Updated: May 26
It’s no secret that math is the most feared subject of most students. It can be confusing and incredibly boring. At least, I always thought so. Math seeks to represent concrete, real life scenarios abstractly using numbers and symbols. That’s a lot, and often too much, for a young brain to process. Due to its complex, abstract nature, many students just give up on learning math. They use the old expression “I’m just not good at math,” to justify their lack of effort in even attempting it. Sadly, they’ve probably heard their parents use the expression and their grandparents even before that. They come from a long line of “I’m just not good at math” people and they aren’t alone. It’s a diagnosis of epidemic proportions.
Math might be confusing at times, but it doesn’t have to be boring. In my opinion, if we can tackle the boring part that’s turning people away, then the confusing part will take care of itself. Worksheets are boring. Text books are boring. You know what isn’t boring? Games. Games change the incentive of the assignment from learning math to winning and I have yet to meet a child who isn’t motivated by winning. Here are 3 easy ways to turn math into a game:
Number One: Card Games
Card games are a great go to for practicing a variety of math skills. The best part, they don’t take up much space and are even portable. The following types of card games are simple and easily accommodate your learning objectives.
War – Who doesn’t love War? This simple two player game works well any time you are comparing two values. Players deal out all the cards so that they each have half the deck. At the same time, both players flip over the top card of their deck and compare. The player with the greatest value keeps both cards in a separate “winnings” pile. If the players flip over cards of equal value, they have a “war.” They place three more cards face down saying “I,” “De-,” “Clare” as they place each card. Then, they place a final card face up and say “War!” Players compare the value of the top card. The player with the highest value gets to keep all ten cards! When players run out of cards in their hand, they shuffle their winnings pile and keep playing. A player wins by capturing all of the cards. This game can be applied to many math skills. Here are some ways I have used it: Place value war – comparing the values of numbers. For upper grades, numbers are written in standard, expanded, and word form. Fact Practice – students solve a multiplication fact (addition, subtraction, multiplication, or division) mentally and compare the answers. Fraction war – students compare the value of fractions. Decimal war – students compare the value of decimals. Area or Perimeter war… the ideas are endless!
Concentration – Also called memory match. Players turn all the cards face down and spread them out. The first player flips over two cards. If they match, the player keeps those cards and takes another turn. If they don’t match, the player flips them back over and tries to remember where they are. The player with the most matches at the end is the winner. This game is great for matching an equation to it’s answer or for practicing vocabulary like in this Lines and Angles Concentration game where students try to match each figure to it’s name (example: match the image of a right angle with the words “right angle”). Other ideas: matching equivalent fractions and matching measurement conversions like in this Measurement Concentration where students convert between units (example: match 12 inches to 1 foot or 100 centimeters to 1 meter).
Zap – This is a newer one for me, but it has become one of my favorites! In this card game, players place the shuffled deck face down. The first player takes a card from the top of the deck and solves the equation or answers the question on the card. Another player checks their answer using an answer key. If correct, that players keeps the card. Play continues with players drawing cards and keeping them if correct. Hidden in the deck are several ZAP cards. If a player draws a ZAP card, they must discard all of the cards they have collected. The player with the most cards when the deck runs out is the winner. This game can be applied to so many skills because of its question and answer format. I have used this one with great success for changing between mixed numbers and improper fractions. You can check that version out here!
Another advantage of card games is that you can use the same set of cards to play several different games. Check out my Multiplication Card Game Bundle and Division Card Game Bundle on TpT for one set of cards that work for War, Concentration, Go Fish, Zap, and Quiz, Quiz, Pass.
Number Two: Board Games
Who doesn’t love board games? Especially when they include special spaces like “lose a turn,” “move ahead 2 spaces,” and the dreaded “go back to start.” Here are some ways to turn any math skill into a board game:
Draw a card – In this style of board game, players draw a card and solve the equation or answer the question. Another player checks their answer using an answer key. If the player is correct, they can roll a die and move their pawn on the game board. If incorrect, the player does not move (or the player rolls and moves backwards!) In some draw a card board games, the answer to the equation tells the player how many spaces to move. For example if the card says 20 divided by 4 and the player correctly answers 5, they move 5 spaces. In this Symmetry Safari board game, players draw a shape card and determine how many lines of symmetry it has. If correct, they move that number of spaces.
