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Using Games to Review Basic Facts and Practice Math-Talk Guidelines

Students love playing games!


As you are likely busy reviewing some basic skills with your students, this is an ideal time to use games and to practice those Math-Talk Guidelines (see previous post for these guidelines). As games engage students in learning and with each other, they are a great tool in setting up your math class culture (see previous blog post), In this post I will share several math games you can easily incorporate into your class.

Middle School:

Even students in middle school can benefit greatly from learning and using strategies such as ‘Make 10’, ‘Near Doubles’ and ‘Add 9’ for basic addition. I see many students in grades 6-8 (and beyond) still finger counting. They are more capable AND would benefit from the number sense and flexibility in thinking they will receive by learning and using these strategies. Using these strategies, students can also practice their math talk.

For example: Given this question: 7 + 8, students could do a number of strategies that do not involve finger counting. They could:

Use near doubles: 7+7+1 = 15, or

Make 10: 7+3+5 = 15, or

Add 10, take away 2 (instead of adding 8) = 7+10-2 = 15

Find 5’s: 5+5+2+3 = 15

Can you see how each of these strategies builds number sense? Students are learning how they can deconstruct and reconstruct numbers. Ideally, students are fluent in a variety of strategies and choose the strategy that best fits with the numbers.

Students can share their individual strategies using the Math-Talk Guidelines to practice. This is also a great way to ensure that they are actually using strategies other than counting. Depending on the age of your students, you may also have blocks that they can use to work through these strategies and this may help them to develop a better understanding of what they are doing with the numbers and why.

Primary School:

I give my grade 2 students base 10 blocks and they use a 10’s ‘stick’ as their guide for how many to add to make 10. With a little practice, they start to learn the pairs of numbers that make 10, and then can start partitioning other numbers. At this age, they are using the blocks each time. With my grade 6 and older students, most are able to mentally (abstractly or visually) figure out how to break apart the numbers and create strategies that work for them.

Sharing to Increase Learning

Some students struggle with the Math-Talk because they don’t know what they did to figure it out. This ability to reflect on their learning and thinking is a really important meta-cognitive skill so this would be a great opportunity to slow things down and focus on the thinking (rather than on the fact or the answer). Because we are working on relatively simple tasks (for middle school students) such as single-digit addition, it is a good time to practice the Math-Talk Guidelines in a low-stress environment. Students love learning about their peers’ strategies as they often find ways that they hadn’t thought of themselves and that make a lot of sense to them. There are often a lot of ‘Ah-ha’ moments during this whole class discussion. Again, because of the relatively simplistic nature of the arithmetic, students are able to ‘Go Beyond’ and ‘Build On’, which are two of the guidelines that require more sophisticated thinking.

Once the strategies have been learned and understood (this is important because if they are just following a rote process without knowing why, they likely won’t retain the strategies), then they need to practice to become fluent.

Using Games to Practice

I find games are a great way to do this practice. Students often leave a class after playing games saying; “that was awesome! We didn’t do any math today”. I always find this ironic because they often perform far more operations or ‘practice questions’ while playing a game than they would completing a worksheet.

It is always good to mix it up, so doing some worksheets as well as some games and activities will help you reach more of the learners’ needs in your class and will hopefully keep them engaged. This is critical to retaining learning; students need to find meaning and understanding and sometimes what is meaningful is doing something fun – like playing a game!

I really like the free worksheets found on www.gregtangmath.com (see materials and then downloads) because the worksheets are specific to the strategies. I also like Trevor Calkin’s ‘Power of Ten’ program www.poweroften.ca (many materials are free on this site). Please note that if these sheets are done without strategies, they will not be nearly as beneficial.

Below I have included some games and links to games that I have used and that students have enjoyed and there are thousands of free online games that students can use at home to continue practicing as well. Please email me any games you have used with success and I will share on a future blog post.


For those who are still working on learning and understanding numbers that make 10, you can play “Make 10- Go Fish” and “Missing Number”

How to play “Make 10- Go Fish”:

Students work in partners. Use a deck of cards with all of the 10’s and face cards removed and then deal out 7 cards to each person and the rest sit face down in a pile in the middle. Instead of asking for pairs, ask for the number that would “Make 10”. For example, if they had a 3, they would ask for a 7. The game is played as normal “Go Fish” until someone is out of cards. The person with the most pairs wins. Unifix cubes are there to help the students figure out what number to ask for. For example, if they had a six in their hand, they could split their row of 10 into 6 and 4 and so figure out that 4 is what they need to ask for.

How to play “Hidden Number”:

In partners students are given one row of 10 blocks. One player breaks the row into two groups behind their backs and then shows their partner only one hand worth of blocks and asks “how many are missing?”. If the partner gives the correct answer, they get a point, and then they switch turns.

For those that have these important pairs mastered, you can play a number of games that would give them the opportunity to practice the strategies for adding and subtracting:

Addition War:

Using a deck of cards, you can either use the face cards as 11,12, 13 or remove them or use them as 10’s (depending on the age and level of your students – I like to give them the option and monitor that they chose correctly).

Each player gets half the deck of the cards, face down in a pile. Each player turns over 2 cards and adds them together. The person with the higher SUM gets all the cards. If there is a tie, flip again and the winner gets all 8 cards.

The person at the end with the most cards wins.


Asks students to talk their strategy aloud as they play. For example: If I had 6 + 7, I might say “13 because 6 + 6 + 1 = 12+ 1 = 13”.

Subtraction War:

Same as addition war except they subtract the lower number from the higher number.

Reflection: What game did you find easier addition or subtraction? Why?

Hi-Lo Dice Games:

I love using various types of dice – 8 sided, 10 sided, 12 sided, 20 sided, and 30 sided. Students can use two different dice, like an 8 sided and 10 sided to start and then move up or you could differentiate by giving certain dice to pairs of students based on where they need to start practicing (some can move straight into using two 30 sided dice and will break apart the numbers into place value to do their mental calculations.

How to play:

Both players roll the dice and add/subtract/multiply their numbers. Then roll a 6-sided die and if the number is EVEN the person with the HIGH sum/difference wins 1 point, if the number is ODD the person with the LOW sum/difference wins 1 point. If they get the same number, they roll again and the winner of this round earns 2 points. The first player to 10 points wins.

Math-Talk: Asks students to talk their strategy aloud as they play. For example: If I had 16 + 23, I might say “39 because 10 + 20 = 30 and 6 + 3 = 9 and 30 + 9 = 39”.

Reflection: What strategy or strategies do you find the most useful for you? Why? Which strategies do you find difficult to use? Why?

Here is great article I highly recommend reading and at the end are descriptions of games that involve more than just fact recall but also the use of strategies and visuals:


Other Games:

Bingo – always a favourite! Here are some free printable versions:






Here is a nice collection of games:


I like this one because each student has to hold the other accountable (if they get the question wrong, they lose their turn)

Enjoy playing math with your students!

Educating Now was created due to teacher requests to have Nikki as their daily math coach. The site has lesson by lesson video tutorials for teachers to help them prep for their next math class and incorporate manipulatives, differentiated tasks, games and specific language into their class. Teachers who use the site can improve student engagement and understanding, in addition to saving prep time, by watching a 10 minute video tutorial and downloading a detailed lesson plan.

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