Using Quick Practices & Student Leaders to Build Fluency, Automaticity, and a Class Community

How to overcome common issues when wanting to implement Quick Practices and Student leaders.

When I bring up Quick Practices and Student Leaders I hear many of the following phrases:

“They take too much time!”

“My kids are bored!”

“I have too many other things to cover!”

“I lead them quicker and better than my students do!”

“The student leaders don’t get it and it frustrates everyone!”

As you read these phrases and probably relate to them, I want you to know that you’re not alone and that there is hope for you to be able to use Quick Practices and Student Leaders in your class.

But first, why use Quick Practices in the first place?

Quick Practices are very beneficial in building your students’ automaticity with skills they have already learned or build fluency with topics that are prerequisites for skills you have coming up.

Quick Practices help build your students’ math fluency and students who are fluent are:




During your math lessons, you probably work on all three, but the main focus should lie on student flexibility. Students who are flexible with numbers, methods, and ideas, can think outside of the box when solving a problem. They have the confidence to try out different ways to solve and are backed up by you believing in them!

Once we build understanding and flexibility with concepts, it is important to build procedural fluency. Students need a balanced approach. They need both understanding and fluency. The meat of our lessons works on this understanding, but the Quick Practice focuses on building efficiency and effectiveness and ultimately automaticity. Quick Practices give students immediate feedback as they hear and repeat correct answers.

However, when Quick Practices aren’t managed correctly, they become frustrating for students and teachers and a waste of math class time, which I know is very precious.

Before you fret, know there are solutions to these common phrases I hear teachers say in classrooms. Let’s dive in and see how you can implement Quick Practices and Student Leaders in your classroom by making some simple changes to how they are managed.

Quick Practices do not have to take too much time. Actually, they should not be longer than 5 minutes. You can manage this effectively by asking a student leader to set a timer for five minutes. Once it goes off, the quick practice is over. Whether 2 or 10 problems were completed, Quick Practice time is done and tomorrow you’ll have a chance to do it again. It is after all, called a Quick Practice!

Ways to manage your time during Quick Practices:

  • Keep the same student leader for the duration of the quick practice (a week at most, or less time if the quick practice changes quicker).
  • Use a timer.
  • Set an expectation that when that timer goes off, the Quick Practice is done.

The exception to this rule is in grades like K and 1 when the quick practice can last the entire unit. Students get to know them so well that really any kid could lead it any day, so in those examples, it could be a new student leader each day

Bored students are not the result of the lesson or the Quick Practice. Students become bored when they are not engaged. When students are bored, we as teachers, know we must find ways to make the lesson engaging and fun.

Think about your Reading class. If you were reading a story that your students found boring, would you just close the book and move on to something else? Probably not, so why give up on Quick Practices this way?

Ways to make Quick Practices more engaging:

  • Consider the pace: anything that is too slow is disengaging. Keep the pace high.
  • Increase choral response: listening to one student respond at a time is BORING. Quick practice is about choral response and building a community of voices. The student leader asks the question, gives wait time, then gives a cue for the entire class to respond at the same time.
  • Increase physical movement: consider standing up for the first question, sitting down for the next, or any other movement. Use fingers or hands to prove the thinking. In the younger grades, we do finger flashes (Kinesthetically flashing tens to our left and ones to our right). In third grade, we practice our count bys and 5s shortcuts by using our fingers.
  • Change your attitude: if you have a negative attitude, so will your students. We often project our concerns onto our students. When we understand the ‘why’ and are committed to it, we do whatever it takes to make it work.

This is a phrase I hear a lot! I understand your concern and overwhelm of all the things you need to cover to prepare your students. Worrying about what you need to cover in your math class just means you care and your students are lucky to have you. However, Quick Practices are so beneficial, I urge you to prioritize it

I am routinely told of skills students don’t have or aren’t getting. I can point nearly every single one of them back to a lack of quick practice. There is just not enough time during a lesson to build automaticity with many of the important foundational skills students need. The quick practice was designed for this! Trust it. As teachers begin doing it faithfully, they report having tremendous success and are blown away by how fluent their students are becoming. One first-grade teacher said to me, “I’ve been teaching for 25 years and my first graders have never been so fluent with these skills before.” She trusted me. Despite her objections, she did quick practice every day and boy did it pay off.

Ways to ensure you can fit Quick Practices into your class time:

  • Prioritize it.
  • Make it a routine.
  • Remind yourself of the benefits it will have on your math class. Can you imagine what it would be like to have students who are more fluent?
  • Really observe your day and see where you have just five minutes to spare. This may be during slow transitions, making office calls, getting a band aid for the same student who seems to need one after recess everyday. Find the time and I promise it will pay off!

I know you are an amazing teacher, but Quick Practices isn’t about how good you are in the classroom. Quick Practices is a community builder that allows students to become leaders in the classroom. Don’t you want to give that opportunity to each of your students?

We preach that all students are learners and leaders, but realistically, you may not feel that way about every single one of your students.

I have countless stories of model lessons I’ve done in which I’ve called up a student leader and I watch as the host teacher cringes, “No, not that one.” She’s worried the student will be embarrassed or won’t be able to do it and throw the rest of the class off. But every single time, the student leader knocks it out of the park. Every single time, I coach the student well, empower them, set the expectation high, and every single time it has worked. The student leader gets this amazing grin, gains pride and confidence. Take it a step further and watch how the students in the class even trust the leader! What an amazing feeling to allow your students to have this experience.

Ways to shift this ideas and trust each student during Quick Practices :

  • Believe in them. Truly believe that each and every student is capable of adding something to the class as a leader
  • Give leadership opportunities to the students you don’t pick on often. Everyone will have a turn, but this role is going to make such a difference in their confidence as a math student!
  • Remind yourself of what this does for your class community and the self-efficacy of your students.

How would you feel if you were never selected for leadership positions? You’d feel like you just weren’t good enough. But when someone has believed in you and empowered you, how did that change how you and others saw yourself? When others were given leadership positions, how did it change how you viewed them? You probably started to see things in them you didn’t know were there. Surely, if someone else in leadership saw it in them, it must be there, right?

If a student leader isn’t understanding something, it’s time for some self-reflection. Who is really frustrated in this situation? Were they coached well enough to be set up for success? Do they understand what it means to be in this role? Has it been modeled? Is there any guidance you can offer that will allow the Quick Practice to continue without negative feelings?

Some students are natural born leaders and others need to be taught.

Ways to help students who are not natural born leaders during Quick Practices:

  • The Guide by the Side: I am always the ‘guide by the side’ for the first few. The student leader gets full control, but I coach them from the side. I whisper exactly what they should say and do. Everyone knows I’m feeding them the lines and it just doesn’t matter.
  • NEVER take over: It’s their show and they can do it. Just keep coaching. “You’re doing great, now ask them to put a thumbs up when they have an answer,” “ Say it again louder, they can’t hear you,” “Stand to the side, they can’t see the board.”
  • Empower them: coach them, give them feedback, and hold the class community responsible for respectful behavior.
  • Keep the script simple: simplify whatever is in the teacher’s edition to only a few sentences. The student leader isn’t doing the math. The class is doing the math and the student leader is asking the right questions.
  • Consider putting the script on notecards: this seems to work extremely well for the upper grades and they can usually be released from the cards after day one. Say it the same way, every day

This is just a start, but I promise, if you decide to implement Quick Practices, you won’t regret it. I’ve brainstormed lots of other creative ways to make student leaders and quick practices work in the classroom. Be sure you are in our Math Expressions User Group on Facebook to view our weekly live videos and more tips on this topic!

Categories: Routines