Math Games for Upper Elementary Students
Keeping skills sharp doesn't have to be a chore. It can be done with math games.
By Erin Bailey
Why do games get phased out of the curriculum in the intermediate grades? Kids of all ages like to have fun, even once they have mastered solving long division problems, and double digit multiplication equations. Games can be particularly helpful when skill mastery begs for repetition. The math games below, which are appropriate for third through sixth grades, require little preparation on the teacher’s part, and can be played in pairs or small groups. Best of all, they can entice students to sharpen their math skills.
Dealing in Data
For the game Dealing in Data, all you need is a deck of cards. You can play the game with as few as two people, but the more the merrier. The value of each card is as follows: aces = 1, jacks = 11, queens = 12, and kings = 13. Once each player is dealt five cards, they must put them in order from least to greatest without revealing their cards to the other players. Students must then strategically choose to score using the range, median, or mode. If a player chooses mode, they must have at least two cards with the same number.
Here are some examples of how the game works:
- The first player receives these cards - 2,5,6,7,9. He chooses range as his data measure. The range equals 7, so he receives 7 points.
- Player two is dealt 5,5,8,9,10. She chooses the median which earns her 8 points.
- Player three receives these cards: 1,7,9,9,K and selects mode. Therefore, player three receives 9 points.
Before anyone reveals their cards, all players must indicate which data measure they are going to use. Each player uses a different data measure for each round (three hands make a round). For more sophisticated play, each player can exchange two cards for new cards from the deal pile.
This game started out as Dice Bingo, but one of my students shortened it to “Dingo” and the name stuck. For this game, each player will need a board with twenty numbers written on it, three dice, and tokens. I usually design the board with five squares across and four squares down, like a bingo board.
Start by having your students roll all three dice at once. Each player then uses any operation to hit a target on his bingo board. Let’s say 2, 4, and 5 are rolled: player one wants to mark off 22 on her board so she uses (4x5)+2. Player two wants to mark 6 on his board. His equation is (2x5)-4. Player three marks 10 with (4x5)/2. The round continues until someone makes DINGO (four in a row).
This next game is designed to keep students' multiplication skills sharp. To play, students need a deck of cards with the face cards removed, and tokens to keep score. As the teacher, you select a target goal for the game. For example, tell your students you want them to learn all the factors of thirty-six today. Your players will then draw two cards, and if a student can use any operation to make her two numbers into a factor of 36, they get a token. For example, someone draws 6 and 9. 9-6=3 and 3 is a factor of 36. A second token can be taken if the student can name the factor that completes the pair, in this case 12. The cards are then placed into a discard pile.
Variation: Once kids have played it a few times, the teacher can use multiple target goals in the same game.
Fraction War is a spinoff of the classic card game War. All that’s needed is a deck of cards with the face cards removed. This game is played in pairs, and you begin by having each player turn up two cards. The smaller number acts as the numerator, and the larger is the denominator. In order to win the set, you need to have the larger fraction of the two. It is fun to hear students puzzle over whether 2/9 is bigger than 3/10.
I also like to play Crazy War with my students. For this game, each player must turn up three cards. They can use any operation to create the biggest number that will win the set. To work on division skills, change the rule to have the smallest number win the set.
For more great math activities, check out these lessons.
This interactive math lesson focuses on prime factorization using twelve tiles.
After watching a video, students participate in a simulated ship rescue in which they must find equivalencies. This also includes cross-curricular connections.
Although lengthy, this lesson for fifth grade and up provides a real-world application for proportional reasoning and algebraic thinking.
This grade-flexible lesson uses popcorn to explore estimating, finding volume, graphing, and place value.