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Gaming Unplugged — Board Games, Math Corners, and Learning

By Stacey Burt on January 13, 2012
  • Grades: 3–5, 6–8

Let’s face it: it’s hard to compete with modern technology. It is everywhere. From iPods and iPads to laptops and smartphones, today’s students carry more technology in their backpacks than it took to put men on the moon. Honestly, I adore all that technology. It has added to my professional and personal life. So when I tell my students that we’ll be playing board games in math class, murmurs of “What?!” are often heard.

In my classroom, I try to have games and puzzles on hand for students to play. At the beginning of the year, I introduce students to several of the more popular games and sets of materials that I enjoy using in class. Inevitably there are a few students that roll their eyes at the lack of technology integration. What the students have forgotten is that sitting down with two or three other people to play an engaging game is actually fun.

But as games expert David Niecikowski reminds us, board games are not just fun: they also help students develop problem-solving skills, build community, and sharpen their intellect. My students count on me to join the groups and play with them. My involvement in the games also allows me to assess students’ level of mastery, spend time with them in an unstructured way, deconstruct misconceptions, and assist them in strategies that may prove useful in future learning.


Games and Materials

I like to keep it simple. Materials that are inexpensive and easily accessible are right up my alley. Here is a list of math games and materials that I keep on hand for game time in the classroom:

  1. Dice
  2. Playing cards
  3. Uno decks 
  4. Tangrams
  5. Sudoku 5X5
  6. Hit or Miss
  7. 10 Days in Africa
  8. Ka-Ching! 
  9. Monopoly
  10. 24 Game
  11. Battleship
  12. Blokus

This is the short list. Granted, I realize that state standards (soon to be "Common Core State Standards") drive instruction, but making time to connect with students through the use of games can increase learning come test time.


Math Corner

Many classrooms are designed with a special place for students to decompress with a good book. Just as important as having a reading corner is having a math nook. I highly recommend allocating a location in the classroom for math games and supplies. I stock everything from board games to books on origami and fractals and recommend the 25 Super Cool Math Board Games for building key skills in many areas.  My math nook is a safe place for kids to go and put their hands on math materials and manipulatives. In my classroom, it has become quite a popular destination for students who have finished assignments early.


Game Creation

My final suggestion is to give students the opportunity to create their own games at the conclusion of a unit or chapter of study. I pick up old board games at garage sales and ask parents to donate board games they no longer want. Students can use the box, game board, or game pieces to create an original game. I am never disappointed at the level of creativity and skill that goes into these student-created board games. The games are often donated to the class and kept for future use in the math corner. Student-created games also provide the opportunity to check for mastery of content.

All the best,


Comments (3)

Creating board games is a great way to incorporate Bloom's Taxonomy into any unit. As part of the game creation criteria, be sure to include the requirement to use different levels of questioning this allows you to check for the degree of mastery on multiple levels.

I take the board games a step further and after reading the novel "A Lion to Guard Us" in third grade each team of 3 students creates a board game. They draw the board, create the questions, and decide on the rules.I meet with each team and help make the rules simple and easy to follow. I am always amazed at their creativity. After the final product is ready each team plays all of the other games and then we discuss the things we like about each game. They are still playing them months after the activity.

I love games (board games and card games)! and I have found that most of my kids do not (and have never) played games with their families! They are missing out. They ask daily, "Can we play a game today?" It builds social skills that are lacking today, too. My students' favorites are yahtzee and uno. I like playing the games with them as much as they do!(But I grew up playing games with my family). :-)

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