Math talks are short activities (around 10-15 minutes) designed to provide opportunities for the students to make connections in mathematics and explain their thinking to their peers. There are questions/problems/pictures that encourage students to think of different strategies and realize that there is no one way to solve a problem. There are many ways to see and understand mathematics. Math talks help students see the flexibility in math and promote a positive attitude towards math as they help students see themselves as valued math thinkers. In the words of one of my students “Math talks make math interesting.”
A math talk can be a problem asking for one solution, a problem that has many answers, or just a visual or a story that allows the students to make their own observations. It could be a problem solved the wrong way with a misstep.
Below are some more benefits of using math talks in your instruction.
- Takes the focus away from the teacher and allows students to listen and learn from their peers.
- Encourages students to think like mathematicians and use mathematical language to explain their thinking.
- Reinforces mental math strategies.
- A great opportunity to revise different concepts and show the connection between them.
- Creates a safe space to make mistakes and take risks.
- Allows the teacher to identify misconceptions.
- Gives the students the opportunity to make observations and find connections in mathematics.
Here are a few things to remember when doing a math talk.
- Once you have posed the problem allow the students enough thinking time. Some students will come up with a strategy or a connection faster than others. Ask the students that are ready to note down their idea/strategy and keep thinking about other ideas. This will give the rest of the students more time and will keep the faster students thinking.
- Set up small group conversations. Students can work in pairs or groups and discuss a problem before having a class discussion. Explaining their thinking in a smaller group is easier for many students. (I sometimes ask students to explain their partner’s strategy)
- Record all the answers (right or wrong). They will be surprised by how much they can learn from a wrong answer.
- Remind students to use sentence starters like “I agree with, I disagree because I would like to add, I am wondering, I saw a different way, I am not sure about”
- Remind students to use respectful language and avoid sentences like “this is so easy”
Math talk activities might look like pictures, arrangements, puzzles, word problems, a solved problem, comparing two solutions, and much more. Before you choose a math talk make sure that you have a defined goal. What do you want to achieve with this math talk? Clear misconceptions? Remind a strategy? Make sure that you discuss the wrong solutions/strategies as well. Explore where the solution went wrong. Ask students to find the missteps. I love to create wrong solutions and once they figure it out ask “why is this wrong”. There is great learning in these discussions.
I have created a brand new collection of math talk task cards (125 print and digital) that include
- Balance the scale (addition, multiplication, division)
- Estimating on the number line. (fractions, addition, division)
- Would you rather …? comparing, place value
- Arrangements /Patterns
- How do you see it? How do you count?
- What do you see? What do you think…?
- Blocks arrangements.
- Ants under the hats (addition, subtraction,
- multiplication, division)
- Find the problem by looking at the solution steps.
- Find the misstep in the solution.
- Find connections.
- Using multiplication table stepstones.
- Decomposing numbers (place value)
- Polygon Properties
- What is different? What is the same?
Here is a small sample
Here is the free version for you to get an idea.
Find more puzzles/math talks below