Last week I talked about why mental math matters and how to teach 5 key mental math skills. Now I want to share a few games that my students love that keep mental math practice fun—even for kids who say they don’t like math.
5 fun mental math games
You’ll find a game for each of the 5 key mental math concepts: counting on, near doubles, compatible numbers, partitioning, and estimating. Some are perfect for students to play in pairs in class or sent home to play with a parent, guardian, sibling or babysitter as homework. Others are great for individual practice, small groups, or the whole class.
Count On Cards
2-person card game
Deck of cards with jacks, queens, kings, and jokers removed
To have the most cards at the end of play
How to Play
- Separate the cards into two piles. Pile one has the aces, 2s, 3s and 4s. Pile 2 has the 5s, 6s, 7s, 8s, 9s, and 10s.
- Shuffle each pile and place them face down on the playing surface. Explain that aces act as 1 in this game.
- Have the first student turn over the top card in each pile, and add the two numbers using the counting on strategy. If necessary, remind them to count on from the larger number, and count on the smaller number. For example, if they turned over a 4 and an 8, they would start with 8 and count on 4: 9, 10, 11, 12.
- If the player has the correct answer, they get to keep both cards. If the answer is incorrect, the other player can try to find the correct number to keep both the cards.
- Then the second player turns over a card from each pile and counts on to add them.
- The game continues with players taking turns flipping and counting on until one of the piles run out of cards.
- The winner is the player with the most cards at the end of the game.
Compatible Number Match Up
Small group or whole class game
Cards or stickers with numbers on them
To find a compatible number among your classmates.
How to Play
- Create stickers (name tag size stickers work well) or note cards students can carry with numbers on them. Students will be searching for compatible numbers, so you can level this game by the numbers you use.
- Give each student a number sticker or card and explain that it needs to be visible to other people.
- Have students get up from their seats and have them begin looking for numbers that are compatible with their own number. For example, a student who had 46 could find a compatible number with a student who had 4 (total 50) or 54 (total 100) among others.
- If students find a compatible number, both students can sit down.
- Students still seeking compatible numbers can look at the numbers of seated students if they have trouble finding one among other students who are still looking
- Continue playing until all students have found a compatible number.
You can adapt this mental math game by asking students to find trios of numbers (two numbers plus theirs) that make a tidy sum.
Near Doubles Triangles Race
Pairs or small group
(Or done not as a race by individuals)
Paper and pencil (or whiteboards and markers)
Be the first to find the correct answer when adding three consecutive numbers.
How to Play
You may want to do a sample triangle to show students how near doubles triangles work before you get them started. Draw a triangle on the board and write a number in one corner, say 7. Ask students what the next two numbers are. Write those numbers (8 and 9) in the other corners. Ask for suggestions of different ways to add these numbers. Write the total in the center. Highlight the near doubles strategy.
Students can complete near doubles triangles on their own. Just give them the number to start each triangle with. To use this mental math activity as a race in pairs or small groups, follow these steps.
- Have students draw a triangle on their paper or whiteboard.
- Tell them that as soon as you give them the first number, they should write it on their triangle, add the next two numbers and add them.
- Give students a starting number.
- Have them raise their hand when they have the answer.
- Check the math. If they added correctly, they win the round. If not the next person to raise their hand can steal the round.
2 transparent counters
Add two numbers using the mental math skill of partitioning
How to Play
- Give each pair a 100 grid.
- Each student selects a number from the 100 grid and places a transparent counter on the number. (The counter helps students remember the two numbers selected in each round. If you don’t have counters, students can use a whiteboard or scrap paper to write down the numbers. Remind them that they are practicing mental math, so they shouldn’t use the whiteboard/paper to work on the solution.)
- Students should use the partitioning strategy to add the two numbers.
- Have them check their answer with their partner. Then see if they partitioned the numbers in the same way.
- Together see if they can come up with other ways to partition to solve the problem.
Estimation & Calculation Station
2 10-sided dice
A playing board (see image—adapt numbers included to suit the level of your students)
Be the first player to get 5 points by estimating correctly
How to Play
- The first player rolls the dice and identifies two numbers by looking at the playing board. For example, if they rolled a 4 and a 7, the two numbers using the sample board shown would be 752 and 267.)
- That player estimates the sum of those two numbers.
- The same player then selects the range that the estimate falls in.
- The other player uses the calculator to work out the exact answer. If the exact answer falls within the range selected, the first player scores a point.
- Player 2 now rolls the dice and does the same, and player 1 works the calculator.
- Play continues until one student gets 5 points.
- Remember the player that is estimating is practicing mental math, so they shouldn’t use paper and pencil to work out the estimates.
If you try out these mental math games in your classroom, I’d love to hear how it went—or how you adapted them to fit your students’ needs.
Looking for more mental math games and activities for grades 1–3? Check out Mental Math Activities and Posters. You get:
- An explanation of each strategy with examples.
- Posters to assist in explaining each strategy.
- Activity ideas to help your students practice the strategy.
- Games to provide further consolidation of the strategy.
Print posters, task cards, activity sheets for homework, game boards … and you’re good to go with mental math.
Get your activity and poster pack here >>https://topnotchteaching.com/downloads/mental-math-activities-posters/