5 Special Education Strategies for Solving Addition Math Facts

Oh, math facts! Our students, whether they have disabilities or not, struggle to master them. How can we help?

I believe that we can strategically break up math facts to help our students tackle them in smaller chucks. I also believe that we have to teach students good strategies for solving addition facts on their own when memorization is difficult.

How To Break Up Math Facts

While there isn’t a magic answer for solving all math fact mastery problems, I do think we can help our students see patterns. I like to start with simple problems that help them build confidence. Later, add more difficult skills that require more memorization.

  1. +0
  2. +1
  3. +2
  4. Doubles
  5. Doubles +1
  6. +10
  7. +9
  8. Sums of 5
  9. Sums of 10
  10. Fact Families

Supporting Your Students – My Least to Most Favorite

5. Counting on Fingers: Specifically, help them realize a two important tricks to be more efficient!

  • Counting On
  • Five Fingers on One Hand

4. Use Pictures, Manipulatives, Tally Marks, and Erasers for Counters. 

3. Number Line (I really like to use the metric side of a ruler for a number line.)

2. Hundreds Chart

  1. Touch Points

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7 Special Education Math Routines You Should Be Doing Every Day

Routines are key. We need to have simple things that we do without even thinking about them to help our students grow. Each of these math routines can be integrated into things that you are already doing each day.

1. Number Sense

Number sense is a complicated skill for some students to master. Consider intregrating the following questions into some of your math discussions or problems:

  • Would you rather have 25 dollars or 50 dollars?
  • Which is bigger?
  • Which is smaller?
  • Which is closer to 10?
  • Is this number MORE than 10?
  • Is this number LESS than 10?
  • What number is in the ones place?
  • What is the value of the number in the tens place?
  • Can you read this number in standard form?

Adapt these questions based on the needs, age, and abilities of your students.

2. Counting On

Counting on can be hard for your students and it takes a lot of practice. The good news–They can get better!

You could easily practice counting on by using a deck of number flash cards. Whichever number you pull out becomes your starting number.

If you pull the number 5 from the deck, they have to count on. 5, 6, 7, 8…

When working on addition facts, you can easily integrate this practice right into what you’re doing every day.

3. Writing Numbers

Writing numbers can be especially difficult for some of our students. They need many opportunities to practice writing them in a safe place with someone who understands and can support this area of difficulty.

As you write answers to their daily problems, teach them to use visual aids, such as a hundreds chart or a number line in the classroom, to check their work. I also like to have my students use the chalkboard and write BIG numbers to use their gross motor skills instead of their fine motor skills.

4. Math Facts

How are you going to practice those darn math facts on a regular basis? Let’s think of some students who are working on some 2 or 3 digit addition and subtraction, they need help with math facts even though they are working on more complex skills. Spend time working on math facts, whether it be addition or multiplication.

Then, talk about how if knowing our addition facts can also help with subtraction problems. The same idea can be used with multiplication and division.

5. Part-Part-Whole

If a student can understand that part-part-whole could represent addition or subtraction, we can use it in a variety of ways. It becomes a very powerful tool when doing word problems. It gives students a way to visualize what is happening and can work to using it independently later.

6. Word Problems

I love to have my students stand up and act out a word problem. If you don’t want them up and moving, use something that they can physically touch, such as erasers, stickers, balls, cereal, or candy to make it more visually interesting for them. 

7. Check the Sign

This is something for the older students who have had experience with several operations. We know that all of those signs and symbols can get very overwhelming for them.

So a good rule to have in place is to CHECK THE SIGN! Are we adding, subtracting, multiplying, or dividing? Always check the sign. Make it a habit!

I found this idea in Teaching Math to Students with Learning Disabilities. I love it as a way to help students check the sign.

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Teaching Spelling: How can I help students become independently spellers?

Becoming an independent speller is a tough job for our students. After all, it is a task that requires our students to process multiple skills at one time. In my mind, they go group several “levels” as they work toward independently spelling words that follow typical spelling patterns.

I love watching my students develop their spelling skills. It’s amazing to watch them go from a high level of support and work toward independence. But, it’s a process. Below, you’ll find my outline the various levels of support your students might need from you.

The Levels of Spelling Independence

  • The First Level of Independence: Uou might be saying the sounds and students are matching the letters to your sounds. You are doing the pointing and producing the sounds. For example, the word HOT. The teacher is just asking them to match the sounds that they are saying.
  • The Second Level of Independence: The student might be able to point the first, middle, and last sound of the word, but they might still need the teacher to say the sounds that are in the word.
  • The Third Level of Independence: The student can say the sounds orally, but they might need the teacher to point to the first, middle, and last sound of the word. Some of that is just to keep them organized or help keep them in the right spot. 
  • The Fourth Level of Independence: The teacher produces the sounds two times and then the students work to match the sounds on their own. For example, “I’m going to say this two times, and then I want you to try it on your own.” Later down the road, the teacher could say, “I’m going to say it one time, then you are on your own.” 
  • The Fifth Level of Independence: Students are using the letter tiles. They are doing all of the sounds orally (or in their head), all of the pointing, all of the matching, everything on their own!
  • The Sixth Level of Independence: The last and final level of independence is where they are not using any letter tiles, the teacher is not making any sounds, they are just really able to take a true spelling test. This, to me, is truly independent spelling. 

Document this and discuss that level of independence with your students, the parents, and even the general education teachers. Documenting this progress is amazing. You can truly see how far your students have come in such a short amount of time.

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How to Teach Morphemes: from Basic Endings to Greek & Latin Roots

Morphemes might sound a little overwhelming, but they are actually quite simple.

