Addition and Subtraction Fluency through Games

  • Addition and Subtraction Fluency through Games

    By Jennifer Bay-Williams and Gina Kling, Posted November 3, 2014 –   

    In the November 2014 issue of Teaching Children Mathematics, authors Jennifer Bay-Williams and Gina Kling shared a collection of fun games that can be used to develop students’ fluency with addition and subtraction facts. They explained that (1) games should be selected on the basis of a developmental progression from counting to mastery and (2) teachers must emphasize reasoning strategies as students play:


    Games support strategy development only when the use of reasoning strategies is explicitly built into the games and reinforced through student-teacher and student-student interactions. (p. 246)


    Basic fact fluency can be encouraged through conversations both during the game as students share how they determined their answers, as well as in pregame or postgame discussions. For example, at the end of the game time, you might pull the class back together, pose a challenging fact, such as 8 + 7, and invite children to describe strategies they used during the game to solve this fact. Discussing strategies puts the “meaning” into meaningful practice.

    2014_11_3 Kling fig 1


           2014_11_3 Kling fig 2


    Example games from “Enriching Addition and Subtraction Fact Mastery through Games


    Game: Roll and Total


    Goal of Game: To encourage children to move from counting all to counting on


    Game in Brief: Students have one numeral die and one dot die. They find the sum by starting with the numeral die and adding on the quantity from the dot die. Image for game Salute




    Game: Salute!


    Goal of Game: To encourage children to practice reasoning strategies and see relationships between addition and subtraction


    Game in Brief: In small groups of three, two students lift a numeral card to their forehead without looking at it. The student without a card says the sum. On the basis of what the players see on the other person’s forehead, the pair with cards figures out what is on their own forehead.


    See the article for more games, ideas for differentiating, and suggestions for involving families. Also consider how teachers can assess student fluency while students play games (rather than using timed tests). See “Assessing Basic Facts Fluency” in the April 2014 issue of Teaching Children Mathematics for assessment tools to use as students play games. 


    Let’s Talk


    This space is dedicated to continuing this conversation. Please share your ideas with respect to these questions:




    • What strategy-focused games do you and your students like? What do students like about them?
    • What questions do you typically ask students as they play facts games?
    • How might we help families focus on reasoning strategies and games as they help their children master basic facts?
    • How might we make strategy-focused games a primary way we develop, practice, and assess mastery of basic facts?




    We want to hear from you! Post your comments below or share your thoughts on Twitter @TCM_at_NCTM using #TCMtalk.


    Archived Comments

    Great idea! Thank you for your article and this blog post. In order to differentiate the numbers I often use blank number cubes and write smaller numbers on them so that students get more experiences counting on from 1, 2, and 3 etc.
    Posted by: DrewP_77482 at 11/22/2014 9:04 AM

    Super ideas! I use dice with pips with primary grade students to promote their subitizing skills.
    Posted by: JaneW_27993 at 11/23/2014 4:25 PM

    I use dice with pips and the digit cards from a standard deck of cards.
    Posted by: MaryAliceH_03268 at 12/7/2014 7:01 PM

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