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Teaching math includes so much more than practicing basic math facts and it can be tricky to fit it all in. Here's a solution to making fact fluency work for your small groups – plus it's FUN!

What is math fact fluency practice?

It may be easier to start with what is NOT math fact fluency… it's not the memorizing and practicing with a timer. I was one of “those kids” who actually loved doing math drills, so this was a tough one to wrap my head around at first.

Fact fluency actually goes way beyond simple accuracy, i.e.: is the answer correct or incorrect? For a student to be fluent, they must be able to use their understanding of math concepts (number sense) to be able to choose and apply the most efficient strategy.

What does this look and sound like in a primary classroom?

You will definitely hear more math discussions asking students to explain how they know if they've arrived at the correct answer or not, as well as seeking input from other students. You may have students using different ways to solve the same addition and subtraction facts and that's okay!

If there's more than one way to solve a math problem (hint: there usually is), then the discussion may turn to comparing the efficiency of each strategy. Does it make sense to count 100 pennies or “trade up” for ten dimes, four quarters, or one dollar? Which is more efficient to find out how much money you have?

Fact Fluency is Computational Fluency

Principles and Standards for School Mathematics states, “Computational fluency refers to having efficient and accurate methods for computing. Students exhibit computational fluency when they demonstrate flexibility in the computational methods they choose, understand and can explain these methods, and produce accurate answers efficiently. The computational methods that a student uses should be based on mathematical ideas that the student understands well, including the structure of the base-ten number system, properties of multiplication and division, and number relationships” (p. 152).” NCTM.org

Fitting it all in – Fact Fluency Routine

Math fact fluency is clearly still important to building a strong foundation for our early mathematicians, but how do you fit it all in? This is something I spent A LOT of time on as a special educator. Many students had early math goals and objectives in the area of fact fluency. Luckily, with a little bit of creativity and a lot of routine, we saw big leaps in our progress!

It worked really well to find consistent practice everyday versus one long math fact fluency lesson once per week. As you can see above – it only took a few minutes a day! Even better news? My first graders LOVED it!

Here's a breakdown of our math practice:

(Move over math worksheets and flash cards!)

Small Group Warm-Up – this is only a few minutes and mostly serves as a transition into our math thinking (especially because we seemed to always have math after lunch!). The warm-up should be focused on review, not new math concepts.

Partner Practice – this is where the math magic occurs! Students pairs had a chance to show off their math skills together and were encouraged to explain their thinking with partner math discussions. It also provided an opportunity for you to lean in, observe, and grab a few data points (progress monitoring).

Small Group “Blast” Math Games – this is a fast-paced math facts game, think of it as flashcards, but a whole lot more fun! Our math fact fluency game could be played with addition facts or subtraction game cards (or both) and was called “Oh Snap!” It's included in this Fact Fluency Kit (click here for a closer look).

Fact Fluency Practice – on Fridays (after a week of review and quick practice games), we “showed what we know” using our math facts practice tests as an assessment tool. This is probably more like the traditional math test you remember from your school days. We only spend about two minutes on the actual test and then move into more engaging Partner Practice. This will provide students with more practice and you get a chance to quickly look over the completed tests.

Depending on your small groups, you may want to incorporate student data tracking (i.e.: students can check their own papers and receive immediate feedback) and goal setting (setting a goal or intention for future practice, i.e.: is my chosen math strategy working or should I try something different)?

Fact Fluency Kit – Staying Organized

Organization is key for fitting everything into our small math groups. Here's an addition and subtraction math kit to help keep everything at your fingertips:

Fact Fluency Kit

Fact Fluency Teaching Routines Video

I can't wait to hear how you make building math fluency work with your small math groups!

Hi there.

I'm Jennifer!

I’m Jennifer and I was a special educator in the elementary school setting over the past decade. I entered the classroom every day dedicated to making learning inclusive AND engaging.

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