Teaching Math Facts with Strategies

Math fact fluency is one of the most important skills for math success, but is also often one of the most difficult skills for students to master.  I can’t even begin to count how many times I’ve heard teachers say that they are struggling to have students retain basic math facts, which then spills over into struggling with more complex math, which really depends on students using their “thinking power” to do the problem solving, rather than the basic math solving.

Over the next couple of weeks I’ll be sharing different tips and thoughts for addition and subtraction math fluency practice.

When I was in school, I remember mastering my addition facts being handed a big stack of flashcards and told to memorize them. When I got a little older I had a teacher or two who organized math facts by +1, +2 and +3.  The problem with this method is that there are tons of facts to memorize this way. The list felt large, and there were so many strategies that could have made mastering the facts easier to me.

As a first grade teacher, I found right away that teaching strategies and then connecting those strategies to fact fluency was by far the most effective way for students to master their addition facts. Remember that each set of facts that your students are practicing will require lots of time and practice to internalize to become “finger snap facts”.

Here are a list of the strategies to consider using:

Counting on (+1, +2, and +3)

This is really not a traditional fact fluency tip, because it does involve computation, but often bridges the gap for students and they can learn to do this fairly quickly and efficiently.
Also, I’ve found if you continue to practice counting on as a strategy with that set of facts, students tend to internalize them since they make sense, and are practiced as a smaller set.

And when we internalize and are fluent with the facts that are +1, +2, and +3…. look at all the facts we know!

Doubles

Doubles are a super fun set of facts to learn. Once students know them, they can launch right into the next strategy. One year my students practiced a doubles dance. We chanted the facts and make a little movement to go with each set. This really helped them to get up and move and internalize the facts. We started with 2+2 and then added each day as they “became experts” at the parts they had learned. Within a week we had our doubles facts under our belts!

And here are the facts we master when we’ve internalized doubles:

Near Doubles

Once my students knew doubles facts, these came much easier! I remember once using a school math program that had learning doubles and near doubles one day after another. I remember thinking… “How in the world can they actually internalize this strategy when they don’t know their doubles yet?” Knowing their doubles fluently, as well as counting on/ counting back really are prerequisites for this strategy.

Make a 10

This strategy is difficult for some students, but it’s also one of the most useful. I always find that 10 frames are the best tool for my students to practice making a 10. Like any other strategy, it starts out as something you practice using the manipulatives, it’s clunky. Over time it can be done with pictures, then mental math, and fluency builds after this.

Flip Flop Facts (the commutative property)

This strategy is SUPER important because when students know and internalize that 3+4 is the same as 4+3 mathematically, they literally cut the number of facts they need to “memorize” in half.  In fact I’ve found that the +1, +2, and +3 are usually the first ones my students master with fluency, doubles and near doubles follow, and if they know the commutative property, there are only 10 problems left to master with the make a 10 strategy.

 

And the reason practicing for mastery while learning the strategies, is because when we put all these sets of mastery associated with strategies together… look at what we have!

Next up, I’ll chat more about how I practice these skills in my classroom 🙂

 

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