Fact Fluency

In Common Core, one of the second grade objectives is for students to be able to add and subtract fluently within 20. This is building on the strategies for addition and subtraction that students learned in first grade, and carrying it forward so that students no longer have to pause and consciously carry out that strategy, but instead have begun to memorize and know their facts automatically. Having heard from upper el teachers at my school how frustrating it is to try and teach higher level math skills (including multiplication and division) to students who are still adding and subtracting on their fingers, as well as knowing how frequently I do basic math in my head, I came into second grade knowing that I wanted to make this a priority for my kiddos. Fact fluency in addition and subtraction is an absolutely vital foundation for all their math classes to come, as well as for their daily lives.


So. Of that much I was sure, but how to get them to memorize these facts? A little time surfing the web (isn’t that how we solve all our teacher problems?) and I found a great solution! First, I came across this amazing FREEBIE (!!) on Teachers Pay Teachers. As students memorize their groups of facts, they get to earn popcorn kernels for their buckets, and when everyone’s bucket is full, you can throw your class a popcorn party! I think this is an adorable public tracker and an awesome way to build investment in fact fluency, and this freebie includes the math minute quizzes for each set of facts. However, as I continued researching, I came across this other FREEBIE (!!). This teacher got me thinking about the strategies I taught my students last year, and I decided it might be better to have my students access fact fluency through those strategies they were already familiar with, rather than through pure memorization. I was still set on using the popcorn tracker, though, so a little time in Paint, and voila! A popcorn tracker for the strategy quizzes! (I am so grateful to these teachers for posting these amazing resources as freebies. If you download them, be sure to leave them some positive feedback on their page as a thank you!)


My kids took their first quiz (the 0 facts) on Friday, and their popcorn buckets are now posted and ready to go! They look so cute!

popcorn trackers for addition fact fluency

popcorn trackers for addition fact fluency


The last piece is how to give students the chance to practice and build that fluency so they are indeed passing the quizzes. The strategy facts packet includes a homework sheet to practice for each set, but I want students to have daily practice that doesn’t require paper and pencil. That’s where flash cards come in! The teacher who posted the strategy quizzes also has a set of flash cards available for sale in her store. However, I chose to create my own because I wanted to include the flipflop facts as flashcards (for example, both 4 + 6 and 6 + 4), and also have a set of flashcards for the +1 facts. (I did not bother making a set for the +0 facts.) There are lots of websites where you can create and print flashcards for free. Then I printed each set of a different color of paper, laminated, hole punched, and hung them on book rings.

Addition fact flash cards organized by set and ready to go!

Addition fact flash cards organized by set and ready to go!


My plan is to have one math station be a flashcard station, where each student knows which number they’re working on (from their tracker) and can practice independently or with a partner to prepare for the quiz. Then on Friday everyone will have a chance to take the minute quiz for whichever set of facts they’re working on. I’ll need to teach them exactly how to practice with flash cards, but then I figure we’ll have an established routine and procedure for building fact fluency that takes very little daily input from me.


And the best part? The amazing teacher with the popcorn tracker also has a gumball set for subtraction! That’ll be our next stop, once we have those addition facts down pat!


Do you have a plan or a system for working on fact fluency? Share it with us in a comment below!


Restroom Procedures

The past two years, I had the treat of having a restroom right in my classroom. Students were able to use the restroom without asking as long as it was not during direct instruction, and we didn’t have to sacrifice any instructional time to bathroom breaks. This year, I’m moving up to second grade, which means moving out to a portable and coming in to the building twice a day for scheduled bathroom breaks. I’ve therefore been thinking long and hard about what my bathroom procedures and policies will be, and this is what I’ve come up with so far.


Scheduled bathroom breaks:

Last year, I was always disheartened by how rowdy the second and third graders were in the hallways during their bathroom breaks. But honestly, 10-15 minutes is a long time to just stand silently in line, especially for an eight-year-old. Therefore, I’m planning on having students bring one of their independent reading books with them to our restroom breaks. They will sit against the wall and read their book while they wait for their turn in the restroom. When it is their turn, they will put their book down where they were sitting, use the restroom quickly and quietly, and come right back to their spot to continue reading. I haven’t tried it yet since students don’t start til Monday, but I’m hoping this will eliminate disruptive behavior during bathroom breaks and give students a few extra minutes with their IR books.


