Basic Fact Fluency & Picking Apart Those Pesky Word Problems

Tuesday, November 13, 2012 / Leave a Comment
Problem #1: My 3rd and 4th grade students are still using their fingers, the 100s chart, or number line to add even the most basic addition problems {ex. 3 + 4}

Since the beginning of this school year, I’ve noticed that my students can’t quickly solve basic addition problems with sums up to 20 and their corresponding subtraction facts while they are trying to solve 2-3 digit addition/subtraction problems. I could be wrong, but I don’t think students in the 3rd and 4th grades should still be counting on their fingers or running to the hundreds chart to solve 8-3. Plus, it takes them an extremely long time to complete one larger problem. To help them out, I decided to make up some 5-10 minute fun daily activities we can work on to gain some fluency with basic facts. Since I only have 30 minutes with my lower students, every minute counts.

For this activity packet, I typed up flashcards for every single addition fact {stopped at the 11’s facts} and their corresponding subtraction facts, and made up different sorting activities for them {sum of ___, difference of ___, less than/greater than/equal to ____}. Here is a picture of the sorting activity we’ve been working on. We are doing addition facts first, and once they have those down, I’ll add the subtraction facts.

We call this activity “Beat The Clock.” The kids love it! They are given all the addition fact cards and are timed while they sort them. I have found it is much easier to encourage teamwork versus against each other. The “loser” tends to get discouraged, which is the last thing they need when they already struggle. I just tell them that the opponent is the CLOCK {hence, “beat the clock”}.


While they sort, I time them and update them every minute that goes by. It's so fun to watch them scramble around to try to beat their previous time! We record their time on the anchor chart each time they play. The hope is for their time to go down (increased fluency), and plus I can tie in time {minutes/seconds} and a line graph lesson to show them their progress! I don't do this activity every single day, but every once in a while so they don't get sick of it.

Problem #2: Word Problems might as well be written in Spanish.
Another thing my students struggle with is interpreting word problems. In class, we brainstormed all the different words for “ADDITION” you might hear in a word problem and I wrote them down on my “+ sign” poster board {I can't take credit for this idea, I saw it on Pinterest a long time time, but I can't find the original source}. We also did the same thing for subtraction.

Using dry/erase boards and the word problem flashcards, I read aloud a problem, stopping after each important piece of information. When I stop, the students know they need to write the something down. I also ask them to write down the “CLUE WORDS” they hear that helps them know what operation to use {+ or -}. Once I am completely done reading, they answer the problem and we discuss it.



After doing a few of these together, I just give each student a word problem card, and they have to explain their thinking to me whenever they are finished. So far, I have seen a tremendous improvement in their response speed for basic facts, and they are starting to really get the hang of word problem language and thinking through the problem on their own. The good thing about these activities is that they are super easy to make for your students and they don't take up to much math time. The sorting activities also work great for those few extra minutes left in class for those early finishers.
If you don’t want to make up the flashcards, word problems, and sorting activities on your own, you can download my Addition and Subtraction Jumbo Pack at my TPT store.

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