Number Talks in First Grade

Hi all!

Today I want to chat with you about Number Talks!
*Stay with me for a freebie at the end!*

Last summer, I participated in professional development provided by Math Solutions. During the week long training, there was a lot of discussion around Number Talks and Math Talks.

I have jumped into using these full force this year...and I LOVE them! The kids do too! Here is the structure of  the number talks that I follow in my classroom. These typically last about 15 minutes-depending on how the conversation goes with the students!
*This is how I use them in my 1st grade classroom, but they could easily be adapted for other primary grades! The pictures below are how I do number talks on a smart board.*

1. Pose a problem.
I typically use the smart board or dry erase board for my talks. The type of problem differs throughout the year. This particular discussion centered around a string of addition problems. Addition strings (or strands) are related addition problems.

2. Allow think time.
In my classroom, I have the students use hand signals during our number talks. These were suggested during the Math Solutions training and I love how they are working out! After the problem is posed, they have quiet think time to solve the problem mentally (I do not provide manipulatives or paper/pencil for them to use during these lessons). When they have an answer, they hold a thumbs up on their chest. This tells me that the child has had enough time to think and has a way to solve the problem. If the child can come up with an addition way to solve the problem (a different strategy), they hold up a second finger, and so on for the number of solutions they have thought of in their head.

3. Share out answers.
After the students have had enough time to solve the problem, I asked for them to share out answers. "Who would like to share their answer?" I write the possible solutions next to the problem (shown above in green). If someone shares an answer that others agree with, they use another hand signal that means "me too" or "I agree."
Using their thumb and pinky, they move their hand back and forth between them self and the person that shared the answer. This tells me that they came up with that answer as well. I typically share out all of their answers...unless it gets out of hand.

4. Provide partner share time.
After we have shared out possible solutions, I have the students turn and talk with a partner to PROVE their answer. That is a word that I use a lot in math. "Turn and prove your answer to your partner." When someone has an answer, they have to be able to prove it. During number talks, that requires them to be able to explain it verbally. This can be a difficult task at the beginning of the year, but you will be amazed at how quickly they pick it up!

5. Allow student explanations.
After they have had time to share in partners, I ask students to share out their explanations. "Who would like to share with us how you solved the problem?" or "Who can share their thinking?" As a student shares, I record exactly the steps that they say (shown above in blue) on the board for the other students to see (I also write their name with the explanation to give them ownership-plus they like seeing their name up there!). I typically allow 3-4 student explanations. I mark tallies next to the answer that the students are proving with their explanations. I also do my best to show when a student is thinking something in their head (see picture above).

6. Decide on a final answer.
After students have shared out their solutions, I ask the class, "Do you agree that ____ is the answer?" After seeing the solutions (and problem solving any that might have gotten off track), we always come to a final answer together (shown above in red).

I like to use number strings during math talks. So after solving the first problem, we usually do two more that relate to it. This helps them to see patterns in numbers and see relations in problems.
When using the smart board, I group together the first problem and solutions and minimize them on the screen (shown above on the left). I like having them visible for the students to reference for the next problem. You can see in the solutions on the right above, that Brae did use the previous problem to help solve the second one.
She said, "Well I used the other problem so in my head I knew that 4+4=8. But this problem had a 5 and 5 is one more than 4. So I knew the sum would be 1 more, so it equals 9."
The picture above shows the final problem from that day. You can see that again, a student used the previous problem to help them solve the new one. Ashley said, "I saw from before that 4+5=9, and 7 is 2 more than 5 so the answer has to be 2 more. The answer is 11."

You may also notice that Lane did not catch the pattern, but he did use the strategy of making a 10 which is another great way to solve the problem! I always record every solution. These number talks show me where students are in their math thinking and what they are comfortable with in their mental skills. Just by looking at these responses, I know that Zoe is still dependent on using her fingers, so we could work on more mental strategies in a small group to strengthen those skills and make her more confident.

I absolutely LOVE using number talks in my classroom. I feel like my students have really taken the initiative to find their own way to solve problems, to find ways that make the most sense to them. They find connections in problems and use them to solve other problems! They have also deepened their use of math vocabulary through their explanations and use of our math word wall (check it out here).

*Making mistakes help us learn!*
It is crucial to make sure that students feel comfortable in the classroom. If they are afraid to be wrong or afraid to be embarrassed, they will not be willing to take risks and share out their solutions. We discuss how making mistakes is normal, that it happens to everyone, and that as long as we can fix the mistake, there is no problem with it! We also talk about how figuring out those mistakes helps us the next time we solve a similar problem. I let this conversation happen naturally when someone does try to prove an incorrect answer. We fix it, I smile, thank the student for sharing their thinking because it helped us all learn, and we move on.

*Accuracy is key!*
We usually have a few talks at the beginning of the year regarding accuracy. Sometimes you have students that want to share out an answer, so they will say anything even if they know it is wrong. We discuss how it is okay to make mistakes (and how we learn from them) but that we do want to try our best to be accurate. Using the "me too" sign helps cut down on this a bit, because that sign shows me their answer without them sharing out.

*Model...and model some more!*
When I pose a problem or repeat/reword someone's explanation, I use proper math terminology. The kids love hearing important math terms and using them in their explanations the next time! I often reference our math word wall or repeat a term that a student may have used in their explanation. They feel good about using the words the correct way!

*Record their exact explanation*
I scribe exactly what my students say. If they tell me, "I was thinking the number 4 in my head..." I draw a little smiley face with a thought bubble that has 4 in it. "Then I counted up 4 more, 5, 6, 7, 8." So after drawing the 4 in the thought bubble, I then record the 5, 6, 7, 8 to show what they did next. I want the other students to see that the student did start with that first number 4, but they didn't have to count 1, 2, 3, 4 to get started.

*Sentence Stems*
I also have some sentence stems by our math word wall. Some examples are:
"I agree with _____ because ______."
"I disagree with _____ because _______."
"I knew that ______ so then I knew ______."
"First I _____, then I _____."
These are great for when you are just starting out number talks.

*Keep your responses neutral*
Students REALLY notice how you respond to answers. If someone gives a solution that just blows your mind (trust me, it will happen!), just act cool, record it on the board, and thank them for sharing. (You can brag about it to your co-workers later!) If students see you respond in a big way to one student's solution, and then not to theirs, it may make them feel bad about participating in the future. Number talks are great because they allow students to solve problems in their own way. If they are getting to the correct answer, the route they took to get there isn't right or wrong. You could take the conversation in the direction of, "Which way is more efficient?" if students are just finding long drawn out ways just to share something different, but never pose a correct solution as the wrong way to solve it.

I hope you found this post helpful!
I really do enjoy using number talks in my classroom.
I have posted some math talk activities that I frequently use in my classroom.
Check them out {here}.

If you love the freebie above, check out the larger version of Number Talk Activities in my store! The larger version has 8 different discussion activities to use during number talks!
Check it out {here}.

I also have some free Dot Cards in my store if you are looking for more lower level number talk activities!
Check them out {here}.

If you are looking for resources to support number talks, you can check out the book

Let me know below how you use number talks in your classroom!


  1. I love to make mistakes with my class! We learn so much from mistakes and they love to watch me make an "oops" and catch me on it! Great ideas you have here! Thanks for sharing!

    Melissa Williams
    First Grade Frame of Mind

  2. I just had a training in Number Talks today in PD. Very excited to come across your blog! Can't wait to try it with my first graders this year. Thank you!

  3. Good to know about this number talk and will surely use this idea in teaching my child who is enrolled in one of Phoenix kindergarten. He will really like this way of learning. Thanks for sharing it.