We can get an idea of what a Number Talk is by hearing from a first -grade teacher describing how she gets started with Number Talks.

**by Kathy Richardson**

When my children begin first grade, my Number Talks help me get a feel for where they are and what they know from their Kindergarten and home experiences. I start the year using a variety of number arrangement cards including toothpick cards, dot cards, tile cards and Number Shape cards. The Number Shape cards are different from the others because each number is represented by a particular arrangement which the children learn to recognize.

These simple configurations of the numbers 4 through 10 not only help me see how my new class looks at numbers, but also begins a long journey for the children. The cards will be used again and again. I want my children to become familiar with the cards, so eventually when a child sees the 7 card, she will automatically know it’s a 7 and we can then use it for more sophisticated challenges.

I like to have the children seated on the floor for Number Talks. I sit in a small child’s chair with my box of Number Talk materials beside me. I wait until everyone is ready. As I look around the group, I make eye contact with each child. If I cannot see a child’s face, I ask him to scoot over so I can see him. When everyone is ready, I begin.

On the first day, I show the children one number shape at a time and ask them to determine how many squares are on each card.

Children see the number shape cards in a variety of ways. For example, some children see the 6 card as 3 on top and 3 on the bottom, and some see it as 4 in a square on one side and then 2 more. Many of my students are counting to find out how many. Some children will tell me that they counted by twos, “Two, four, six!” When children count by 2s, they are still counting rather than decomposing the number into parts, but this is still important information for me. The children who are counting all of the squares are not yet seeing the parts within the larger numbers. Counting by 2s can be a step away from counting all as they are seeing the twos within the shape. We have lots of work to do to learn to compose and to decompose numbers to 10.

In addition to our work with the number shapes, we also work with dot cards. The beauty of the dot cards is that, when used in a thoughtful sequence, they encourage children to see smaller groups, just by their configuration. Again, as with the number shapes, many children at the beginning of the year will simply be counting the number of dots by 1. My goal is for all of them to instantly recognize 3, 4 and 5 dots so that they no longer need to count for these numbers.

I present the class with a dot card and say, “Thumbs up when you know how many.” First, I ask for answers. Cassie says, “Five.” “Does anyone else want to tell how many they got?” “I got five too,” Charlie says, forgetting to raise his hand. I decide to just move on and say, “Raise your hand if you want to share how you knew there are 5 dots.” I usually allow 2 to 3 children the chance to share their thinking for each card. After one student has shared, I say, “Raise your hand if you solved it like Amaya did.” This encourages children to listen to their peers. It also gives all children a chance to tell me how they figured it out, but not orally so we can keep the Number Talk moving and not get bogged giving everyone a turn.

As the days progress, some children begin to recognize the numbers. Children who had been counting for quite a while start to notice and share what parts of the numbers they see. After Sarah shares that she saw the seven card as a 3 and a 4, Simon, who has been very quiet so far during Number Talks, says that he sees it as 3 and 4 too, but that he also sees it as 3 + 2 + 2! Simon counts all to find the total but is seeing parts that make up the 7. Eventually, he will be able to combine the parts as he goes. “Three and two makes five and two more is seven!” That’s the beauty of having children share their strategies and thinking. It rubs off on the other children. Pretty soon, most members of the class will be beginning to see parts of numbers within the larger number.

We work on maybe 3 or 4 cards for about 6 minutes. It’s a good idea to keep the Number Talks short. That way, the children are attentive and eager for the Number Talk the following day.

If you have heard the saying, “Less is more,” you know what we mean when we say that Number Talks can be short and simple, but focused and to the point. I always think, “Is there anything I can do today that might highlight a relationship I hope the kids will begin to see?” I may hold up the 5 card and then follow it with the 7 card thinking some children may see the 5 that is part of the 7. Sometimes I take special note of who is counting all and who is counting on. I notice when a child realizes they know how many instantly. “I knew that was the 7 and I didn’t have to count or anything!”

I know, as the year progresses, children will notice more and more relationships and begin combining numbers without counting. Number Talks is not only an important experience for the children, but it also is a great place to assess my children’s progress in moving toward an understanding of number combinations and relationships.

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