100 Numbers to Get Students Talking

I have 5-10 things that other math teachers ask me for again and again. (eventually I’ll blog about all of them).  The item in this blog is one of them.  This one is different though because I also get tons and tons of feedback on how useful it is.

My friend Megan Schmidt (@veganmathbeagle) blogged this week about Making Groups Work using a task she got from me. She encouraged me to blog about the same task she did. The following post will have some similarities to Megans with a few additions.  Make sure to read her post. ONE SIDE NOTE:  MARILYN BURNS (math goddess) commented on her post on this activity, so this activity must have something you may want to look at – just sayin.

January 2017 update:  Thom Gibson recently made a video about him using this task with his students.  Check it out here and read further for my take on this task.    

My goal:

A quote that has longed haunted me from a presentation I saw several years ago is He/she who does the most talking does the most learning’. I had heard versions of this before, but 10 years ago I decided to get serious about changing the percentage of time I talk in class and increase the percent of time EVERY student in my class was talking.  I changed lots of things.  This post is about just one tweak I made.  The results of all these tweaks was a noticeable increase in the time EVERY student in my class talked about math out loud.  My goal is to get all students talking – about math – every day.

A TASK to get every group to look like this Day 3 of school.

If I am going to get students to talk every day of class, then I need to teach them how to work in groups and teach them how to talk to one another.  This is my goal week one of school.  Lots of years ago, Beth Esposito gave me this task (I think it is an AVID task) that I’ve adapted.  It is magic.  It makes groups look like the pics above with little effort on my part.  I’ve used this activity in both middle and high school and it works great at both levels.  Here is the task.  I call it the 100# task.

Implementing the task:

  1. Group students any way you like (my groups week one are alphabetical). Groups of 4 work best for this task.  Groups of 3 and 5 work too.
  2. This task takes a minimum of 25 minutes and can last up to a 55 minute class period depending on how you implement the task.  I spend longer with middle school students and it seems to go more quickly with HS students.  I’ve done this task on the 3rd day of school the last several years.
  3. You will need one highlighter per student and 3 copies per group of the first page of this task. 1-100_group_work_activity  (Note:  This document is a set of directions I attached to my districts curriculum guides that has some of the information written below 1-100 Task Directions or Teachers
  4. Tell your students that in this class they will be expected to talk about math out loud everyday.  Many days they will be talking and working with either a partner or their group. Today we are going to practice what it is like to work in groups.
  5. Give directions for the task.  I show the task on my Smart Board for 1 minute and turn it off.  I then say their group will have 3 minutes to find as many numbers from 1-100 in order. highlighter pi Group members will take turns going in a circle highlighting each number as they find it.  Student 1 will highlight 1, student 2 highlights 2, student 3 highlights 3….when we get back to student 1, they highlight the next number.  They can help each other find numbers, but each student has to highlight their number in turn.
  6. Ask students to clear their tables of everything100 number.  Hand out one highlighter per student.  Hand out one copy of the numbers 1-100 to each group UPSIDE DOWN.
  7. Put a 3 minute timer up front.  (note to teachers, groups generally find 20-40 numbers the first time they do this activity).  Say go.  While students are working, GET OUT YOUR PHONE and start taking pictures of the groups as they work.  I take pics of every group in round 1 and 2 of this activity.
  8. At 3 minutes, say ‘hands up’.  Ask groups how many numbers they found.  Tell them we will be doing this activity again.  Have students talk with their group about a strategy to do better the next time. Give groups 2-5 minutes to talk.  Have a few groups share out what went well in round 1.
  9. This is where you have some choice.  You need to do this 3 minute activity at least twice, but can do it 3 or 4 times.  I do the 3 min round twice with HS students and 3 times with MS students.
  10. If you only do this twice, then ask students to also talk about any patterns they noticed in the numbers.  Tell them there is a pattern to100 quadrant the numbers. (On day 2 I gave them the definition of math-the study of patterns and we talked about how recognizing patterns can make us more efficient)  Ask students to share out what they noticed.  I do this on the smart board.  I’ve always had at least one group in every class that noticed that the first number was in the top left quadrant and the 2nd number was in the upper right quadrant  as shown below (and I show this to everyone on the smart board after a group names it).  If you are doing the 3 min round 3 times, wait to talk about patterns until between rounds 2 and 3.100 highlighted quadrants
  11. In round 2 (and 3) tell students that their goal is to get more than round 1.  (Note, I love how Megan implemented this part and recorded their results in round 1 and 2 and calculated the % increase. I’ve not done it that way yet, but I will).  Set the timer for 3 minutes.  Say go and TAKE PHOTOS again.
  12. At 3 minutes day ‘hands up’.  Collect the results.  I’ve always had EVERY single group’s result go up.
  13. Next show students the photos you took while they are working in groups.  When I do this, almost every student says ‘I did not even know you took our photo’.   I then ask why do you think this was? They say they were so focused on the task that they did not

    notice what was going on around them.  I say, this is what I want group work to look like EVERY time we do group work in my class.

