Number Talks in High School Math

Though there are times I fly by the seat of my pants, I usually have plenty of printed materials ready to go for my students. To do Number Talks right, printed material had to go right out the window along with calculators, pencils and even blank paper. It was uncomfortable and weird, but after our third Number Talk, I found myself feeling more successful as a teacher than I had in a while.

RELATED POST: Can We Really Teach Number Sense?

As a teacher, there can be long stretches of time when I don't at all feel successful. My kids aren't getting it, they're not engaged, they aren't submitting work. Number Talks fix all of this. They are super low-prep with super high pay off. 

When I use Number Talks in my classroom, engagement goes way up as well as student feelings of success. Students I think would rather be somewhere else - anywhere else - are able to explain their thinking to the class. 

I need to thank Jennifer from Smith Curriculum and Consulting for the push I needed to bring Number Talks into my classroom. You can read more about her experience with Number Talks in her post Analyzing Relationships in Math.

As simple as Number Talks turned out to be, they were super intimidating at first. 

I watched a few videos on YouTube to see them in action to get an idea of what types of problems are asked, what kids do and what teachers do. What I found was that the most successful Number Talks seemed to be the ones where the teacher didn't say much. I modeled my own behavior after the teacher in this Number Talks video who kept her words to the bare minimum and whose students seemed super engaged.

Hand signals are a part of Number Talks and there are different signals for thinking, having an answer, having more than one strategy and agreeing with what is said. 

Because I worry that my high schoolers will think hand signals are corny, I give each student an index card with a check mark on one side. When I hand out the cards, the check mark is facing down. When students are done thinking and have an answer, the direction is to flip over their card to show the check mark. This way the room stays calm and I can still tell who is ready.

Next comes the uncomfortable part - no calculators, pencils or paper. My students are so used to using calculators that this part was tough for them. Then when I say no paper or pencils either.... this part takes the most adjusting to. But in the end, it's all worth it. Number Talks are awesome. 

And finally the numbers come in. Because I want my students to be able to calculate tips and discounts without needing to bust out a calculator, it made sense for us to do Number Talks with percents. 

We started really simply with 10% of 50. Going into this, I figured every kid would just say they moved the decimal one spot to get 5. Of my students who chose to explain their thinking to our class, one moved the decimal, one multiplied 0.10 by 50 and one multiplied 10/100 by 50. 

It was then that I realized how powerful Number Talks are. They got my students engaged, thinking and even explaining their work. Over the course of 5 or so Number Talks, I saw students who thought they'd never be able to calculate percents in their heads gain confidence in not needing a calculator. 

If you're like me and have been wanting to give Number Talks a try but feel a little intimidated by starting, you can download these Number Talks slides for free from TpT. They're editable so that you can make them your own. 

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  1. Resource teacher always looking for ways to enhance my students learning experience!!!

    1. Number talks are great for that! I really enjoyed giving them a try this year:)

  2. Catherine Mary O Mahony-QuinnJuly 05, 2018

    thanks for the powerpoint, which is a great help here in Ireland.

    1. Hello Catherine in Ireland! I'm so happy to hear it was useful and hope you have a great school year!