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Game-Based Learning

3 Math Games You Can Use in Class Today

These games for upper elementary and middle school students require little to no preparation and reinforce math facts.

November 19, 2021
Elementary students playing a game together at their desks
zGel / iStock

For many students, math class can feel overwhelming, unwelcoming, and stressful. While there are many ways math teachers can work to shift this mindset in our students, one easy way is to infuse joy into math lessons through games. The following three math games can be done in as little as five minutes once they have been introduced to students and require little to no prep. Additionally, these games can easily be scaled up or down in difficulty to work for any classroom.

1. Buzz (No Prep)

Buzz is a quick and easy way to help students recognize multiples. To play, first have all students stand up. This game works well when students are arranged in rows or a circle but can be done with any arrangement as long as students know the order in which they will participate.

Once all students are standing, select a student to start counting. Before that student says 1, tell the students which multiple they must “buzz” on. For example, you may say that students will buzz on multiples of 3. That means that as the students count, any student whose number is a multiple of 3 will say “Buzz” instead of the number. Any student who says the wrong number or forgets to say “Buzz” is out and sits down.

The game can continue until you have a few students left as the winners. If you have a few students who are particularly nervous about being put on the spot, encourage them to keep track of the numbers called on a piece of paper to better prepare themselves for their turn. Remind those students that the game moves quickly and very little attention will be given to any single mistake.

The game will sound like this if students are going to buzz on multiples of 3:

Student A begins counting at “1.” The next student in the given order (make sure to tell students the order in which they will go) continues with “2.” The third student says, “Buzz.” The next student then picks up and says “4.”

To scale up the difficulty, you can have students buzz on a more difficult multiple, such as 7 or 12. You could even require students to buzz on common multiples of a given two numbers such as 3 and 4.

2. What Number Am I? (No Prep)

This game is a great way to practice not only fact fluency but math vocabulary, too. To play, select one student to be the first player. That student will come to the front of the class with their back to the board. On the board behind them, you will write a number so that the student cannot see what it is.

All other students will then give the player clues to help him or her guess the number. Students must raise their hands and, when called on by the player, can give one math fact as a clue. When the player accurately guesses the number, they select the next player to come to the board.

The game will sound like this:

Student A comes to the board and faces the class. The number 18 is written on the board. Student A calls on student B for a clue, and student B says, “You are the product of 3 and 6.” If student A knows this product, they can say, “I’m 18!” but if they are not sure, they can call on another student for a new clue.

To scale down the difficulty, you might tell students to only use addition and subtraction facts as clues and to emphasize words like sum and difference. You may want to focus on smaller numbers to write on the board.

To scale up the difficulty, you may give students larger numbers to work with, encourage the use of multiplication and division facts, or have students use square roots and exponents in their clues.

3. Fact Fluency Challenge (Minimal Prep)

This game allows students to engage in a competition as they work on given fluency practice. To play, split the class into two teams and select a representative from each team to start. I like to bring two chairs to the front of the room so the participants are right in front of the board when they play. On the board, post a math fact; the first student to answer wins a point for their team. The participants rotate so that each team member gets an opportunity to compete.

I use an online math fact generator so that I can quickly present math facts for a given operation and number range. If you want math facts that address a specific topic not easily found in an online flashcard version, you can make your own slide show to use with your students.

To scale down the difficulty, focus on single-digit numbers dealing with addition and subtraction, and to scale up the difficulty, you could focus on larger numbers dealing with multiplication or division, use decimals or fractions, or require students to simplify a multi-operation expression.

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  • Game-Based Learning
  • Math
  • 3-5 Upper Elementary
  • 6-8 Middle School

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