Introduction to Math Talks

Math Talks is intended to be a short, daily routine that supports students’ sensemaking of mathematical ideas through peer-to-peer discourse. This student-centered approach to learning supports ELMI’s vision of a world filled with curious, young learners collaborating with their peers and making sense of their world. Learning how to skillfully facilitate Math Talks is worthwhile, challenging, and supports students’ understanding of mathematics.

Number Talks or Math Talks? What’s the difference?

Number Talks were created by Kathy Richardson and Ruth Parker in the early 1990s to engage students in meaningful mathematical discourse and sense-making as well as transform the culture of the classroom to one of inquiry and curiosity. Number Talks provide students with meaningful ongoing practice with computation. It is rooted in number and operations as students use number relationships and structures to add, subtract, multiply, and divide. (Retrieved from Number Talks are not typically aligned to grade-level math curricula.

"Number Talks are all about kids having their own ideas and solving computation problems in ways that make sense to them."

Ruth Parker

Math Talks has become a catch-all phrase to describe students engaged in mathematical discourse that may, or may not, include the intentions of Number Talks as described above. Additionally, Math Talks may include students thinking and talking with each other about problems rooted in geometry and other areas of mathematics rather than computation.

For more information, please see the Resources section at the bottom of the page.

Planning Math Talks

An important component to facilitating Math Talks is both planning for and reflecting on the Math Talks. A suggested Math Talks Planning Guide is included and intended to support a single Math Talk or a series of Math Talks. Before the Math Talk, use the guide to anticipate student thinking and the progression of strategies that may surface during the Math Talk. Think through these strategies, opening and follow-up prompts, and ways to represent student thinking. After facilitating the Math Talk, jot down student strategies that you did not anticipate and questions that might better support student thinking the next time you implement a similar Math Talk.

Considerations when getting started with Math Talks

  • Plan problems purposefully
  • Anticipate different students’ strategies and how you might record their thinking (if recording student thinking)
  • Listen with curiosity
  • Embrace pauses for your students and for yourself. Give students time to think, explain, and reason.
  • When recording student thinking, wait for students to explain their entire thought process before recording their thinking. Premature recording can cause students to change their thinking mid-explanation.
  • Look for opportunities to represent student strategies visually using a number line, hundreds chart, or an array.

The resources and videos below may be used as launching points to learn more about and explore how to implement Math Talks.

Starting A Math Talk (0:46)

2nd Grade Math Talk (1:52)

Cultivating learner-centered norms supports students to take intellectual risks, reflect on and share their thinking.

Math Talks Resources


Resources for Teachers and Teacher Educators:

Tips for starting a Math Talk (before recording student thinking):