- Carrie S. Cutler

# Four Talk Moves to Elicit Student Thinking in a Number Talk

**I love number talks! **They are one of my go-to practices for helping children develop **appropriate**, **flexible**, and **efficient **strategies for solving problems using mental math.

**Rather than focusing on memorization or robotically following rote procedures, **

**number talks emphasize ****reasoning ****in math and ****connections **

**between numbers and operations. **

If you're not familiar with number talks, here is a short video of one I did with my sons Quinn (6) and McGregor. (8) In this video, I ask the boys to explain **how the number 120 can be made of other numbers**. Watch how they use addition, multiplication, subtraction, place value, and known facts to share their thinking.

As you saw in the video, the sequence of interaction we use during a number talk goes a bit like this:

**Pose a problem**that can be solved using mental math.Allow students

**time to think**. Students place their thumb up against their chest to show when they’re ready.Several students

**share solutions**, and the**teacher writes**them on the whiteboard.Ask questions to

**probe student thinking**about the strategies or relationships between the ideas.If desired, highlight an efficient strategy for discussion or ask students to try a

**related problem**to help them generalize the ideas.Begin the sequence again but wrap it up after about

**5-10 minutes**. Number talks are meant to be brief.

**This interaction is prime real estate for a rich mathematical discussion, **

**but what if the kids don’t engage?**

**Crickets! **

How do we get kids to **talk **during a number **talk**? It can be tough, especially if our students are used to a classroom where math is a quiet, individual exercise.

One of the __Effective Mathematics Teaching Practices__ (NCTM 2014) is **Eliciting and Using Evidence of Student Thinking**. Effective mathematics teachers use evidence of student thinking to ASSESS progress and PLAN or ADJUST instruction accordingly. Here we see it in action:

Notice how the figure is cyclical. We follow the cycle numerous times during a discussion. This requires a teacher to be on his/her toes **listening**, **scribing**, **responding**, and **providing feedback**.

### Sound complicated? It is! And it takes practice!

**Add to that the need for on-the-spot brilliant questioning and whoa—overwhelming! **

For me, thinking of the perfect question **in the moment** is tough. I can never think of what to say! I get in a rut asking the same questions:

*How did you get that?*

*Did anyone do it a different way?*

**Boring! **

**But never fear; Talk Moves to the rescue! **

Talk moves are ways a teacher can facilitate the progression of a discussion among students **without being the one doing all the talking. **Seriously, some of my best teaching has happened when I have just been quiet and let the **students **build the ideas, make a connection, or create their own ah-hah moment.

**Here are 4 talk moves that are helpful for guiding discussion **

**and easy to implement during a number talk. **

**1. Wait Time **

Consider that children (and adults too) need **time to think**. After giving the initial computation problem (and throughout the discussion) allow time for children to gather their thoughts. This is respectful and sends the message that the **problem is worth their thought and effort.**

When I started teaching in the age of purple dittos and newsprint worksheets, the recommendation for adequate wait time was 30 seconds. It felt painfully looooooooong. Today, experts suggest giving children **5-15 seconds **to formulate a response to a question for which they **should** know the answer. Give more time for students to respond to a question for which you anticipate **divergent thinking**.

__What the teacher can say:__

*I’m going to give you a few moments to think about this.**It’s okay to think for a moment.**Good ideas take time.**Put a silent thumb against your chest when you have one idea. Put up a second finger when you have a second idea.**When I see you have lots of fingers up, I know you're taking your time to think deeply.*

** 2. Clarify or Repeat **

Children’s limited vocabulary sometimes (though not always) affects their ability to articulate their ideas with precision. When you ask children to **clarify **their thinking by **restating their ideas**, they often self-correct or speak with greater clarity during the second go-round.

*The teacher *can also **repeat** what children have said to model precise mathematical language and correct vocabulary and usage. And check out the 4th bullet below. Orienting students to one another is a great way to improve equity and send a message that students should listen to one another's ideas.

**What the teacher can say:**

*Can you say that again?**Are you saying that you think __________?**Let me see if I understand what you mean.**Who can tell us what (child’s name) said?*

### 3. Reason

**Emphasizing reasoning in mathematics is essential to learning conceptually. **Further, a child’s reasoning may be strong, even if they don’t necessarily arrive at the correct conclusion. If you sense that a student is on the right track, prompt them to **justify their reasoning**. They may **self-correct **as they explain. This is good not only for the child who is doing the explaining but also for those listening. When children **hear the reasoning behind one another’s strategies**, they are more willing to accept them as valid, can compare them to their own, and can make connections between problems and strategies.

**What the teacher can say:**

*Why do you think that?**Can you tell me more about why you decided that?**How is your strategy alike/different from Knox's?**How did you figure that out?*

**4. Add On**

Asking other children to add on to what a classmate has said helps everyone feel part of the conversation. Like I pointed out earlier, orienting students to one another's ideas encourages **active listening **while classmates are explaining. **And when kids hear other kids talk about math, it sends a message that math is for everyone!**

**What the teacher can say: **** **

*Who can give us another example? *

*Who can add on to what (child’s name) said? *

*Who can rephrase what Duncan said and add on to it? *

*Zeb, can you give us an example different from the one Sybil gave? *

Let me know what you think of these ideas, **add your own suggestions **in the comment section, or send me a ** Tweet**. I'd love to hear how you are orchestrating discussion in your classroom. Whether during a

**, a discussion about**

__number talk__**, or in**

__3 Act Tasks__

__small groups__**discussion builds math-positive mindsets.**

If you like these ideas, hit subscribe. And find many more tips in my book __Math-Positive Mindsets: Growing a Child's Mind without Losing Yours____.__