Support your child’s learning in math at home with number talks

Is it still important for children to learn their addition and multiplication tables? Yes! However, the way students learn these math facts may be different than the way most adults learned. Rather than memorizing math facts, the focus is on helping children develop efficient, accurate and flexible thinking strategies.

Many teachers use a routine called “Number Talks” to help children become flexible thinkers. A Number Talk takes five to 15 minutes. The teacher poses a computational problem and students determine the answer mentally. Then the teacher records the strategies as students share their thinking. For example, a teacher may write 9 + 8 on the board. Common student responses include:

“I know 8 plus 8 is 16, so 9 plus 8 is one more or 17.” (Use doubles)

“I know 9 plus 9 is 18, so 9 plus 8 is one less or 17.” (Use doubles)

“Ten plus 8 is 18, but I only have 9, so I need to subtract 1 to get 17.” (Use 10)

“If I add 1 to 9, I get 10. Then I have to add 7 more, so the answer is 17.” (Make 10)

Number Talks help students build a tool box of efficient thinking strategies over time. These strategies are important because: 1.) they provide a quick way to determine an answer if a child forgets a fact and; 2.) the same strategies apply to larger numbers, fractions, decimals and algebra. Put down your pencil and calculator and try applying the Make 10 strategy to solve the following problems:

9 + 8: “9 plus 1 is 10 and 7 more is 17.”

19 + 8: “19 plus 1 is 20 and 7 more is 27.”

59 + 28: “59 plus 1 is 60 and 27 more is 87.”

299 + 28: “299 plus 1 is 300 and 27 more is 327.”

3998 + 326: “3998 plus 2 is 4000 and 324 more is 4324.”

3.99 + 0.18: “3.99 plus 0.01 is 4 and 0.17 more is 4.17.”

Great thinking! You can support this type of learning at home. Play math games with your child. For example, play Make 10 Go Fish. Use a regular deck of cards with the face cards removed. Rather than matching two of the same number, match two numbers that add to 10. This game will prepare your child to use the Make 10 strategy. Talk to your child about what he or she is doing in math class. Ask your child how he or she solved a problem when you look over math papers. Focus on good thinking strategies, rather than quick answers. Always let children know mistakes are opportunities to learn. Lastly, try Number Talks at home. It’s a great family activity when riding in the car!


Sandra Ubben is a math consultant with

Central Rivers AEA in Cedar Falls.

She can be reached at

Central Rivers Area Education Agency which serves over 62,000 students in public and non-public school districts representing 18 counties in north central, central and eastern Iowa.