Math Fact Fluency: Multiplication Games and Addition Subtraction Games
Math fact fluency. It’s a heated debate in the math education world.
On one hand, many are in favor of timed math fact fluency tests and other similar practices in order to get students to recall basic math facts quickly and accurately. Educators on this side of the argument believe math fact fluency is a fundamental component of math that is often overlooked in our current systems.
On the other hand, many oppose math fact fluency believing it’s a rote memorization practice without understanding, leading to a superficial understanding of math concepts. And of course there is always the great debate about calculator usage when we start talking about math fluency (you can see my stance on calculators in this Instagram reel).
This blog post will explore some of the problems and benefits of math fact fluency, specifically for older students (7th-12th graders) who are multiple grade levels behind and struggle with math. I will also provide strategies and resources for teachers to help students develop this critical skill in a way that respects students current grade level and is guaranteed to get buy in and engagement from older students.
The problem with math fact fluency drills
If you’ve read any of my other blog posts you already know I’m a proponent of “just in time” math intervention instead of the incredibly common “just in case” intervention. You can read more about both types of interventions in this blog post, Intervention Math: Just In Time Intervention. In general math fact fluency tests and drills would fall into the “just in case” intervention category (since multiplication and subtraction is not a grade level standard in upper grades), but there is no doubt that it’s important for students who struggle to practice the foundational skills that support their grade level content. As a high school math intervention and Algebra 1 teacher myself, I get it. My students were never confident with their multiplication facts and adding/subtracting negatives was something everyone struggled with. We had to practice these things. However, practicing these essential skills can be done in a way that engages older students instead of making them shut down. When we pass out timed multiplication tests and drill and kill worksheets on basic math that older students have seen and failed for years and years, we are inadvertently telling our students, “I don’t believe you can do grade level math, so I’m just going to give you this 4th grade worksheet.” This will tank any motivation your students who struggle might have had. Instead, there are ways to help your older students to practice math fact fluency in a respectful way that doesn’t make them feel like they’re seeing the same “little kid” worksheet they’ve seen for years in a row.
So what are these respectful math fact fluency activities? Keep on reading.
Math Fact Fluency Games For Struggling 7-12th Graders
Activity 1: Multiplication AND Addition Subtraction BINGO with negatives
Multiplication bingo and addition subtraction bingo with negatives is a fun whole class activity to get students to play a math fluency game and practice those basic facts that so many students struggle with. In this bingo activity, students are given a game board with 16 positive and negative integers. Teachers then call out various multiplication equations - or addition/subtraction equations, both are included - and students solve them and look for the answer on their game board. The goal is for students to get 4 in a row or students can play the blackout version and aim to get all the numbers covered.
This is a respectful way to practice math fact fluency for students who struggle because bingo is a game they’ll engage with and enjoy playing much more than doing a worksheet. Students are actively solving and thinking about all of the equations the teacher calls out, giving them plenty of practice.
Activity 2: Multiplication AND Addition Subtraction CARD GAME with negatives
Older kids love activities that involve a deck of cards. What better way to get students to engage in an activity then for them to create their own worksheet using a deck of cards! In this Card Game activity, each student draws 4 cards and uses the symbols and values to fill one line of the worksheet.
Each suit and card value tells students what to put on their worksheet according to the rules on the sheet. Some suits are positive, some are negative and face cards have various values. Students then solve the problem created by the cards (on one worksheet it’s multiplication and on the other it’s addition and subtraction). Students draw 4 new cards and repeat until time is called.
This is a respectful way to practice math fact fluency for students who struggle because they love card games and will engage and enjoy playing much more than doing a plain worksheet. Students have more buy in because they feel like they’re getting to create their own worksheet, not getting one assigned to them.
Activity 3: Multiplication Game (with Negatives!): I have Who has?
If you’ve never played the “I have, Who has?” game with students before, you need to try it soon! The activity typically comes with about 20 cards that each have an “I have..” and a “who has…?” statement. In this multiplication game for example, the cards say, “ I have the first card, who has (-1)(5)?” Then students look for another card that says, “I have -5. Who has (-7)(-10)?” And students continue until all 20 cards have been identified. You can divide the cards across the whole class (if you have 20 or less students) or within small groups (which I prefer).
This is a respectful way to practice math fact fluency for students who struggle because they love working together to place the cards in order. Each group member has to pay attention to their cards as well as the “who has” questions being asked which makes it very engaging for students and provides plenty of practice.
Activity 4: Addition Subtraction Game (with Negatives!): I have Who has?
The “I have, Who has?” game is perfect for practicing addition and subtraction with negative numbers as well! In this addition subtraction game for example the cards say, “I have the first card, who has -15 + 5?” And another card would say, “I have -10. Who has 7 - (-10)?”
Same as the previous activity, students who struggle engage deeply with this game because of the accountability it requires of them to stick with it.
To wrap up
There is no doubt that students who struggle with math need to practice basic math skills. However, in order to maintain high expectations and communicate those expectations to students, the drill and kill math fact fluency worksheets are not effective. Instead, I encourage teachers to use more respectful activities (that are made for older students and don’t look like the same old worksheets our struggling students have been seeing for years and years) in order to encourage older students to practice math fact fluency. I shared four of my favorite activities in this post, which you can create on your own or purchase ready to use in the Math Fact Fluency Bundle Made For 7-12th Graders.
If you teach students who struggle, you’ve got to get your hands on my free PDF guide, 10 Math Intervention Strategies!