Three Games to Improve Math Fluency

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By: Emily Campbell, Mathematics Curriculum Manager, CPS Office of Curriculum

Many parents may remember having to do math drills in school. Be it multiplication tables or plain number drills, activities that are rooted in memorization can hinder math fluency. We’d like to offer some fun alternatives designed to build math skills.

Below are three games you can play with your child at home. All you need is a standard deck of playing cards. Any additional materials needed are listed for each game.

Before you play …

Children become fluent when they are accurate, flexible and efficient in computational thinking. The most important portion of this activity is less about the game and more about the debriefing conversation after. Ask your child what strategies they used and how they saw the numbers. Interesting answers always surface to the top! For example, my niece once told me that she always adds and subtracts with tens. If the expression is 7 + 4, she would decompose 4 into 3 + 1, then bundle 7 + 3 into 10 so that all she had to do was add 1. This is an example of flexibly thinking about ways to compose and decompose numbers.

“Math Match”

  • Number of players: 2
  • Before playing:
    • Designate “Ace” card as a value of 1. For a greater challenge, designate the Ace with a value of 11.
    • Designate all face cards (Jack, Queen, King) as a value of 10.
    • Remove Joker card or, for greater challenge, designate a value between 1-9.
  • Directions:
    • Divide the deck into two. Place both decks face-down between the players.
    • Each player turns a card face-up at the same time.
    • The player with the highest value, keeps both cards. The goal is to have as many cards as possible at the end.
    • If the value of both cards is equal, players each draw three cards facing down. The fourth card is placed up. The highest value wins all cards. Repeat if necessary.
    • Possible Variations: The players draw two cards each:
      • If practicing addition, highest sum value takes the cards.
      • If practicing subtraction, highest difference takes the cards.
      • If practicing multiplication, highest product takes the cards.
      • If practicing fractions, place something that can act as the “fraction bar.” Each player must draw two cards: first, the numerator, and second, the denominator. Highest value takes all four cards.
    • After playing: Discuss what strategies your child used to find the answers. How did the child see or visualize the numbers? 

Snip, Snap, Snorem 

  • Number of players: 3 or more
  • Directions:
    • Deal all cards evenly to players. Players can look at their cards.
    • The player to the left of the dealer lays down a card.
    • The next player has to put down a card that matches the suit or rank of the previous card. If they can do this, they say, “Snip,” while playing the card. If the player cannot play a card, they say, “Snap,” and it’s the next player’s turn.
      • To make it more difficult, you can add limitations such as “even-only” or “odd-only” number values. Or, you can rule that the card has to be a value that would add up to 10 when combined with the previous card.
    • The first player to play their last card says “Snorem,” declaring victory.
  • After playing: Discuss what strategies your child used to find the answers. How did the child see or visualize the numbers? 

Spoons

  • Additional materials needed: Spoons
  • Number of players: 3 or more
  • Directions:
    • Arrange spoons in a small circle in the center of the table. There should be one less spoon than the number of players.
    • Each player gets 4 cards.
    • The dealer picks up one card from the deck, reviews it, and can either add it to their hand of 4 cards or pass it on. If the dealer keeps the new card, they must give up a card. All players do this as cards are passed around the table.
    • The goal is to get 4 of a kind. The first player to achieve 4 of a kind is to grab a spoon.
    • As soon as it’s noticed that a spoon is gone, the other players grab a spoon. The last one to grab for one when there are no spoons left loses.
  • Note: Variations of this game include sticking out your tongue or subtly placing your thumb on the table, instead of grabbing a spoon.
  • After playing: Discuss what strategies your child used to find the answers. How did the child see or visualize the numbers?

Fluency in math is not memorization. These games help children build fluency from conceptual understanding (such as a game) to deep understanding. The strategies used in the game will evolve over time and grow stronger. Try one of these games and see for yourself! For more information or ideas, visit youcubed.org.

 

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