Roll the dice – In this style of board game, the equations are on the actual game board. Players roll a die and move that number of spaces. If they land on a space with an equation, they must answer it correctly or move back to where they started from. This simplifying fractions board game, Simplify-It, is an example of a roll the dice game. When players land on a space with a fraction, they must correctly say that fraction in simplest form or go back. Also check out Flurry Frenzy, a division with remainders game!
If you are interested in making your own board game, check out these board templates from Tim’s Printables. Otherwise, there are a lot of great, teacher made board games out there already!
Number Three: Bingo Style Games
Do you remember playing Bingo when you were in school? It didn’t matter what type of Bingo you were playing, it was always awesome. Bingo can be used as a whole class game or modified for small groups.
Whole Class Bingo – Each student gets a different bingo card, the teacher calls out a number, fraction, equation, etc. and the players cover it on their bingo boards. The first player to cover 5 in a row wins! Here are some great math bingo options:
Multiplication Bingo – The teacher calls out an equation (4 x 3!) and players must cover the answer (12) on their bingo cards.
Division Bingo – The teacher calls out a division equation and students cover the answer
Fraction Bingo – The teacher calls out a fraction and students cover a picture of that fraction or an equivalent fraction.
Decimal Bingo – The teacher calls out a decimal (thirty five hundredths) and students cover the number on their bingo cards.
Geometry Bingo – The teacher calls out the name of a geometric figure or shape and students cover a picture of it on their bingo cards.
You get the idea. Bingo can cover so many skills and it’s always a hit!
Small Group Bingo – It’s also possible to play a bingo type game in small groups. In this type of game, players take turns drawing cards and covering the appropriate space on their boards. I have played where only the player who draws the card covers the space or all players cover it. Here are some examples of small group bingo type games:
Cover Up – a player rolls two dice and uses them to create a fraction, then covers the image of that fraction on their board. The first player to cover four in a row wins.
Three in a Row – Players choose a number from box A and a number from box B and multiply them together. Another player checks their answer with a calculator. If correct, the player covers the answer on their game board. This one is a freebie!
Number Four: Online Math Games
Many schools have moved to one-to-one technology access for students (especially since the pandemic). This opens up a whole new world of math games! There are plenty of great online games and game platforms to explore. Here are a few of my favorites:
Kahoot - Playing Kahoot is like hosting a game show in your classroom. You can use a Kahoot someone else has created or create your own. Project the questions and students compete against one another by responding on their own devices (chromebooks, cell phones, etc.). It's a great way to check for understanding or review before a test and it's super fun!
Gimkit - If there's anything my students love more than Kahoot, it's Gimkit. I actually discovered Gimkit because my class was so adamant that we play it. I finally checked it out and it was a smash hit. Gimkit is another multiple choice game show type set up that works well for flash card review. I've used it with everything from multiplication facts to Spanish vocabulary. There are several game modes to choose some. In some modes, students compete against each other, in others they work together to beat the clock or build the tower before the lava rises too high... Do your class a favor and check out Gimkit!
Prodigy - Never have I seen my students get so excited about doing math as when they are playing Prodigy. Prodigy is essentially an epic fantasy adventure in which students solve math problems to win battles and gain new powers. It has all the fun of a video game with curriculum aligned math practice sprinkled in. If you haven't introduced your students to Prodigy yet.... well, please do.
Games can be a great way to make learning a challenging math skill fun and engaging for your students. I love to make my own math games, but if you aren’t into getting crafty with it, there are a lot of great games out there already on websites like Teachers Pay Teachers. To motivate your students even more, have some sort of prize or reward for winners but be sure to discuss sportsmanship with them to avoid issues with bragging, cheating, and hurt feelings that can detract from your actual learning objectives!