Number Talks Part 1: Subitizing and Number Bonds KG-1st grade

By Cindy Elkins, OK Math and Reading Lady

A Number Talk is an opportunity to review number sense and operations by making it part of your daily math routine — so that what has previously been taught is not easily forgotten.

In this post I will expand on 2 methods for conducting a Number Talk session for KG-1st grade students (Subitizing and Number Bonds). Refer to a previous post (Sept. 10 – Daily Practice to Build Number Sense), in which I mentioned several other ways to review math concepts on a daily basis such as calendar topics, weather graphs, counting # of days of school, using a 100 chart, Choose 3 Ways, etc.

How Do I Conduct Number Talks? These are 5-15 minute sessions in which you present a problem (to focus on number sense or operations) and ask children to share (talk) about how they solved it. The idea is to bring out several different ways to solve the problem with heavy emphasis on mental math strategies. Having children hear or see how their fellow students solve a problem is very beneficial. The teacher only fills in the gaps if students lack sufficient ways to think about a problem. This also helps a teacher determine which strategies students are using or neglecting. Then the teacher can plan for a more detailed math lesson at a later time to reteach, address misconceptions, or teach new strategies. The more strategies students can articulate, the more productive a Number Talk session will be – and the more students will increase their number sense and problem solving abilities.

Great resources – Click on links to take you right there!number-talks-book-cover

For KG and Beginning 1st: I recommend you focus your Number Talk on subitizing and number bonds. (See my posts on Sept. 3rd and October 22 for teaching children how to subitize and learn number bonds). Remember the Number Talk’s main purpose is for reviewing.

  1. Subitizing involves identifying a number of objects in a structured arrangement without trying to count them one-at-a-time. Ten frames cards, tally marks, dots on dice and dominoes are perfect for this. For a Number Talk session (with students all sitting near me), flash one of these types of cards very briefly, not long enough for students to count each dot. For this example, I might flash a ten frame card with 8 dots. Observe students. With card now covered up, have students  show thumbs up at chest level when they can tell how many dots are on the card. Ask a few to tell you how many. Then show the card to check. Then the all-important question: “How did you know?” This continues the “talk” part in which students might tell:
  • “I saw 5 in the top row and 3 more.”
  • “I saw 3 on the top and 3 on the bottom which is 6, and then there were 2 more to make 8.”
  • “I counted by 2s – 2, 4, 6, 8.”
  • “If it was filled there would be 10, but there were 2 empty spaces, so it’s only 8.”

When observing students, see which ones are trying to quickly count one at a time. Counting one at a time is definitely a strategy, so don’t dismiss it. This just means these students need to hear other, more efficient ways to count. Show 3-4 cards per Number Talk session. Preferably use dot formations that build on each other regarding use of strategies rather than random cards.This can progress to use of two ten frame cards such as one with 6 and one with 7 to illustrate the strategy of doubles + one more or making a ten. Or a ten frame with 10 and another with 4 to illustrate the strategy of adding 10 to a number.

2.  Number Bonds: To help students practice number bonds (combinations), put a single number on the board and have students think of the different number bonds for that number. For example, show a 6 and say, “Give me two numbers that combine to equal this number.” Students might respond with 3 + 3, 2 + 4, 5 + 1, and 6 + 0 and all of the responses showing the commutative property: 4+2, 1+5, and 0+6. There will be 7 combinations for the number 6 (always 1 more set of combinations than the featured number).

This would benefit from many repetitions until most students seem to know the number bonds without hesitation. To spur that along and bridge the gap between addition and subtraction, the Number Talk could be shown like this:

  • 2 + ___ = 6
  • 1 + ___ = 6,
  • 3 + ___ = 6
  • 0 + ___ = 6 and others
  • The teacher would say, “What goes with 2 to make 6?” or “What goes with 1 to make 6?”

Helpful organizers for this: Ten frame and part-part-whole templates (large magnetic ones for modeling are great).

I promise you these 5-15 minutes will be worth it!!! Have you conducted Number Talks? Please tell us about it!

Part 2 will be addition and subtraction strategies for 1st-2nd grades. Parts 3 and 4 will be multiplication / division and advanced addition / subtraction strategies. So stay tuned!!

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