Morphemes are a small units of language. I had this idea that morphemes were these scary Greek and Latin roots. And while those are certainly *part* of it, it’s so much more simple than that. We can help our students become better readers, better spellers, and better decoders by helping them understand how to use small units of language.

Basic Endings

When first introducing the idea of morphemes, I begin with basic endings. I teach my students early on to cover up the –s, –ed or –ing ending that makes the word look long and intimidating. Instead of being intimated by it, we can help them notice it in words that they already know. By doing this, we have nearly doubled their vocabulary and the words they could read.

Compound Words

Compound words are also simple morphemes that can help our students. When faced with a BIG word, I like to ask my students to look for a word that they DO know within that bigger word. These compound words can help unlock the door to looking or listening for chunks of the word that they know.

Contractions

Contractions and compound words work very similarly. I like to spend time helping my students understand why we use contractions. The words included in contractions are often words on the Dolch Sight Word List. Meaning, they are probably very familiar with them and are working to memorize them. They might be able to spot parts of a word that look familiar to help them figure out the contraction.

Prefixes and Suffixes

For readers who are beginning to understand the basic endings, compound words, and contractions, we can begin to introduce prefixes and suffixes. These are often simple and easy for the students to remember. That’s what I love about them! In many cases, they are two or three letters, like in re, un, ly. and pre.  By teaching simple prefixes and suffixes, we can allow them to see meaning attached to a small part of a word.

Greek & Latin Roots

I’ll be honest. I used to think Greek and Latin roots were intimidating, and I was SO wrong! Once students have trained themselves to look for chunks of words and are beginning to see meaning attached to parts of words, like re- and un-, you can begin to introduce them to the world of Greek and Latin Roots. These parts of words help them determine meaning and read much larger words!

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Teaching Spelling: How to Understand and Teach Vowel Teams & Syllables

Teaching students to spell words with vowel teams and multiple syllables used to *really* intimidate me. And if vowel teams and syllable types intimidated me, how do you think our students feel?

Below, you’ll find a few tips and tricks to help reduce the intimidation factor and making teaching words with vowel teams and multiple syllables a bit easier!

Tip #1: Download the Vowel Rule Book

Use this as a guide for yourself, general education teachers, instructional assistants, or parents. It’s important to have a good reference to understand a difficult skill. I made sure to leave some blank spaces in the rule book so that you could jot down some of your own notes.

Tip #2: Teach Them from Most Common to Least Common

Start with the most commonly used rule and work your way to less common spellings of various vowel sounds. I like to introduce those magic E spellings early on so that we have more graphemes in our repertoire to spell other words. We know there are exceptions, but this is a good place to start.

Tip #3: Homophones

Homophones really add a whole new level of difficulty to spelling. Often times, we try to teach students where various vowel teams fall in a word. Do we see them at the beginning, middle, or end of a word.

And then we have homophones. 🤦🏻‍♀️

Think about the words male and mail. Both A_E and AI can be used in the middle of a word. How would a student know which to use. Enter homophones. We must understand and memorize that different words sound exactly the same but are spelled differently. It’s up to us to remember which is which based on the meaning of the word.

In my mind, instruction and honest discussion are important for your helping your students master vowel teams.

Tip #4: Teach Vowel Teams That Play Favorites

Some letters and vowel teams are very picky. They only like to come before or after specific letters.

AI is a perfect example. If you were to make a list of words that have AI, you might notice a pattern.

paint, main, rain, stain, chain, pail, rail, tail, snail, fail

AI really likes to be followed by the letters N and L. Are there other letters that follow AI? Sure! But I like to do my best to notice and point out patterns whenever I can.

Tip #5: Think about Vowel Position

When introducing vowel teams to your students, never introduce two vowel teams that appear at the same position of the word. If you must introduce two vowel teams at once, I would recommend to do one that is found in the middle and one that is found at the end of the word.

For example, introducing OI and OY at the same time words because they have the same sound, but are found in different parts of a word or syllable.


Syllables

When teaching your students to read and spell words with multiple syllables, I like to use a three step process that I found in the book Speech to Print.

Three Step Process for DECODING Words

  1. Analyze: where you are going to divide that word into syllables
  2. Pronunciation: where you are going to tell how to produce those individual syllables.
  3. Synthesis: combine it all together to creat a spoken word.

This is all helpful information for decoding, but what do we do for spelling? In my mind, spelling is the same three steps, only backwards! 

Three Step Process for ENCODING Words

  1. Synthesize: students need to first be able to begin breaking a word into syllables. What spelling rules do I know about syllable number one?
  2. Pronunciation: students need to be able to say ONE syllable at a time. 
  3. Analyze: start using what they know about graphemes to start matching up the graphemes to the phonemes that they are hearing in that one syllable.

How I Approach Syllabication

  1. Begin with one syllable words that have a CVC word pattern, blend, or digraph.
  2. Then, move on to vowel teams with one syllable words. At this time, you can discuss open and closed syllables.
  3. Next, they can begin to dive into separating words with multiple syllables.
  4. Later, you can move onto two syllable words with a magic E. (take-mistake, cape-escape, cake-cupcake)
  5. Once your students have a good understanding of magic E, move onto vowel teams. 
  6. Teach multi-syllabic words with a Bossy R.
  7. Teach mutil-syllabic words with diphthongs.
  8. End with Consonant+LE syllables (candle, bugle, puzzle)

Teaching syllable types can be hard and time consuming. With that being said, students benefit most when they have lots of practice and exposure to those! While syllables can be intimidating, dive in and try to practice it. Take it one syllable type at a time.

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