December 13, 2012

Tips for Using Math Games Effectively in the Classroom

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.

One key to using math games effectively 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.

In this blog post, I'll share a few tips for using math games effectively. I've also compiled some of my best strategies in Tips for Teaching with Math Games, a freebie which you can download from my TpT store.

Using Math Games in Cooperative Learning Teams
Math games work well in cooperative learning teams during whole group instruction or while you are working with small guided math groups. After you introduce a skill, demonstrate it, and check for understanding, 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.

Using Games to Teach Social Skills
Some students have trouble playing games because they don't know how to be good sports. With these students, it doesn't whether they're winning or losing. When they're winning, they gloat about how well they are doing, and when they're losing, they blame other players or complain about their bad luck.

It might be tempting to give these students worksheets to do during math centers or other times when the rest of the class is playing math games, but that's not going to help them learn to be good sports.

One way to work on social skills is to teach a mini-lesson for the whole class on what “sportsmanship” means. The younger your students, the more help they will need with developing social skills for games. However, even older students can benefit from reviewing these skills.

Start the lesson by saying that math games can be fun, but only if the players demonstrate good sportsmanship. Display one of the two charts shown on the right which you can find in the Tips for Teaching with Math Games freebie, or create a chart of your own. Ask students to discuss 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 discuss behaviors such as bragging, taking turns, congratulating the winner, smiling, grabbing the materials, not following the rules, and pouting. Write each behavior on the class chart, and then finish the discussion by reviewing how to be a good sport.

Another helpful strategy is teach your students how to deal with common tasks such as deciding who goes first or who will shuffle the deck of task cards. 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.

Wrap up the mini-lesson by reminding your students that although they might not win every game, they are all winners because they are having fun while they learning.

Where to Find Fun and Effective Math Games
You can create your own math games, but they are time-consuming to make. If you don't have the time or the desire to create your own, check out the collection of games in my Math Games Growing Mega Bundle. I LOVE creating math games that are engaging, fun, and most importantly, effective learning tools.

All of the math games in this bundle are appropriate for upper elementary students, and many can be adapted for younger or older students by changing the task cards. Each game includes teacher directions, ready-to-use printable game materials, and answer keys. Some of the games also include QR code answers as well as traditional answer key.

My Math Games Mega Bundle includes 16 games right now, but that's likely to change. I refer to it as a "growing" bundle because when I create more math games, they will be added to this collection. Anyone who has already purchased it will be able to download the new games for free.

All of the games in this bundle can also be purchased separately. To preview any of these math games, just click on its cover image below. You'll be taken to a page in my TpT store with more information about the game, thumbnail images, and a link to preview every page in the game. If you like them all, you'll save 30% by purchasing the entire bundle.

Where to Grab Your Tips for Teaching with Math Games Freebie
If you enjoyed the tips I shared in this post, be sure to download my free PDF, Tips for Teaching with Math Games, which includes even more tips for teaching with math games.

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

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