Playing with Numbers: Building Fact Fluency with Math Games

by Jane Felling

Students learn while having fun playing a variety of card and dice math games.

Are you looking for engaging and effective ways to help your elementary students gain confidence and competence? Games are a powerful teaching tool in the math classroom, engaging students at all levels, and are also a lot of fun. Math games that incorporate the use of inexpensive—and easily found—cards and dice are appealing to all learners and learning styles and are easily differentiated across grade levels. This article will share the benefits of using games as a teaching strategy, as well as several activities to use in your elementary classroom and to send home for practice.
Why Games?

Students love to socialize and love to play games. Why not engage this natural playfulness to teach them? As students play with cards and dice they become engaged with the subject matter. Students must communicate their thinking with other players and analyze their own choices and those of their opponents. During some games, they may also record their play. If your school has adopted the Common Core State Standards, these games help to create deeper levels of understanding in line with those standards.

Games that use cards and dice are fun and motivating for students. They provide a meaningful context for repetitive practice and exploration of concepts necessary for building not only understanding but also automaticity. Fact fluency for many of our students requires a great deal of practice, and games allow for this in a nonthreatening way. A change of pace away from the pressures and boredom of paper-and-pencil practice can help build confidence and competence when it comes to fact fluency for many learners, not just those who struggle.

Cards and dice are multi-sensory. All learning channels are engaged as students work with manipulating cards and dice for counting, adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing, multi-digit work, fractions, and place-value and problem-solving concepts. Visual and kinesthetic learners can see and touch the manipulatives; and math talk is a natural extension of playing, engaging our auditory learners.
Games are rich in problem-solving situations; and students have the time to move beyond rote memory, making connections through math talk, sharing of strategy, and discovering patterns as they play. As students explore strategies in a game, there are rich opportunities for reasoning, making sense of problems, and persevering in solving them. As students play, sharing of ideas and problem solving often lead to making rule adaptations, creating new games or game variations that increase the difficulty of the math. The act of creating and inventing games further deepens students’ understanding of the specific math concepts they are working with.

In our classrooms we use games every day during math class to practice basic fact fluency. These games might also be used outside of regular math class times: before recess and dismissal, with our cross-graded reading buddies instead of sharing a book, in after-school programs, and on days when recess is held indoors due to weather. They are sent home in our math-games backpacks for homework and used to make connections between the classroom and home.

Following are six games—some our students’ favorites—for you to try in your classroom. They can also be used at a family math games night or sent home in backpacks for home play. Either way, get your math program rolling and stack the cards for ensuring success in your math class!




Sources Cited

Shuffling into Math with Games for Kindergarten to Grade 3
Shuffling into Math with Fun Family Games
All Hands on Deck: Math Games Using Cards and Dice (K-9)
All Hands on Deck: Fun Family Math Games
All titles available through Box Cars and One-Eyed Jacks. Visit for more game ideas, videos, and handouts. All games shown here from All Hands on Deck for Families © Box Cars and One-Eyed Jacks Inc.

Source: Today’s Catholic Teacher, October 2014
Copyright 2016, Peter Li, Inc. All rights reserved. This article is protected by United States copyright and other intellectual property laws and may not be reproduced, rewritten, distributed, redisseminated, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast, directly or indirectly, in any medium without the prior written permission of Peter Li, Inc.