Fact fluency routines are often filled with worksheets and timed activities. They do have their place in the classroom, but they’re not very engaging. While I’ve definitely learned that fact fluency does not mean 1 second recall and strict timing systems, I also firmly believe that having a strong memorization of facts helps students focus their mental effort and energy on the larger math skills at hand. It’s important to build fact fluency in students.
My favorite way to build fact fluency is through games. I’ve taken old game boards and added math facts to them and put them as a center. I love doing this with Checkers games from Dollar Tree. I also have seen people add facts to the pieces on Jenga. We use Hot Dots as a regular fast finisher and the kids love them! But my absolute favorite way to build fact fluency with my students is through playing 5 in a Row!
5 in a Row
I moved down to 1st grade a few years ago and I was trying to think of ways to practice number recognition that were fun and engaging. I knew we’d spend the entire year looking at numbers in more complex ways during our calendar time so I just wanted a fun review for quick number recognition. A brief reprieve in the classroom is so welcome so I wanted a game that didn’t require me to be involved in every step along the way. Our first 5 in a Row was reviewing numbers 0-20 the first week of school and it immediately was a hit!
You can download 5 in a Row: Numbers to 20 for number recognition fluency for free in my TpT store.
I was so excited I was able to create a game that was self-timed, and changed every time we played. I also loved that I could use those couple moments to clean up a table, organize a couple things, or sit for just a second to check my email. Those couple moments here and there throughout the day are so appreciated.
Because it’s a game that I set up within Powerpoint, it’s so easy to set up and use. It takes just a second to pull up the file, push the randomizer button, and go. And the best part is, the kids LOVED it! They were all engaged in the game, were excited to participate, and begged to keep playing! Because they loved it so much, I made more versions for number recognition and for other skills I knew we’d practice during the year.
HOW TO PLAY 5 IN A ROW
Playing 5 in a Row is very simple and quick to set up! You print the game boards and cut them into 3 strips. In some of the sets the game has so many numbers that are being potentially played, so you can choose to give students all 3 boards to play and they’ve been designed to work fine that way. You can choose to laminate the boards, but I honestly never have because it’s just so much easier to print and cut each time, and I’m only using a few pieces of paper each time. Laminating is definitely not one of my favorite teacher things so I only do it when I really need to. But you’d definitely save yourself some time and paper in the long run if you choose to.
Then, you open the Powerpoint. You will be given a warning message about macros. Yours might look slightly different depending on your version of Powerpoint. But, on mine it gives me a security warning and says that the macros have been disabled. You click the options tab.
You must choose to approve the macros in order for the slide randomizer to work correctly. This is the beauty of 5 in a Row! Using the custom randomizer means that every time you play, it’s a brand new game with new possibilities!
Once that’s done, you click to launch the slideshow. You click on the shape to randomize the slides, and click start when you’re ready! It auto plays and the students find the number to cover on their gameboard. A lot of the sets have numbers included more than once so there’s strategy in figuring out which of the numbers to cover at the time. It’s secretly building some critical, higher order thinking skills, while students are having a fun time playing. The game is self-timed, so it’s playing as you’re sitting down for just a second, or putting papers in mailboxes, or whatever you can squeeze in during those precious moments.
Students yell 5 in a Row once they have covered 5 numbers in a row (pretty self explanatory, right?). At that time I hit the “esc” key to exit the slideshow and am able to scroll back through the slideshow to check to be sure that the number has actually been played, which I recommend to help keep students honest. I love how quick and simple it is to check the students answers because the slides that have been played are right there for me.
To play another round, pass out new gameboards (or if you laminated, erase and reuse), click to randomize the slides again, and you’re ready to play again. I love that it’s a brand new game each time with just the click of a button! Here’s another quick video that shows how the game is played.
BUILDING FACT FLUENCY WITH 5 IN A ROW
Because my kids loved playing it so much, I made a version to help us practice our addition and subtraction facts. I quickly realized that I could help build students’ fact fluency as we continued to play. I also sped up the game, which helped encourage students to work faster. To speed it up, I use CTRL+A to select all the slides and then decrease the slide timing by 1 second. It’s defaulted to 9 seconds but after my kids get used to the game or the skill, they’re ready to be challenged.
Here’s a video of us playing 5 in a Row in our classroom. It shows the screen side of things, but what is really the most amazing part for me is how quiet my room is because the kids are concentrating so much. This is a video I posted of my kids playing, and you can hardly hear them! With this bunch of kids, engagement isn’t often quiet, and this game gets them excited like nothing else we’ve done!
I looped with my kids from 1st through 3rd grades and we have played versions of 5 in a Row every single year. My kids continued to love and be obsessed with this game and I have used it year after year to help build their fact fluency. Because there are so many different versions, I am able to change the game we’re playing to keep students’ challenged.
In second grade, we spent a lot of time playing my Mental Math version. I loved that it worked to practice skip counting, but it also helped my kids build their place value understanding of numbers. Their continued practice counting and switching between tens and ones helped them when needing to add in different ways.
We definitely still played the other versions in third grade, but we quickly shifted to practicing our multiplication and division facts. I teach my kids skip counting songs so they have those to use to help them. I begin with doing the Multiplication Facts 0-5 set. The students know the 0, 1, 2, and 5 facts by skip counting quickly, so it’s really just the 3’s and 4’s they don’t know and have to really think through. That version helps them feel less stressed about beginning with multiplication, and they quickly build their confidence with playing.
I also switch to division pretty quickly. For whatever reason, learning subtraction and division facts seems to be harder for my kids to learn. By switching quickly, I’ve found it helps the kids focus on the related fact and how it can help them solve the unknown fact. After that, I focus on the other multiplication facts as our play focus for a while.
Over the last few years I’ve worked to create 5 in a Row versions for other skills as well. I love playing games in the classroom to keep students excited and engaged. I also think playing games keep students fluent on skills as they have continued practice throughout the year. Many of the versions I’ve used in at least two grades, and for some of them, I’ve used them in 1st through 3rd! Despite having played it for 3 years, my students still love the game and beg to play as often as possible.
Fractions are always a difficult skill for my students so I thought it might be a good skill to incorporate into 5 in a Row. I created this free Fractions of a Shape game.
I’ll be continuing to create new versions of this game as we work through different skills in our room, and in response to your requests and the requests from friends. You can also find all of the games in my TpT store here.
If you’re using 5 in a Row in your room, I’d love to hear what you and your students have thought of it in the comments below!