December 13, 2012

Tips for Teaching with Math Games

Who doesn't love a game? In the math classroom, games offer an engaging alternative to worksheets, allowing students to work with others and have fun while learning. They’re perfect for practicing new skills or reviewing previously-learned content. Math games are extremely versatile and can be used in cooperative learning teams, in small group instruction, or in math centers.

The key to using math games effectively in the classroom is to develop clear and specific management systems and procedures. Students need to know when they can play the games, where to go to play them, how to choose a partner, and a host of other procedures.

I've shared some tips below, and you can download the entire set of tips as a PDF file by clicking the Tips for Teaching with Math Games link or the cover above.

Using Math Games in Cooperative Learning Teams
Math games work well in cooperative learning teams during whole group instruction. After you introduce a skill, demonstrate it, and check for understanding, you can have students play a game to practice the skill. When you use games in cooperative learning teams, each team will need a copy of the game materials, and all teams will be engaged in playing the games while you serve as a facilitator. This gives you the opportunity to walk around and work with individual students who may need extra help. Another way to use games in cooperative learning teams is for reviewing several different skills the day before a test. If you choose to use games this way, you’ll need a different game for each skill and rotate the games from team to team every 10 to 15 minutes. Sometimes you can use the same game but simply create different problem cards or task cards for each skill.

Using Math Games in Learning Centers
Using math game centers is a way to help students keep skills sharp throughout the year. You may want to set aside 15 to 20 minutes a day for students to work in math centers. Having them play the games first thing in the morning as other students arrive can keep them on task and energize them for the day. You can also encourage students to use these activities when they have completed other assignments or while you are working with a small group. To learn more about how to use games in centers, watch my free webinar, Motivating Math Stations, on Teaching Resources.  In that webinar I explain how to choose and develop games for math centers.

Where to Find Math Games
You can create your own math games quite easily, or you can find them by searching online. I've created quite a few math games that are appropriate for grades 3 through 5, and most of those can be adapted for younger or older students by changing the problem cards. Many of my games are free on my online Math Centers page and in my TeachersPayTeachers store, and others are priced reasonably considering the amount of time and energy you save by not having to create them yourself.  The games shown here include complete directions, student printables, and answer keys if needed. You can also find math games in my ebook, Math Stations for Middle Grades, available in my store.

Using Games to Teach Social Skills
The younger your students, the more help they will need with developing social skills for games. However, even older students may need to review these skills. Remind your students that although they might not win every game, they are all winners because they are having fun while they learning. One way to work on social skills is to teach a mini-lesson on what “sportsmanship” means. Display this chart, which you can find in the Tips for Teaching Math Games packet, or create a similar chart on chart paper. Ask students what it means to be a “good sport” versus a “poor sport” when playing games. During the class brainstorming session, remind them not to name specific people or incidents that have happened in class.  Just list behaviors such as bragging, taking turns, congratulating the winner, smiling, grabbing the materials, not following the rules, pouting, etc. Remind students that it’s no fun to play with a poor sport! Also, be sure that students have strategies for common game tasks such as deciding who goes first. Rather than arguing, they can flip a coin, play Rock-Paper-Scissors, or toss a die. After you address these issues with mini-lessons, you’ll find that your students enjoy playing games more and get along better with their peers.

How do you use math games in your classroom?  Do you have any tips of your own to share?

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