Math Centers, Games and Activities

Elementary math centers, games, and activities are great ways for students to practice and reinforce key math concepts and skills. Your students will be highly motivated and engaged during fun and collaborative learning experiences. It's a win-win!



This blog post will...

  • explain the benefits for students playing math games in class and for homework
  • offer ideas for how to organize math games
  • provide a four-step framework of how to introduce math games
  • identify potential implementation challenges, possible solutions, and ways to hold students accountable during math games
  • supply a list of FREE or affordable games



BENEFITS OF PLAYING MATH GAMES
  • There are numerous benefits for playing math games including:
  • Builds math fluency.
  • Deepens number sense.
  • Develops a love of math within students.
  • Engages learners effectively.
  • Provides an opportunity to practice and apply concepts and skills.
  • Encourages internatilizion of different strategies and their connectedness.
  • Strengthens their understanding of numbers.
  • Offers opportunities to practice.
  • Empowers students to work autonomously.
  • Gives students the opportunity to practice communication skills.
  • Serves as a formative assessment.
  • Allows teachers to pull a small group or work with students one-on-one.
  • Lends itself to differentiation.
  • Provides students the opportunity to apply math talk (link to math talk) in an authentic context.


IDEAS ON HOW TO ORGANIZE MATH GAMES
There are so many different strategies on how to store and organize your math games.  Check out these tools to help you get started!
  • Bins
  • Boxes
  • Baskets
  • File folders
  • Ziploc bags
  • Stackable tubs
  • Drawer unit
  • Storage drawers

HOW TO INTRODUCE A GAME TO THE CLASS
When introducing a new game to your class, follow these steps:
  1. Give an overview of the game and identify the concept or skill the students will be working on.
  2. Model how to play the game with a student while thoughtfully explaining how to play. Another option is to have you play against the class.
  3. Invite partners to practice the game and walk around to support partnerships as needed. Highlight good questions and important parts of the game using partners as examples.
  4. Pull the students as a whole group to reflect on the experience and answer questions.

3 WAYS TO HOLD STUDENTS ACCOUNTABLE WHEN PLAYING GAMES
  1. Require students to record equations or other work on the actual game or a separate document.
  2. Invite students to reflect on the experience and their work ethic in their journals.
  3. Reflect as a whole group on what went well with their partner, areas to improve, and how the math went.

CHALLENGES TO BE PREPARED FOR AND HOW TO OVERCOME THEM

Situation 1: Partners are arguing over who won or who is winning.
Response:
  1. Start by giving the group a friendly reminder to use their problem solving skills.
  2. If the argument continues, then coach them through how to solve their problem while referring back to an anchor chart posted on the wall.
  3. If the argument persists, follow through on consequences.
Preparation: At the beginning of the year, explicitly teach a system of how to solve problems among friends and record the process on an anchor chart.  Post the anchor chart on a wall in the classroom.  In addition, ask your students when you are teaching a new game (or as needed) the following questions: 1) “Are we going to be upset when we don’t win?” 2) “Are we going to argue about who won and get upset?” and 3) “Does it matter who wins?” When doing this, encourage your students to respond collectively, “No!” after each question.

Situation 2: One partner is not using tools appropriately.
Response to the Situation:
  1. Start by reinforcing expectations by complimenting the student who is using tools appropriately.
  2. If the behavior continues, then review the expectations posted or projected on the wall with the child who is off task.  Identify consequences if behavior continues.
  3. If the behavior persists, follow through on consequences and invite the child who is on task to join a different group.
Preparation: At the beginning of the year, explicitly teach how to use math tools appropriately and document your ideas on an anchor chart. Post the anchor chart on a wall in your classroom. In addition, ask your students when you are teaching a new game (or as needed) the following questions: 1) “Are we going to treat our tools like toys?” 2) “Are we going to use them this way (model inappropriate use)?” and 3) “How about this way (model another inappropriate use)?” When doing this, encourage your students to respond collectively, “No!” after each question.

Situation 3: Both partners are not using tools appropriately.
Response to the Situation:
  1. Start by giving the group a friendly reminder to be on task
  2. If the behavior continues, then review the expectations posted or projected on the wall. Identify consequences if behavior continues.
  3. If the behavior persists, follow through on consequences.
Preparation: At the beginning of the year, explicitly teach how to use math tools appropriately and document your ideas on an anchor chart. Post the anchor chart on a wall in your classroom. In addition, ask your students when you are teaching a new game (or as needed) the following questions: 1) “Are we going to treat our tools like toys?” 2) “Are we going to use them this way (model inappropriate use)?” and 3) “How about this way (model another inappropriate use)?” When doing this, encourage your students to respond collectively, “No!” after each question.

Situation 4: One partner is off task.
Response to the Situation:
  1. Start by reinforcing expectations by complimenting the student who is on task.
  2. If the behavior continues, then review the expectations posted or projected on the wall with the child who is off task.  Identify consequences if behavior continues.
  3. If the behavior persists, follow through on consequences and invite the child who is on task to join a different group.
Preparation: At the beginning of the year, explicitly teach how to behave appropriately during math games and document your ideas on an anchor chart. Post the anchor chart on a wall in your classroom. In addition, ask your students when you are teaching a new game (or as needed) the following questions: 1) “Are we going to be off task when we are playing a game with our partner?” 2) “Are we going to be doing this (model off task behavior)?” 3) “How about this (model another off task behavior)?” When doing this, encourage your students to respond collectively, “No!” after each question.

Situation 5: Both partners are off task.
Response to the Situation:
  1. Start by giving the group a friendly reminder to be on task
  2. If the behavior continues, then review expectations posted or projected on the wall. Identify consequences if the behavior continues.
  3. If the behavior persists, follow through on consequences.
Preparation: At the beginning of the year, explicitly teach how to behave appropriately during math games and document your ideas on an anchor chart. Post the anchor chart on a wall in your classroom. In addition, ask your students when you are teaching a new game (or as needed) the following questions: 1) “Are we going to be off task when we are playing a game with our partner?” 2) “Are we going to be doing this (model off task behavior)?” 3) “How about this (model another off task behavior)?” When doing this, encourage your students to respond collectively, “No!” after each question.


5 BENEFITS OF USING MATH GAMES AS HOMEWORK
  1. Promotes family engagement.
  2. Reinforces concepts and skills.
  3. Builds fluency.
  4. Improves attitude toward homework.
  5. Develops a love of math within students.

GAMES THAT TEACH MATH SKILLS
  • Game Board
  • Math Buddies
  • I Have… Who Has...
  • Tic Tac Toe
  • Granny’s Card Game
  • Dots
  • Race to the End
  • Half a Dozen
  • Four in a Row
  • Bump
  • Yahtzee
  • Monopoly
  • Trouble
  • Life
  • Bingo
  • Mancala
  • Phase 10
  • War
  • Go Fish


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