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Math Games

Math games help students develop the ability to think critically and solve problems. Well chosen games can provide an enjoyable way for students to practice and master skills. There are many different types of math games. Listed below are a few ideas to get you started.

Barrier Games

The aim of a Barrier Game is for one child to place objects onto a game board while describing to a partner what he/she is doing. The partner follows the verbal instructions to replicate what is being done, sight unseen. At the end of the game the barrier is removed and the objects should be in identical positions on both game boards. Barrier Games are a great way to develop mathematical vocabulary as they promote listening and speaking skills by requiring students to interact and use language to complete a task by giving and receiving instructions.

Different types of boards for Barrier Games can be created according to students’ level of thinking. For example, kindergarten teachers may choose to begin with a simple board of 3 spaces to develop use of the words ‘center’, ‘above’, and ‘below’. Once students are confidently using these positional words a 3 x 3 board with accompanying sentence frames can be introduced to scaffold language. When playing Barrier Games students can either place objects on the board or draw objects (shapes, numerals, angles, money amounts etc.) described by a partner.

The possibilities for Barrier Games to develop math skills and vocabulary are endless. Some possible ways to use them are as follows:

To develop skills in naming shapes: One child places pattern blocks onto a game board while describing to a partner what he/she is doing. For example, 'Put a yellow hexagon in the center square.'
This can be extended for older students by having one child draw, rather than place, a shape in each space on the game board while describing to a partner what he/she is doing. For example, 'Draw an equilateral triangle in the center square.... draw a parallelogram in the square below the equilateral triangle', and so on. Measurements can be included in instructions to make this more challenging. For example,‘Draw a square with a perimeter of 12cm in the center square’.

To develop skills in naming coins/adding coin amounts: One child places coins onto a game board while describing to a partner what he/she is doing. This can be extended to develop skills in adding coin amounts by having students place more than one coin in each space on the game board. For example, 'Place two coins that equal twenty cents in the center square'.

To develop skills in reading and writing numerals: One child places numeral cards onto a game board while describing to a partner what he/she is doing. This can be extended to reading and writing three/four/five digit numbers: One child writes a number in each space on the game board while describing to a partner what he/she is doing. For example, 'Write the number 179 in the center square. Write 258 in the square to the left of 179', and so on.

To develop skills in reading analog and digital times: The teacher prepares a board with a blank digital or analog clock in each space. One child fills in a time on each clock on the game board while describing to a partner what he/she is doing. For example, 'Show half past two in the clock in the center....Show ten o'clock on the clock below half past two', and so on.

To develop skills in naming fractional parts: The teacher prepares a board with a shape in each space that has been divided into equal parts. One child shades in a fraction of each shape while describing to a partner what he/she is doing. For example,'Shade in one third of the circle in the center of the grid'.

To develop skills in drawing and naming angle measures: One child uses a protractor to draw an angle in each space on the board while describing to a partner what he/she is doing. For example, 'Draw and label an acute angle that measures 47° in the center square.... draw and label a straight angle to the right of the acute angle', and so on.

I Have ... Who Has? Games

I Have ... Who Has? games can be created for virtually any topic and used as both a whole class practice or a center activity for small groups.

How to Play: Distribute one card to each student. If any cards are left over distribute these to random students. As you distribute the cards, encourage students to begin thinking about what the question for their card might be so that they are prepared to answer. The first student begins with "I have ... Who has" while the others listen for the answer that is on their card. The person with the correct answer reads his/her card. Play continues until the game comes back to the starting card. The student with the starting card answers and then says "stop" to signal the end of the game.

As students develop confidence with the game a stop watch can be used to time a round. Record the time on the board so that students try each game to beat their current best time.
When using the cards as a math center activity one student deals out the cards to all players. Players arrange the cards face-up in front of them. Play continues as in the class game. Whoever has the card that answers the question reads that answer and then reads the question on their card. Students turn over the cards after reading them. The first person to turn over all of his/her cards wins the game. Cards can be shuffled and the game repeated.

I Have ... Who Has?(Addition)
I Have ... Who Has? (Easy Facts)
I Have.. Who Has? (Doubles)

I Have ... Who Has? (Multiplication)
I Have ... Who Has?
I Have ... Who Has? (x2 and x10)
I Have ... Who Has? (x2 and x5)
I Have ... Who Has? (x3 and x5)
I Have ... Who Has? (x4 and x6)
I Have ... Who Has? (x4 and x10)
I Have ... Who Has? (x7 and x3)
I Have ... Who Has? (x8 and x6)
I Have ... Who Has? (x9 and x7)

Commercial Games

24 GAME is a challenging game leading to improved computation, problem solving, number sense, and critical thinking skills. The object of the game is to make 24 using addition, subtraction, multiplication or division. Use all four numbers on a card, but use each number only once. Colored dots on the cards indicate varying degrees of difficulty 1 Dot cards are easy, 2 Dot cards are medium and 3 Dot cards are tough. There is at least one solution to every card. There are 9 different editions of this game available.

In December of 2010, a downloadable Single-Digits version of the game was released at Apple’s iTunes App Store. The “i” version of the Single Digits game plays like its card-game predecessor, but users play to beat their own best time, or challenge friends to see who is the quickest—Current Time and Best Time are displayed.

Equate is a great math board game that can be played with 2 to 4 players. Looking a bit like Scrabble for mathematicians, the object of the game is to put down tiles on the board and make points by correctly completing simple equations. Each player has nine tiles (including both numbers and mathematical symbols) and can add on to previous plays both vertically and horizontally. This game has many levels of play. Suggested age group is 8 years to adult.

To get the most benefit from math games:

  • Establish a class routine that allows time for playing math games at least twice a week
  • Use math games from previous grade levels for continued practice and review of necessary math concepts
  • Establish stations where students can rotate to a new station about every 10 minutes.
  • Create adaptations for frequently played math games to meet individual student needs.
Dry Erase Pockets for Math Games
  • Laminate math game boards for long term use or purchase a set of reusable dry erase pockets. Simply insert a game board and use a dry erase marker to write on the pocket. When the math game is completed wipe the marker off the pocket and use again. This eliminates the need to copy game boards over and over and will save you both time and paper. These pockets are useful for protecting and extending the life of all game boards but are particularly useful for games in which students need to write on the game board, such as in many of the Barrier Games described above.

For more math game ideas visit the Number, Geometry, and Measurement and Data pages for your grade level.

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