Teach Think Elementary

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Math Games Checklist

I love using math games in my classroom.  I have many reasons why I (and my students) love playing math games.  But how do I decide which games to spend our precious class time playing?  What makes for quality math games?  Below is a list of the criteria I use when choosing math games.  Not every game is going to have all of these things, but a good math game should have the majority of these qualities.

In general, I look for math games that…

✔ rely less on luck, and more on strategy.

The more a math game relies on strategy, the more students will be encouraged to use those strategies!

✔ are easily differentiated. 

Math games are one of the easiest ways to differentiate math instruction and practice, so I always look for games that can be differentiated by skill level, learning style, etc.

PRO TIP: This FREE Place Value game is already differentiated for you. Just print it out and play!

✔ engage kids at all levels- and the teacher, too! 

One of my favorite things to do is to sit down and play a good math game with a few of my students.  We all learn a lot from sharing strategies, and it builds class culture and positive student relationships.  But I NEVER let kids win.  If they win a game, they know they earned it, fair and square!

✔ allow for flexible grouping. 

I like to choose math games that can be played alone, with a partner, or in a group.  It just makes classroom management and differentiation so much easier!

✔ can be played with few/ simple materials. 

Honestly, this just makes classroom management SO much easier!  Especially when you start adding multiple math game choices, it can get complicated for students to remember which materials they need for which game.  Games with few materials are so much easier for both students and teacher to manage.

PRO TIP: Choose games with flexible materials that students can reuse for multiple games. I like these Array Cards because they are easily differentiated and students can play tons of games with them. They’re great for learning multiplication concepts, multiplication/ division relationships, multiplication facts, division facts, or even area concepts.

✔ can be recorded for assessment/ accountability/ evidence of learning. 

I love having the kids keep their record sheets from their games.  If I suspect a student wasn’t really playing, I can ask to see their record sheet as a way of holding them accountable.  Select record sheets can be used for portfolios or other evidence of student learning.  And I will frequently collect all of the record sheets at the end of the period and quickly look through them to help me plan the next day’s lessons and activities. 

✔ are open ended. 

This is especially important for classroom management.  I look for games that can be over when I say time is up (usually when I notice we are 5 minutes late for art).  If a game has to have a certain number of rounds, etc. in order to be finished, it gets tricky to manage.  Kids may not want to start a new game with 3 minutes left, or may get upset if they had one more round to go when time is up.  It’s just easier to choose games that are over when it’s time to clean up.

PRO TIP: Capture games are great for this! Whoever has the most cards when time is called is the winner, it’s super simple to manage.

If your kids are working on decimals, try this Snowball Decimal Capture Game.

✔ have enough options for play that kids don’t get bored. 

If there are very few options for how the game will go or how it will end up, then you know your students will lose interest.  A game has to be engaging enough that your kids will want to keep playing. (Instead of finding ways to annoy each other!)

✔ provide opportunities for higher order and strategic thinking. 

A good math game is one that pushes students to think strategically about what the best move would be.  It involves creative problem solving, coming up with multiple ideas or solutions, and deciding which is the best option. 

✔ provide immediate feedback. 

This is key if you want students to be independent while playing!  One example would be a game where students check their answers with a calculator, or where one student can “challenge” another to justify his or her answer.

✔ allow for great questions and discussions.

This is where you really get a lot of bang for your buck with math games.  Good math games provide an opportunity for wonderful strategy discussions.  I often stop the kids in the middle to ask what the best move would be. Or, I might ask what they are hoping their opponent will/ won’t do or even who is winning and how they know that, etc.  Sometimes we play a game of Class vs. Teacher, where they ask me questions about my strategy and can hear my own metacognition.  I think these kinds of discussions are what really propels student thinking forward.  (And they make for great written reflections!)

Happy (Math Game) Teaching!!

Christine Cadalzo

Psst… if you need suggestions & structures for managing your high quality math games, check out this blog post.