Number Talks: 6 Silent Signals to Increase Student Engagement

Number Talks: 6 Silent Signals to Increase Student Engagement

Imagine observing your classroom of learners during a number talk lesson.

You see thumbs up and fingers extended. You see partners place a fist to their chest after sharing their thinking with one another. You see children rocking their funny-shaped hands back and forth gently. You see hands raised and eager faces. You even see fists with pinkies sticking up.

Number Talk Hand Signals

What does all this mean?

Well, it means your students are involved in the lesson. They are thinking! They are participating! Yes, they are engaged!

You can see it through your students’ use of silent signals.

Since number talks is primarily a mental math activity presented to a group of students, it runs the risk of having some students disengage if they feel they are not being held accountable to participate. It also runs the risk of having eager students, who are determined to be heard, blurt out answers which can steal processing time away from their peers.

Fortunately, there’s no need to worry because that’s where silent signals come in handy. Students use hand signals to communicate their thoughts when they are not sharing their mathematical thinking with a partner or with the class. These signals give them a “voice” that can be “heard,” increasing their engagement and not disrupting the learning of others.

Doesn’t this make you want to jump up and down… at least a little bit? It does us!

Using silent signals is a strategy that can VERY easily be incorporated into your daily number talk lessons. Here are six signals that have worked in our number talk sessions and could be just as powerful in yours.

Silent Signals

1. "I Have an Answer" Signal (Thumb Up, Close to Body)

Number Talk Hand Signals - Thumbs UpAfter a problem is presented, students put a thumb up to “say” they have figured out the problem and have an answer.

This is effective because students get to “announce” they have a solution and do not have to wait to be called on. We value this signal because it creates a quiet learning environment that gives all students necessary wait time. Students have time to engage in the problem at their own level and not be interrupted.

Oh, and a side benefit, that we LOVE, is that it is a quick visual to help monitor the pace of the lesson. When most thumbs are up, it’s a trigger to move on to sharing their answers and reasoning with a partner.

2. "I Have Another Answer" Signal – (Finger(s) Up)

Number Talk Hand Signals - Finger UpThis signal goes hand in hand with the I Have an Answer signal. After students put a thumb up for their initial solution, they also put a finger up for each additional answer they come up with or strategy they use.

High achieving students love this because they continue to be challenged while waiting for others to finish solving the problem, and they get to “tell” you how many solutions they come up with.

This signal is a simple, effective way for us to differentiate processing time for students and it enables us to challenge higher-level learners by encouraging them to process the problem in different ways.

3. "We Have Each Shared" Signal – (Fist Closed)

Number Talk Hand Signals - Fist ClosedAfter partners share their mathematical thinking with one another, they face forward and place their fist against their chest to signal they are done sharing and are ready for the class Share Aloud.

This signal provides partners the time they need to explain their reasoning without being cut short. We appreciate this signal because it greatly reduces students from shouting out they are done and it keeps the number talk well-paced by discouraging unrelated conversations after each partner has shared.

4. "Me Too" Signal – (Thumb and Pinky Sticking Out)

Number Talk Hand Signals - Finger up, pinky outDuring the class Share Aloud, students listen to the answers and reasoning of peers. If they got the same answer and used the same strategy, they fold three fingers down, leaving their pinky and thumb sticking up, and slightly move their hand back and forth.

Students love the “Me Too” signal because their answer and strategy are validated even though they were not called on to share aloud – and it’s fun for them to make.

We value this strategy because it encourages students to listen attentively to their peers as they share their solutions and explain how they came up with them. Students must think about the similarities and differences between what is being shared and their own solution and reasoning. This signal also reduces the disappointment felt by some students because their answer was already shared.

5. "I Solved It Differently" or "I Have a Different Answer" signal – (Raise Hand)

Number Talk Hand Signals - Raised HandIf so, students respond by raising their hand high. Students eagerly use this signal because they know their solution still has a chance to be heard. We love this signal because it encourages a variety of strategies to be shared.After students share using the “Me Too” strategy, the teacher asks if anyone solved the problem differently or has a different answer.

It also reduces the urge for students to blurt out their disagreement while a student is sharing.




6. "I Have Something to Say" Signal (Fist with Pinky Up)

Number Talk Hand Signals - Fist with pinkyAs students listen to the explanations and reasoning of others, they may have a question, something to add, a disagreeing opinion, or a compliment to give.

The “I Have Something to Say” signal empowers them to let the teacher know they have a response.

This signal is powerful for students because it gives them the possible opportunity to converse with others as they inquire and share.

We highly value this signal because it continues to develop critical thinking skills as students process and respond to the mathematical thinking of others. Also, student discourse is encouraged, which is the heart of number talks.

Free Stuff

Number Talk Hand Signals - Free Poster


Number Talk Programs

Number Talk Hand Signals - Yearlong SetIf you are looking for a yearlong set of number talks for your grade level (K-5) click here . These number talks are guaranteed to get your students conversing and engaging in mathematical conversations.

Thank you for stopping by!

Happy number talking!

Becky & Cindy













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