Tips for Building Students’ Math Fluency and Number Sense

Mastering math fluency and number sense is critical to setting students up for success in future mathematics courses. When students have the ability to perform mathematical problems quickly and accurately without relying on memorization, and truly understand the relationships between numbers and how those numbers are affected by mathematical operations, they have a strong knowledge foundation that can be built upon in higher grade levels.

This webinar from the Consortium on Reaching Excellence in Education (CORE) describes the characteristics of effective math fluency practice and offers ideas for many engaging math fluency activities and number sense activities that you can start using in your classroom right away.

Improve Your Math Fluency Practice: Characteristics of Effective Math Fluency Interventions and Math Fluency Activities

Teaching math fluency and number sense requires more than helping students memorize their math facts. This webinar explains that the following characteristics can ensure that your math fluency interventions and math fluency activities are effective at teaching students the foundational mathematics skills they need for future success.

Look for these characteristics in your current math fluency interventions and math fluency activities in addition to any you plan to implement in the future.

  • Activities and interventions for building math fluency and number sense should be offered in short, regular doses. Research shows that students who need to improve math fluency and number sense should be offered daily opportunities to do so.
  • Activities and interventions for building math fluency and number sense should vary by intent. While memorization practice drills are one important tool for building math fluency, try to offer activities that go beyond simply memorization.
  • Activities and interventions for building math fluency and number sense should be varied. Rather than repeating the same activities every day, have a few to rotate through to prevent engagement from dropping off and learning from stalling.
  • Activities and interventions for building math fluency and number sense should not take over your lessons. Be intentional about the amount of time you spend on these activities.
  • Activities and interventions for building math fluency and number sense should be highly engaging. Keep activities interesting and interactive to encourage students to be active participants in learning and encourage maximum effort.
  • Activities and interventions for building math fluency and number sense should include questions and prompts. Plan these ahead of time and ask them strategically to keep students moving through the activity successfully.
  • At least some activities and interventions for building math fluency and number sense should involve a number line. This visual mathematical aid is a valuable learning tool when teaching math fluency and number sense and should be included in every classroom.

Activities to Build Math Fluency and Activities to Build Number Sense

In addition to describing the characteristics to include in your math fluency and math number sense activities to maximize their effectiveness, this webinar also offers ideas for different activities you can begin using in your classroom right away to build math fluency and number sense.

These activities include:

  • Oral counting
  • Card games
  • Number talks
  • Mystery math grids
  • Individual white boards
  • Spend Some Time with 1 to 9
  • KenKen Puzzles
  • Sprints
  • Make 24 math game

Learn More About Building Math Fluency and Number Sense

This webinar will teach you how to plan effective activities for building students’ math fluency and number sense, as well as offer ideas for specific activities you can start using right away in your classroom.

Watch the full webinar to learn how to create effective math fluency interventions and activities and math number sense activities that will help students master these two critical foundational mathematical skills.

Video Transcript

Dean Ballard: Some look-fors in the classroom, some common things to look for. Students who need to work on fluency and building number sense get short, regular doses of fluency activities. Research shows that these short daily bursts are more effective than trying to do something like once a week review and drill. Fluency activities vary by intent. Some activities are simply memorizations practice drill, which is okay. Repetition is one of the ways we move things to longterm memory.

Dean Ballard: However, some activities should be fluency type activities that build number sense beyond just memorization. I call these those fluency plus activities. We must vary the types of fluency plus activities we give students. Everyday should not be the same exact type of activity. That’s where the engagement will drop off, and thinking required for the activities will be absent. You don’t need eight different types of activities, but at least a few to rotate and use at different times in order to continue the excitement level for kids.

Dean Ballard: And fluency activities should not be unintentionally taking over your lessons. It can easily happen. We see lots of interesting math connections that can be made into a sprint activity, so we keep asking and discussing with kids different connections they see, and 20 minutes later, oh my, kids are asleep. Or, the KenKen Puzzles are so engaging and fun, students are happy to keep solving them for half an hour or more. Yikes! My lesson’s gone.

Dean Ballard: It’s okay if this is what we intend. Perhaps it’s the first day with the activity so I know we’re gonna take more time with it, with the students, or maybe I’m setting up a menu of activities for the day, or stations so that some students can be at those activities, and some students can be in small group time with the teacher.

Dean Ballard: My point is that fluency plus the number sense type activities are good enough to take up more time, but should not take over important time from the day’s main lesson. The amount of time on the activities should be intentionally planned. Look for students to be highly engaged. The activities are not drill and kill, but rather strive and thrive. The activity engages students’ minds and interests. Students strive to succeed, and through effort, and the design of the activity, students begin to thrive where they once failed.

Dean Ballard: Often the key to students thinking about the math in the activity comes through questions or prompts from the teacher. Expect a learning curve where a couple of key questions actually need to be planned ahead, not off the cuff. Over time, teachers build their question capacity, and students build their capacity to tackle those questions. And just a quick shout out to number lines in the classroom.

Dean Ballard: This is one of, if not, the most useful visual aids in the class for mathematics, and in my mind, in my opinion, should be standard in all K-8 classrooms. Alright. Well, here’s a list of the things we did. I have to say, the oral counting, remember, that was early on. I talked about counting up and counting down by five, say, starting at 11.

Dean Ballard: Number talks we didn’t get to, but that’s another great number sense and fluency building activity from Math Solutions. You can look in that there. The rest, we see on the list. Alright. So, that kinda wraps up my list of activities I wanna go over with you.