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Teaching Math to Kids Who Can't Recall Facts

by Michele Norfleet, studioD

When students struggle to learn math facts they may become discouraged and dread math class. Although knowing math facts facilitates quick computations, allowing students to use charts and even calculators provides them with success and access to math instruction even if they cannot recall facts. Keep in mind, however, that these aids are of little help to students if they don’t know what information to input. Ensure that students understand the application of math computations as you continue to teach strategies for math facts.


Focus on word problems and present key words that help students know what operations to perform to solve math problems. For addition, key words might include all, total or altogether. For subtraction, include key terms such as difference, how many more, left and remaining. Multiplication problems might include the words times, everyday or in all. Key words for division problems might include evenly and each. Provide students who have difficulty remembering the key words with charts for reference. Teach them to locate these words in word problems to help determine what operation to use.

Using Aids

Allow students who are unable to recall math facts to use a calculator, chart or number line to solve math problems. Using a 0-to-20 number line allows young students to perform basic addition and subtraction by counting forward or backward along the line. A multiplication chart allows students to retrieve answers to basic facts quickly. As students learn facts, they can black them out on the chart to reduce their dependency. A multiplication chart further allows students to discover patterns in facts -- noting, for example, that 3 times 7 is the same as 7 times 3. Using aids allows students to perform math calculations and access the classroom curriculum even though they have not learned math facts.

Skip Counting

Some students are able to learn to skip count, even though they cannot remember math facts, when the skip counting is chanted in a rhythm or with the addition of rhythmic movements such as clapping or dancing. Young students learn to skip count by 2s and 5s in early elementary grades. Older students can learn to skip count by 3s, 4s and so on, to aid in accessing multiplication facts. For example, counting by 4s three times gives an answer of 12.

Drill and Practice

To help a struggling student recall math facts, repetition is key. Give the student a set of math-facts flash cards. Check to see which facts the student knows readily. Chances are he knows at least a few of the facts. Put these facts in a pile. Add in one or two additional facts at a time for him to practice daily at home or with a partner in class. As he is able to recall the facts, add more to the pile. As the pile grows, celebrate his success. Some students may never learn math facts. To reduce frustration, continue to provide charts and aids to assist them as they perform math calculations.

About the Author

Michele Norfleet is a freelance writer who writes on travel, home and garden and education topics. She has coauthored a handbook for teachers on school-wide discipline and has contributed tips for special-needs students in the basal curriculum for RCL Benziger. Norfleet holds a master's degree from Southern Illinois University and has experience as a special-needs teacher and speech pathologist.

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