The Stenhouse Blog

Develop Number Sense with Number Talks

Posted by admin on Dec 3, 2018 1:03:28 PM

One of the reasons Number Talks are so important is that they give students, and adults, a whole different perspective on mathematics—a perspective that turns out to be critical for future learning.”  ~Jo Boaler, Professor of Mathematics Education, Stanford University

In Cathy Humphreys and Ruth Parker’s Making Number Talks Matter and their newest companion title, Digging Deeper: Making Number Talks Matter Even More, teachers learn not only how to use Number Talks to develop number sense, but how these short, daily routines can help create a thriving classroom community where students actively share their thinking and teachers become expert listeners.

What Are Number Talks?

Number Talks are routines in which students reason mentally with numbers. It is a time when students put their pencils and paper away to think about and try to solve a problem mentally, then share their thinking and strategies with their peers. The teacher’s role is to listen, to record the students’ thinking on the board, and to hold back on explaining or correcting. This can be difficult for some, but it is essential to making Number Talks work. “Number Talks turn students’ roles in math class upside down. Now they are supposed to figure something out rather than be told the steps to follow. Now they are supposed to explain what they think rather than waiting for us to explain” (Humphreys and Parker 2015).

Why Are Number Talks Important?

Number Talks allow students to take back the authority of their own reasoning, but they also bring interest, excitement, and joy back into the math classroom. Number Talks allow students to make sense of mathematics in their own ways by practicing making convincing arguments while critiquing and building on the ideas of their peers. “As students sit on the edge of their seats, eager to share their ideas, digging deep into why mathematical procedures work, they come to like mathematics and know that they can understand it,” (Humphreys and Parker 2015). Number Talks can help students build competence, flexibility, and confidence as mathematical thinkers.

How Do I Start Digging Deep Into Number Talks?

For practical guidance as to how to start Number Talks in your classroom, pick up a copy of Making Number Talks Matter, an introduction and how-to guide to Number Talks. In order to get a full grasp of Number Talks, however, and see exactly what they look like, Digging Deeper is a must-have. This essential companion book uses extensive video footage of teachers and students practicing Number Talks in real classrooms. This personal and accessible book shows teachers:

  • The kinds of questions that elicit deeper thinking
  • Ways to navigate tricky, problematic, or just plain hard exchanges in the classroom
  • How to more effectively use wait time during Number Talks
  • The importance of creating a safe learning environment
  • How to nudge students to think more flexibly without directing their thinking.

“The process of engaging students in reasoning with numbers is one we hope you will consider as a problem-solving venture—an investigation that will help you to learn to listen to your students and learn along with them as you build your lessons around their thinking” (Humphreys and Parker 2015).

Ruth Parker co-created Number Talks with Kathy Richardson in the early 1990s. Cathy Humphreys has been instrumental in extending Number Talks to the secondary level. Together, Cathy and Ruth have developed a deep knowledge of the best ways to teach Number Talks with students of all grade levels. Their extensive knowledge is packaged nicely into these two highly accessible books. Order them HERE today.


Humphreys, Cathy, and Ruth Parker. 2015. Making Number Talks Matter: Developing Mathematical Practices and Deepening Understanding, Grades 4 – 10. Portland, ME: Stenhouse.

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