math drills

Are You a Drill and Kill Teacher?

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Our students are in desperate need of repetition.  Repetition of spelling, capitalization, and punctuation rules, repetition of math facts and processes, scientific methods, and names and dates of historical events.  But, forcing our students to ‘memorize’ conjures up horribly negative memories for us all.  When I hear the phrase, ‘Drill and Kill,’ an image comes to mind of students struggling through pages and pages of math problems, students assigned to write spelling words until their little hands ache, and my own sixth grade memories of late night homework sessions making sure that my ruler lines were straight while diagramming enough sentences to rewrite Gone With the Wind!

Am I a Drill and Kill Teacher?

An ancient Latin proverb tells us that, “Repetition is the mother of all learning.”  But, my adopted textbook gives me a couple of guided instruction examples, a few independent practice problems, and then leaps directly into extensions or inverted uses of the newly taught skill, and application level problem solving.   That would be plenty for our gifted and talented population, but most of my students aren’t GT.   My low to average ability students are not getting the amount of repetition necessary to master new objectives.

So, as a classroom teacher my quandary is this: How do I get my students the repetition they need without the ‘drill and kill’ that squelches their desire to practice and learn?

Bruce Lee said,  “ I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.”

Just like the karate star, we would never hear a football coach after seeing one perfect pass from his quarterback to a wide receiver say, “Great!  We’re ready for the big game!”  But instead he would undoubtedly shout, “Great!  Do it again!  And again!  And again!” And his players, whether they were pee-wee or professionals, would gladly practice their play until the quarterback’s arm is too sore to throw another pass and the receiver is too tired to run down the field just one more time.

But if teaching long division and the correct use of apostrophes was approached in the same manner, students would refuse, parents would complain, administrators would question our techniques, and our jobs might be at stake.  Then how are we going to get our students enough repetition to master the academic objectives needed to advance to the next grade level?

This is where I believe that ‘playing’ is necessary in our classrooms.  All the objectives that our students have to master can be practiced through many different kinds of games.  These games allow students to see, use, practice, and play with their new objectives until they are successfully mastered in such a way that students don’t even know how many long division problems they‘had’’ to complete!

Remember:  Albert Einstein said, “Play is the highest form of Research.”

math drills

Learning through Repetition with Play

  • Bingo – great for whole groups or small group review (My students beg to play!)
  • Task Cards w/ QR Codes – great for centers and early finishers (Everybody likes to check their work with electronic devices!)
  • Worksheets w/ Riddles – independent practice that’s fun (Students love to race to find the answers to the riddles.)
  • Puzzles, Dice Games, Tic-Tac-Toe, and more!

These are all fun ways to get our students the repetition they need without the ‘Drill and Kill’!

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multiplication tic tac toe


About Teacher Down the Hall

I began my teaching career as a High School girls’ basketball and volleyball coach. After having children, my desire to spend more quality time at home with them directly affected my chosen positions. I have now taught pre-K, Kindergarten, 2nd, 4th, 5th, 8th, and all HS grades. My two sons and daughter are now in their 20’s and I have much more time on my hands. I enjoy spending that time creating fun activities for my classroom and sharing them on TPT!

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Written by
April Smith

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