What are Number Talks?

Number Talks are ‘pencil-free’ discussions with pupils in which they are encouraged to explain the way they saw or calculated something they are shown.

There are two main types. Hover to the right to see examples.


Type 1: Dot Patterns

Hover to flip...

Type 2: Number Patterns

Hover to flip...

How many ways could we work out 43 - 17 ?

What Happens in a Number Talk?
There are six components:

Key Features of Successful Number Talks

1. Nothing is written down initially. It may be that in type 2, once the methods have been discussed, that children are able to show them using whiteboards, but that should never be an initial step.


2. As Alex Box says, Number Talks should be seen as a ‘safe space for normalising mistakes’


3. Number Talks are never about the answer. The focus should always be on the ‘how did you do it?‘.

4. Time is important. Not everyone thinks at the same speed, and faster is not always better. Children must be given enough time to think about the problem before anyone is asked to contribute.


5. At least 3 children should be asked for their input. This helps them to see that maths can be something they do, not just something that is done to them.


6. Number Talks are never about the answer. The focus should always be on the ‘how’.

What are the Benefits? Number Talks allow children to:


Number Talks help children to make links between concrete resources, visual representations and abstract numbers.

Linking mathematical concepts

For example, children can see how addition and subtraction are related by talking about what's missing from a tens frame.

Making a Safe Space

By allowing ALL contributions, without judgement, you start to embed the idea that it is OK to not know or to be wrong.

Children learn to 'defend' their position and build their language.skills.

By listening to others, children learn to apply more efficient methods without losing face or feeling they are wrong.

Speed isn't important.
Mistakes don't matter.
There are LOTS of 'right' ways.
It's not just about memorizing.

How to get started? Here are a few sample starter prompts to try.

How many dots to you see?

How did you count them?

Can you find the number of dots? Did you use addition or  subtraction?

How could you find

83 – 29 ?


What about 8.3-2.9 ?

If I know that 3 x 4 is 12, what else do I know?

Further Reading

This is the lady wbo inspired me to write this page!
Jo Boaler is a big champion of Number Talks
NRICH are experts in problem-solving; here is their take on Number Talks
Fot anyone who subscribes, there are loads of Number Talk resources here
A US-based teacher with some creative ideas