Fluency Activities: Fun, Fast, and Totally Feasible

Fluency activities help keep kids accountable, reinforce basic skills and knowledge, and reengage learners–all in under five minutes!

By Stef Durr


Student showing work to a teacher

As a teacher, we constantly strive to reinforce basic skills and principles so that we can spend more time getting to the meat of a lesson, pushing our kids to be critical and analytical thinkers. Incorporating fluency activities helps me do that! As you plan or refine next year’s units, consider including some basic, quick practice opportunities. I understand that our class time is precious (and oh so limited), but implementing, grading, and tracking a fluency activity can take as little as five minutes!

What Are Fluency Activities?

Fluency activities are short, timed activities that reinforce basic skills that students will need to know over time (not just for one particular lesson). These activities work well with all subject matters, and they should only be used with standards that classes have mastered (not when introducing new standards). There are many types of fluency activities and drills, and my favorites include Mad Minutes, Excellence Sheets, Precision Drills, and Oral Drills.

Why Should I Use Them in My Classroom?

As an awesome teacher, you’re always looking for ways to hone your teaching skills and strengthen your impact on the kids and their learning. Fluency activities are an awesome addition to any classroom because:

  • They reinforce basic principles, ideas, or skills that learners need to know forever
  • They divide skills into manageable chunks and build layers of information
  • They cut down on test time by offering continued practice
  • They are quick! One of my favorite activities is a Mad Two, which takes only two minutes of your class!
  • They build automaticity
  • They hold students accountable to important information
  • They help kids retain ideas and concepts
  • They offer an opportunity for healthy competition

Basic Do’s and Don’ts

  • DO use standards that kids have mastered and that can be practiced quickly. In my sixth grade reading classroom, we frequently use them to practice parts of speech, context clues, vocabulary, defining and identifying literary devices, and building basic grammar skills.

  • DO choose building block components of standards. Use a standard that can be broken into multiple steps, and then attack each step independently.

  • DO make it urgent. If kids have two minutes for an activity, they should have to use the full two minutes.

  • DO grade and track student progress. Kids love seeing their growth, and it’s a great indication of their progress for parent interactions.

  • DON'T practice really complicated standards. For example, if you teach 6th grade English, the Common Core State Standard RL.6.9 (Compare and contrast texts in different forms or genres in terms of their approaches to similar themes and topics) would be too complex for a speedy practice.

  • DON'T mistake timed activities as fluency activities. Not all timed activities are fluency drills. Make sure they fit the following criteria before calling them a fluency drill: they are timed, they practice mastered standards, and they reinforce important information kids will need to know throughout the year.

Which Fluency Activity is Right for Me and My Objective?

Mad Minutes are by far my favorite fluency activity. They are fast, spiral one standard, and take between one and four minutes, depending on how much time you choose to allot. I’ll post the answers on the board, or I’ll quickly cold call kids as we trade and grade. Then, kids can track their mastery on personal trackers, or you can collect scores and post them around the room. Kids know that they’re striving for growth, not perfection here. Here is a Mad Minute example from one of my previous vocabulary units. The kids had three minutes to complete this one with that week’s vocabulary words.

If you have a little more time, try using an excellence sheet. These activities usually take between three and five minutes and can spiral multiple standards. You might have 8-10 problems or questions on this sheet, and kids can use it to help them prepare for an upcoming quiz.

A precision drill has a very clear goal: complete the questions or problems with as much accuracy as possible. It could look identical to the Excellence Sheet, only this type of activity gives credit until the first incorrect answer. For example, if there were 10 questions, and a learner got the first four correct but answered the fifth incorrectly, the grader would stop scoring at question number 5, giving him a 4/10. On the reverse, if a learner got the first nine correct but answered the 10th incorrectly, he would earn a 9/10.

Get your kids up and moving with an oral drill, where kids stand up next to their seats and answer questions shown on the board or read aloud. As the teacher, you facilitate this activity by cold calling on kids at random. This allows you to see where independent kids need extra support. Set yourself up for success by creating strict guidelines and expectations (like standing up straight, not leaning on desks, not shouting out answers, etc.). The first time you try this, it can be quite stressful if these expectations are not clearly set!

As always, our goal here at Lesson Planet is to encourage wonderful teachers (like you!) to share your wealth of knowledge:

  • What fluency activities do you use in your classroom?
  • What suggestions do you have for a teacher trying one of these for the first time?
  • What questions do you have?

Share this article and post your ideas below!