Strategies to implement Number Talks effectively and its benefits

Last Updated on October 10, 2023 by Editorial Team

I have seen many teachers struggling with the process of establishing a connection with the students. They find it challenging to reach the students mentally and to bring them on to go further beyond rote learning. The ideal situation is achieved when a student gets to learn the concepts in the way a teacher intends to teach and delivers the learning as per expectations.

Number Talks is one such strategy of a pedagogical nature that makes it possible for the teachers to extract the learning imparted and find how correctly the students have absorbed the concepts.

Benefits of number talk strategies

According to a study[1] conducted in South African Classrooms on Number Talks, this strategy helps learning in multiple ways, such as:

  • It clarifies thinking
  • Helps investigate and apply mathematical operations
  • Helps build problem-solving strategies
  • Allows testing mathematical logic

A few other researchers call Number Talks an easy way to develop mental maths[2]. This activity requires students to solve the math problems mentally and elicit answers preceded by some subtle gestures. Thus, the overall strategy focuses on understanding logic and applying it to solving math with ample reasoning.

Strategies to implement number talk effectively

Number talks are primarily about inciting the responses from the students. In a typical process, the teachers explain the problem and ask the students to solve it and provide an answer. This process can reach an effective end when the right conditions are created for the same. These conditions are developed using:

1. Community environment build-up

The students need to feel comfortable about sharing ideas for solving a problem, discussing, and answering. This comfort level becomes easier to achieve with:

  • Encouragement for putting forth responses, means teachers have to indulge children in brainstorming ideas. They need to avoid the evaluation of ideas or expressing dissent or appreciation.
  • Allow students to speak answers so that even wrong answers and the cause behind them can be found.
  • Encourage students to provide defense for the strategy chosen or solution they provide for the problem.

Thus, the establishment of a community environment in the class is the first strategy that makes it easier for the students to strategize, share, and explain with no fear or inhibition.

2. Building an environment of acceptance

No one judges and all suggestions are welcomed with no expressions – this is the primary rule for making a healthy discussion possible. The students need to feel accepted and well-heard when they put forth a strategy to solve the problem. An environment of acceptance helps in the following ways:

  • The students do not feel any math anxiety
  • Healthy classroom discussions become possible
  • Encourages students to find and reach more effective strategies

3. Teacher acting as a facilitator

The role of the teacher in a number talk sessions is to encourage participation and ensure a seamless flow of discussion. Also, they need to ensure that the discussion does not go haywire and revolves around solving the problem only. Therefore, they can do the following activities:

  • First, the teacher discusses the flow of number talk sessions and tells about certain gestures like ‘thumbs up’ or ‘thumbs down’ to respectively convey the success or failure in solving problems. This helps maintain a level of discipline in the class while discussing.
  • When teachers collect ideas, they write on the board for everyone to see and understand.
  • They can also ask students to comment upon the other student’s strategy or ask the third person to find the relationship between two strategies suggested by a pair of students.

4. Encouraging the use of mental computation

Number talks’ one of the primary purposes is to help students overcome math fear. The teachers want the beginners to develop their minds to progress further into solving more complex problems. Mental computations make it possible and evoke more thinking. For example, the students should be asked to solve a ten-based multiplication problem. It will be the easiest thing to do. Now, teachers can ask to move further and find alternatives to reach the same answer. Means,

The first student gives an alternative: 10 x 10 ( let’s take a hypothetical problem)

The second student’s alternative can be: 90 + 10

The third alternative from a student can be: 100 / 10

Thus, the students can know and practice multiple operations to arrive at an answer. All these solving strategies when written on the board, allow students to see how mathematical operations can be used to arrive at an answer. By doing this, the teachers allow the students to ‘stretch’ their mind’s thinking ability, which is one of the main purposes of number talk sessions.

Three common practices to follow while implementing number talk strategies

1. Hand gestures

The most important task while carrying out a number talk sessions is that the teachers need to maintain decorum in the class. Also, they need to ensure that any child is not feeling anxious or intimidated by other students’ responses. They can accomplish both objectives by encouraging the use of hand gestures. Simply decide the meaning of gestures, give a little practice and that is it! Such an easy way can help students derive the best benefits from the number talk sessions.

2. Number stretching

This is the part where the students can come one by one to the board and put the solutions and the strategies. The example given in the above section of the number ten base calculation is an example of number stretching.

Another example will be to use multiplication problems to help children think broadly by stretching their imagination. Means start with a number line. Tell them to locate 3. Now, ask them to add more 3 from that point and so on. This helps children to know how a simple concept like that of length can be learned with number talk.

3. Visualization of the problem

A study[3] ‘The Impact of Number Talks on Third Grade Students’ by Nicole D. Galliard, University of South Carolina has mentioned that visualization of numbers in a variety of ways boosts number sense in the students. Visualization is nothing but a different way to arrive at a problem’s solution.

Thus, using students’ imagination, the teachers can show how problems can be approached in various ways. This process, too, involves initiating a discussion and asking students to come up with various strategies.

To conclude,

Number talks open the young learners’ minds and drive them to think more and deeper. With the strategies and practices, you create a solid learning environment. However, you do need a resource to learn about intervening and doing various kinds of number talk sessions.

So, give the number talk sessions a proper place in your math teaching routine. Keep it simple, short but regular so that kids neither miss this nor feel overburdened either.

Do you want to know where and how to begin? Well, we suggest you take a look at some best number talks books that can tell you how to put strategies into action. You can also find the number talks session plans to give practice to students in these insightful resources.


  1. Stott, Debbie & Graven, Mellony. (2015). Adapting number talks to foreground mathematical progression in South African classrooms.
  2. Johnson, Anthea and Partlo, Amanda. (2014). The Impact of Regular Number Talks on Mental Math Computation Abilities. Retrieved from Sophia, the St. Catherine University repository website:
  3. Gaillard, N. D.(2018). The Impact Of Number Talks On Third-Grade Students’ Number Sense Development And Mathematical Proficiency. (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from etd/4844

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