1. Using games to support mental maths

Using games to motivate all pupils, even those who are sometimes reluctant in mathematics lessons, can have very positive effects.

Children are able to practise mental calculations and other skills while enjoying playing games.

You should always practise each game yourself before introducing it to pupils. This will ensure you understand it and can explain it clearly; it will also help you to identify the mathematical thinking needed to play the game. You can make the games yourself or with your class and they can be used again and again.

Case Study 1 shows how one teacher played games to help pupils’ skills in mental arithmetic. Activity 1 shows a simple matching memory game.

Case Study 1: Playing number games to aid mental arithmetic

Miss Isah, a Primary 2 teacher in Nigeria, found that her pupils enjoyed playing number games at break time. The boys rolled balls through numbered arches on a table and the girls tossed beanbags onto a target. In each game the winner was the first pupil to score 20 points, and Miss Isah noticed how some of her pupils were better than others at adding scores together.

She decided to introduce similar games into her teaching to find out if all her pupils could add up. She used the same game each day with one group at a time for a week. The rest of the class worked on practice exercises and she divided her time between supporting those playing and the rest of the class (See Key Resource: Using group work in your classroom [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] ).

She found that there was a small group of pupils who were less sure of adding numbers mentally and she gave these pupils extra opportunities to play and planned other mental arithmetic sessions for them.

Miss Isah also found that her pupils were more eager to come to class and she decided to use more games in her class in future.

Activity 1: Question and answer matching game

You should play any games yourself first, so you know the rules and can explain them clearly to your class.

This game enables your pupils to practise their simple number bonds and use their observational and memory skills. If you have older pupils you could adapt this game using other numbers and sums. See Resource 1: Number bond games for how to play, and ways to adapt the game.

You will need to make several copies of the game or you could involve pupils to help you make their own copies.

  • Organise your pupils into groups of five or six, and provide each group with a game.
  • Encourage groups to talk to one another about the game and the rules.
  • Each group selects a leader who makes sure the game is played fairly.
  • As the pupils are playing, go around the class observing anyone having problems so you can plan ways to help later.

Ask yourself:

  • What number skills are pupils practising as they play these games?

Questions you may wish to consider or discuss with a colleague:

  • Did the pupils enjoy the games? How do you know they enjoyed them?
  • Did all the pupils participate? If not, how could you ensure everyone takes part?
  • Did you feel that you were in control of the whole class?
  • How could you improve this lesson? Would smaller groups be better?
  • Did you give the pupils enough time for their tasks?

Section 1: Learning through games

2. Games and group work