isn't this amazing!  All the different ways that they came up with?  They would have gone on forever, but we had to go to our first grade meeting.

Here is a close up of the first dot pattern:

After we finished our first Number Talk, a couple of interesting things happened.  First I asked the kids if they like the thumbs up at the chest answer better then raising their hands.  They did!  Some even said that it helped them because they didn't know who was finished and who was still working.  (FYI:  We don't raise hands anymore in my classroom, we do the chest level thumbs up.)

The other AWESOME thing that happened was this.  After first grade meeting, we came back to the classroom and began working on addition practice.  One of my firsties, let's call her Jan, came up to me and said, "Mrs. Nunley, I just figured out that
5 + 2 = 7.  Well, this question says 5 + 3.  Since I know that 5 + 2 = 7, 5 + 3 must be eight because three is one more than  two."

I must say that was one of my prouder moments as a teacher.  I could actually see and hear how Jan was taking what we had worked on in Number Talks, and was applying the mental math strategies to her practice. 

Needless to say, Number Talks have become a part of our daily math routine.  I am seeing a lot of growth in their thinking skills as well. 

Switching gears, I would like to introduce you to my WINTER WONDERLAND MATH AND LANGUAGE ARTS CENTER ACTIVITIES!  It is a collection of four math and four language arts activities.

I also have created a December Holiday Word Wall page.  You could print this as a poster.  I print it out normally and then put it in a clear document frame to put in my writing station.

Happy Monday!


  1. Mrs. Nunley,

    You've definitely peaked my interest with Number Talks. It sounds like just what I need for my little first graders. Thank you for sharing.
    First Impressions

  2. Great post! Thanks. I have Number Talks and really like it, but haven't done a lot with it yet. You've inspired me :)

    Grade ONEderful

  3. I'm starting Number Talks on Tuesday and I'm real excited. Thanks!