Bell work: Fast fingers

(A continuation of my Bellwork series)

Fast Fingers is an activity I learned about from Link Crew. It makes a great Math warm up, ice breaker or could even be used in between class activities to help break up the day. Here’s how it works:

Pair off your students. I often ask them to find a partner wearing the same colour shirt, or same colour socks, or that has the same last digit in their phone number, etc. This way they pair up with someone other than their best friend that they always choose.

Instruct them to stand face to face & place both hands behind their back. Explain that on the count of three, they will bring their right hand out in front of them with a certain number of fingers showing as seen here (and I always physically demonstrate as I’m explaining):


The goal is be the first out of your partnership to state the sum of the fingers shown. So for the photo above, the sum would be 5. The first partner to say 5 (often they SHOUT 5!) wins a point. I ask them to keep playing until one of them reaches 10 points.

Once the majority of teams have made it to 10 points, I end that round. Now I have them put their hands back behind their back. This time, I instruct, they will reveal two hands at a time – same task; first person to state the sum of the fingers.


This past week I tried a variation by asking them to multiply instead. It worked great with one hand at a time; the students were already familiar with the format of the game as we had played it with addition previously. When we advanced to two hands each we ran into the problem where one of the groups thought they needed to multiply 4 different digits (one for each hand). I explained that, no, I would like them to count each person’s two hands as one digit. For example, in the above photo the student on the left has revealed 5 fingers and the student on the right has revealed 8 fingers. The product would be 40 (not 2 x 3 x 4 x 3 = 72). Although perhaps that would be another version of the game to try in the future!

A few reflections:

  • It gets loud. I’m OK with that, but sometimes I wonder what other people think of my classroom :s I always close my classroom door while we do this activity so as to reduce the bother to my colleagues next door (I usually teach w/ my door open … do you?)
  • Some groups finish much faster than others. I try to keep an eye on when the majority of groups have reached 10 points & call the end of the round even if some groups aren’t there yet. Alternatively, I suppose you could see who can get the most points in a set amount of time to ensure everyone is finishing at the same time.
  • A lot of research states that Math should not be a timed activity, and I always give my students as much extra time as they need on evaluations. So I sometimes feel like maybe this isn’t the best activity as it asks them to be the quickest multiplier or adder. Quick does not always mean skilled or effective in Math. It can, but it doesn’t always. But I hope that even if it’s a high pressure activity for some students because it’s timed, the fact that only one other student sees their performance (not the whole class) will help mitigate any stress it causes.

How could you use Fast Fingers in your classroom?

– Laura Wheeler (Teacher @ Ridgemont High School, OCDSB; Ottawa, ON)

2 thoughts on “Bell work: Fast fingers

  1. Pingback: OTR Links 10/21/2014 | doug — off the record

  2. Pingback: A Day in the Life of a Math Teacher | Wheeler's thoughts on teaching

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