  14. I have every student get out their notebook and do a individual quick write on the question “What does great group work in math look like?”  Students share their ideas with their groups and groups share out ideas with the class as I record their ideas.
  15. The next day I come to class with a consolidated list of what group work looks like in Ms. Van’s classroom.  I tell them this is the rubric we will use all year.  Here is a copy of what my 2015-2016 students came up with.group work list 2015
  16. The next day it is imperative that you have a group task for students to work on in class so they can practice working in groups using the rubric they developed.  day 2 what do great groups look like
  17. Here are the tasks I’ve used the last couple of years.  You want to choose a task that has multiple entry points for all level of students.  Something they will struggle with a bit, but not too much.  Something that is emotionally safe for the class since we are just getting to know one another.  Since I use this the first week of school I select tasks that should be review of material they’ve learned in the past (but may have forgotten).  Here are my favorite tasks to use for this:
    1. In grade 7 I used Dan Meyer’s Partial Product Task.  Students should enter 7th grade with an understanding of ratios, and this is a great task for week 1.  Partial Products
    2. In grade 8 I used the In & Out 100×100 task from Robert Kaplinsky’s site.100x100_small
    3. This year in AdvAlgebra I used Fawn Nguyens Noah’s Ark task.  This task would work well at most grade levels. Noahs-Arknoahs ark pic
  18. After spending time working with partners on the task, give students some type of exit ticket to reflect on their group work for the day.  Here is one I used. group exit ticket
  19. I recommend printing out and posting the pictures you took of groups working.  Every time you do group work, point to the pictures and say ‘Today we are doing a group task, what do I expect your group to look/sound/feel like today?’
  20. You can use this task mid year too.  If you do, I recommend using it at the start of a quarter or semester.

That’s it.  The 25 minutes I spend on this task at the start of the year pays off big time I do group or partner work.  Students know what group work should look like, as a result more students talk in class.  I have more tricks up my sleeve to get students talking, but this is one of the first I do each school year.

I’d love to hear what you think.  Email me at sarav@mpls.k12.mn.us or Tweet me @saravdwerf or Comment below.




36 thoughts on “100 Numbers to Get Students Talking

    1. I made it in Microsoft Publisher (PC’s only). Unfortunately, I don’t know where I put my original. I can only find the pdf. If it turns up, I will post it so you can use and change.


  1. Thank you – my students LOVED this activity and I LOVED the meaningful message that resulted from it. After the activity was over, I hung a copy of the chart on the wall with the words “Remember what good group work looks like!” written above it. We’ll keep that visual up all year as a great reminder. Thanks for sharing!


  2. Love this!!! I am going to make one change. The first round I am going to have the entire group use the same color. I am hoping they will see that the numbers are in 4 quadrants. Then I will ask if there is anything that would help them “see” this better and hopefully they will suggest using 4 different colors. After we do it again with 4 different colors, I am hoping that I can then lead them into the conversation about everyone doing their own individual parts and how that each contribution is important for a team to work.


  3. I love this idea! Like JeanMarie, I’m thinking that I don’t want to start with 4 different colors, because it might lead them to the pattern too quickly. Your thoughts? I’ll be trying this with my 7th graders in my first week in September. Thank you!


  4. I love this idea; it seems so engaging and a perfect way to capture what good groupwork should look and sound like. I was planning on using it, but I have a concern. I’m wondering how my students with visual processing issues will respond to it. Have your students with learning and processing differences been able to engage?


  5. Do you think my second graders could do this? I think it would work. We are going to begin guided math soon and need to learn how to work together. Any advice you have would be welcomed!


  6. Love the task…a question, though. If you don’t have nice equal groups of 4, the pattern of colors won’t work out. How did you compensate?


    1. It is fine if the color pattern does not appear. It will in some groups and between rounds we share out strategies.. I also don’t always give different colors and do use groups of 3 and they still see a circular pattern.


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