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A Picture Can Elicit a Thousand Words: Using the IM Talking Math Slide Deck, for Grades TK-Grade 5

One of my current favorite online math resources is the Talking Math Slide Deck from Illustrative Math IM Talking Math. For teachers who are teaching virtually or face-to-face, this resource makes for a perfect math warm up or routine. If you want math activities that are easy-to-use, that take no preparation, and that engage students in critical thinking and language development, this is for you!

Features of the IM Talking Math Slide Deck

According to, the IM Talking Math Slide Deck activities feature:

•An invitational launch to get students interested in a picture

•70 days-worth of pictures

•Six grade-level-aligned questions

•Standards alignment across related domains to demonstrate a potential progression of questions across grades

•Related “After the Image” questions and activities to do at home

How the Slide Deck Works

Using the slide deck is simple. All you have to do is show your students the picture on the slide and pose the questions that are provided for you. There are questions for each grade level, from Kindergarten (TK teachers can use the “K” questions) to fifth grade.

Each pair of slides begins with an “invitational launch,” a slide with a picture that includes open-ended questions such as, “What do you notice?” “What do you wonder?” “What do you see?” “What patterns do you notice?” “What questions do you have about the picture?” “What math words do you think of when you look at this picture?”

The second slide in the pair has the same picture but provides questions for teachers to ask at different grade levels. See the example below:

Using the Slide Deck in Kindergarten

Since the pandemic began, I’ve been using the slide deck with my student teachers in the Education Studies Department at UCSD, engaging them in the activities, and encouraging them to use the resource with their students. Alexandria Ortega, one of my students, shared one of the slide pairs with her kindergartners in small groups on Zoom, and reported her successes to me. Her cooperating teacher and the school principal both observed the lesson and were impressed.

Alexandria’s lesson objective was for her students “to quantify the popsicles they see (in a picture) based on multiple characteristics such as color, shape, and arrangement.” She also wanted her kindergartners to describe the popsicles and make connections to their own experiences.

She launched the activity by asking her students what their favorite desserts are. This piqued their interests and focused their attention on the picture of popsicles that Alexandria showed them next:

“What do you see in the picture? What do you notice?” she asked.

The students had lots to say.

“Some are swirls!”

“It looks like a puzzle.”

“There are rows of popsicles.”

“There are lots of different colors and patterns!”

“Looks like there are different flavors.”

“Some have two sticks.”

“The popsicles look like rectangles.”

Alexandria noticed that her students were excited about the picture and their observations included lots of detail. Next, she focused her questions on quantity.

“How many popsicles do you see?” To help students get started, she provided the following frame: “I see _____ popsicles.”

Some students were able to correctly determine that there are 36 popsicles altogether. For others, simply counting the number in each row, or counting the number of rows was challenging enough. Some students counted the popsicles (or “ice pops”) that had bites out of them and those that didn’t. The picture definitely elicited many different responses, reflecting the natural differentiation that the activity provided.

Extending the Lesson

To extend the lesson and give her students experience comparing pictures, Alexandria showed them the following slide and asked them what they noticed and how the pictures are similar and different.

Interestingly, almost everyone knew that the coins had chocolate in them!

One girl knew right away that the picture on the right is Hanukkah gelt, which was especially appropriate because at the time she was celebrating this tradition with her family.

Students noticed the differences in shapes. They estimated how many coins there were. They tried to compare the amounts. They noticed that the popsicles were “more organized” than the coins. One student commented that “It’s hard to count the coins because some are hidden.”

Alexandria just kept asking more questions. For each question, she encouraged her students to explain their thinking.

“What else do you notice?”

“Are there more coins or popsicles, what do you think?”

“About how many coins do you think there are?”

“What shape are the coins? The popsicles?”

“Which do you like better? Why?”

Popsicle Questions for Older Kids

The flexibility of IM Talking Math is impressive. For older students, teachers can pose problems about the popsicle picture such as,

“Write a multiplication equation to represent the ice pops in the puzzle.” “How could you sort the ice pops into 2 categories?” and, “Figure the volume of an 11”-by-2”-by-13” box that the ice pops come in.”

Keeping it Simple

Teachers’ Editions of math textbooks often present lesson plans that are way too complicated, cover too much territory, and take too much time to teach. The beauty of IM Talking Math is that it’s simple, takes only 5 to 10 minutes, provides a visual context for using language, and helps students think critically about mathematics. It’s simple without simplifying the math. I think it’s a winner.

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