Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Kill the Math Drill

We've all done them, we've all probably given them, and I'm pretty sure we could all say that we hated them, and they never really worked. You know, those dreaded math drills, where you did flash cards, and sheets and sheets of fact problems. Can anyone say booorrrring! 

I can't say I was all that surprised when my boyfriend's sister emailed me asking for suggestions on more fun ways to do math drills since her daughter gets that glazed over look after about a minute or two. Hm, sounds like someone else I know.... just ask my mother.

Truth is, math drills are not fun, and research has shown time and time again that they don't work. I can definitely say I'm living proof of that, and I'm sure a lot of you could say the same thing. So from now on, let's plan on killing the math drill and replacing it with something a lot more fun.

But replace it with what you ask? Well, games of course! What kid (or adult) doesn't like games? I certainly have yet to meet one. So plan on tossing those fact sheets in the recycling bin, but do hold onto those flash cards, because you will need them, but not for drilling!

To play most of these games, you'll need to following items. These all are good items to have around for any math skill, so if you do not already own them, I strongly recommend adding them to your resources.

  • Flash cards of all sorts (addition,subtraction,multiplication, and division) If you don't own any, you can easily make some with index cards. This time of year you can also find some at places like the Dollar Store and the Target Dollar Spot. (Don't go to a teacher store for these! You'll pay way to much.)
  • Manipulatives/Counters If you have a student new to addition/subtraction, etc. keep some manipulatives handy to they can work the problem and check their work until they are more comfortable with the facts. You'll also need some for some of the games. You don't necessarily need the expensive store bought manipulatives either, dry beans, flat glass marbles, and poker/bingo chips all work great and can be found at the dollar store or even in your own home. Pennies also work great if you have a lot lying around. You can even make some with paint chips.
  • Dominos Always good to have a set on hand.
  • Dice/Number Generators 

Clear the Board
This is by far my favorite game to practice facts. One, because it's really easy to disguise the fact practice with this game, and two because it requires both players to constantly be thinking, because you want to make sure your partner isn't cheating and adding/subtracting/multiplying/dividing correctly. And in all honesty, this game is addicting, my fellow college classmates and I did not want to stop playing.

To play this game you'll need a game board (download here), game instructions (download here), 24 counters, and two number generators.

Follow the Leader
Grab a set of dominoes and the sorting board (download here). Lay all the dominoes face down on the table and then choose one to be the leader and place in the leader position on the board. Find the total number of pips (technical name for the little white dots) on the leader. (Note: Don't have the students write down the total, if they forget it, then it just means that's one more opportunity to practice a fact). Then flip over the remaining dominoes one at a time and sort according to their total in relationship to the leader.

Kids love to graph and graphing totals is a great way to reinforce facts while doing a little work with data collecting and probability. There are many ways you can do it. You can use dominoes, a pair of number generators, and even flash cards if you want to. Have students add up the total, and record it on the graph (download here). Make the graphs reusable by using linking/Unifix cubes to record, or laminate or slip into a sheet protector and use white board markers. Be sure to discuss results when your finished!

Here and There
You can make the basic clear the board game more advanced by pulling out flash cards whose answer equals one through six and using those instead of a number generator. (Click here to download game board template and instructions).

Domino Train
Make a train with a set of numbers by requiring the  next domino's total/difference to either be one less or one more than the one before. (You'll want to have at least 3 or 4 sets to get a really good train going).

Total of my first is 6, one less is 5, one more is 6, one more is 7, then I made a mistake
and did 2 less is 5, and then another mistake with 5 again (I lost my brain apparently),
one less is 4, and one less is 3. You get the point I hope.

Addition/Subtraction Bingo
Just like a regular game of bingo, only instead of calling out N56, you'll be adding or subtracting with flash cards. You'll need a set of flash cards, game board (download pre-made boards here, or blank boards here), and a bunch of manipulatives to mark those spots.

I Have/Who Has
This is a really fun game to play when you have 5-10 minutes to kill, but only after you've taught it and practiced it a few times. To play, distribute the deck of cards out to all the players (it's okay if some people have two). Choose a player to start and have them read their card (both the "I have" and the "Who has" parts), then the person with the "who has" answer, reads their card and so on and so forth until it makes it back to the person who started.

For example: "I have 6. Who has 2+3?" "I have 5. Who has 5+6?" I have 11. Who has 9+1?" .... "I have 2. Who has 3+3."

You can make your own game cards using index cards (I suggest writing out all the cards on paper first to check your accuracy). There are also some additional play ideas and some downloadable cards here. I've also seen card sets available for purchase at various teacher stores.

Fact Family Triangles
Fact Family triangles were something new to me this year, but I really liked how they allowed students to see the relationships between sets of numbers. One of my first graders favorite things to do was to quiz each other with these triangles. Our sets came out the curriculum (Everyday Mathematics), but you can easily create your own. The total is always at the top of the triangle and noted by a dot. Two numbers that make up the total are in the other two corners.

When quizzing each other, one student holds up a triangle, covering one corner of the triangle. The student then must find the covered up number by using the other two numbers to solve. If you want to practice addition, have students always cover the top number (the one with the dot), and for subtraction, choose one of the bottom numbers. Or if they need work with both, tell students to keep each other on their toes and switch it up.

Students always love a race, so I suggest pairing up students, giving each pair a set of triangles and setting a timer. Let each students have a turn quizzing the other, and then see who collected more right answers. Kids also love playing with the teacher, and I am always sure to truly play, even if that means I beat the student. Then I usually tell them it's because I've practiced my facts, and boy does that motivate them to keep practicing! They love it when they can eventually beat the teacher because they've practiced enough.

Top is covered, so you must add the two numbers.
6+4=10 which is the hidden number.

Top number is shown, so must subtract bottom number from top number.
10-4=6 which is the hidden number.

Near Doubles Hunt
This isn't really a game as much as it as mnemonic device of sorts to help students solve facts quickly. Students usually are taught their doubles facts early on and tend to remember them better than the rest. By having them note facts that are near doubles, they can use that knowledge to help them solve more facts.

Have students take a set of flash cards or dominoes and pull out all the doubles. Then have them hunt for the near doubles to match them with (You'll want to have at least 3 or 4 sets on hand for this.)

Near doubles for 5+5 with dominoes.
I'm sure you have played the card game of war at least once in your life. Throw a little twist in by using flash cards with the largest sum/difference, etc. being the winning card. To play split the deck between two players. Then both the players draw their top cards, find the sum/difference, etc. and then determine who's is larger. The person with the larger number gets to keep both cards. If both cards equal the same amount, set those two cards aside and then each player lays 3 cards face down in from of them and then flips over a fourth. The winning card gets all 10 cards. Play continues until someone get's all the cards in the deck or time is up and the person with most cards wins.

I found this card set at the Dollar Store I believe. It's by School Zone.
Online Games
There are tons of online math games that your kids can play. Try the Math Arcade at Funbrain and Math Learning Games for Kids to get you started. If you have other recommendations, let me know!


And there you have it! Plenty of ideas to keep boring math drills at bay. If you have any more ideas, feel free to leave a comment or write a blog post and I'll add your link to the list!


Michelle said...

Check out for good games also. Gianna's been using their math games, but they have other subjects as well.


Kelly said...

Such an awesome list of games! I do the same thing with reading words too to get kids to practice. It's all about games with kids definitely, but this just gave me some new ideas. I also make memory, go fish and uno games for my kiddos who are practicing facts!