Unscheduled breaks:

I also know that students are going to ask to use the restroom during class. It doesn’t seem realistic to have a policy that simply prohibits them from using the restroom between scheduled breaks, but I also don’t want using the restroom to become a way that students can avoid classwork that they don’t feel like doing. I’ve therefore settled on a punch card system.


Individual bathroom pass punch cards waiting to be cut out…

Each student will receive a punch card with 5 punches for the first semester. The procedure posted at the front of the room prompts that in case of emergency during work time, students should raise their cards silently and wait for it to be punched. Then they can take the restroom pass and use the restroom. But I will also emphasize with students the importance of not missing class time unless it’s an emergency. This is reflected on my restroom passes 😉


My posted restroom procedures and restroom passes. Recognize the lanyards?

What about you? Do you have a restroom in your classroom? Do you go to a hall restroom for scheduled breaks? What are your procedures? How are they working? Share in a comment below!

Pencil Procedures

Most of you have already started school. That means your pencil procedure has already been put to the test. How is it standing up?

In my first year, I put a pencil box in the middle of each table with 6 pencils for four students. Those 6 pencils were collected at the end of the day, sharpened, and redistributed for the following day. But students and I were constantly frustrated by the race to grab the “good” pencil (the one with the most eraser) or pencils needing sharpening during the day.

So when year two came around, I was ready for different solution. I found a procedure on a teacher blog that appealed to me because it emphasized personal responsibility for students and required little teacher input. I bought each of my students a zippered pencil pouch (the ones pictured below are 97 cents each at Walmart). Each student gets seven pencils and a large eraser in their pencil pouch, and these pencils need to last them the whole week. On Fridays, I collect the pencil pouches and sharpen all the pencils. Students who still have seven pencils and their big eraser in their pouch get a small treat- a colorful pencil to replace one of their regular ones, a pencil topper eraser,  or a couple of stickers. For students who don’t have all their pencils, I do replace them so that they start the week again with seven, but they do not get a treat in their pouch. And for those couple of students who like to squirrel things away and somehow end up with 12 pencils at the end of the week, I redistribute the extra pencils as needed, but those students also do not earn a treat in their pouch. If students happen to break or lose all of their pencils before the end of the week (which really only happened once or twice), I will give the student another pencil to use, but they get a consequence (move down a color). You could also encourage students to ask a friend to loan them one, knowing that you’ll redistribute the pencils at the end of the week anyway.



Zippered pencil pouches with metal grommets: only 97 cents at Walmart

This procedure was very successful for me last year, and I will be using it again this year unchanged. In my experience, students like having the opportunity to be responsible for their own materials, and take better care of the pencils this way. I only had one student who couldn’t seem to leave his pouch alone, swinging it around, playing with all the pencils inside it, etc. After repeated reminders of the expectations for his pencil pouch, I took it away and gave him just one pencil for the day. After a few weeks, he asked if he could try again with his pencil pouch, and he exercised much more self control with it.

This system does have an upfront cost: pencil pouches (though hopefully next year you’re able to put it on the supply list in advance!), plus additional pencils and large erasers to make sure you have enough to fill everyone’s pouch, and some small weekly prizes. But for me, the advantages of not having to arbitrate arguments over pencils or sharpen pencils on a daily basis, outweigh that initial cost. And since I’m moving up to second grade this year, I’m planning on assigning a student the job of “Pencil Sharpener,” so I won’t even have to deal with the pouches on Fridays. Procedures are all about streamlining daily logistics and lightening your load. This one does the trick for me!

What’s your pencil procedure? How is it working? Share your insight in a comment!


Welcome to the Lower El blog! Mary-Alex, Jessica, and I (Emma) will use this blog to share brief videos and post ideas to support you in your work to provide our Mississippi babies with the excellent education they deserve. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to us with any questions you have. That’s what we’re here for! Also, if you have a great idea for a blog post, please share it with us! We welcome guest bloggers 😉

Check back soon for a classroom tour video and some other ideas to get your school year off to a great start!


Lower El