Math games

All the following games and activities for kindergarten, preschool and ESL students have been tried and tested in classrooms by The Magic Crayons, who are experienced teaching professionals currently working in Japan and China.
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1. Robot Shape Counting Game

Show the children the robot picture for 2 seconds and ask how many circles, squares, triangles or stars they saw! Print the preview and try it for yourself. Deceptively challenging yet fun.

This is a fantastic game, review or warm up activity I use with children ages 4-7. If there are parents in the room try a Students vs Parents battle. The students usually win.

ESL / Young Learners Theme:
Numeracy / Counting / Shapes

The Download
4 Color Robot Posters - pdfs - print these out as large as you can for the whole class to see.
Instructions page.
4 Robots shapes guess game for counting

2. Circle The Letter

Also works for Alphabet
Materials: whiteboard, markers
Time: 5-8 minutes
Receptive Language: circle, alphabet, numbers
Productive Language: circle, alphabet, numbers
Game Explanation: Write random letters, numbers, & words on the board. Call out a letter or number. Students race to circle the correct letter or number. Can also be played in teams or with the students writing and calling out the letters and numbers for the teacher to circle (possibly within a predetermined time limit).

3. Balloon Action

Materials: balloons, number cards
Time: 5 minutes
Receptive Language: instructions, balloon, numbers
Productive Language: numbers
Game Explanation: Either in teams or individually, students must keep a balloon in the air for as long as possible by hitting or kicking it, counting each time they do so. The team or student that achieves the highest number of correctly counted hits scores a point / wins the game.
Note: see also Circle Soccer

4. Back To Back Writing

Also for alphabet and shapes
Materials: vocab cards
Time: 10 minutes
Receptive Language: instructions, alphabet, numbers, shapes
Productive Language: alphabet, numbers, shapes
Game Explanation: Two (or more) teams sitting in parallel lines, with all students facing the same direction and the whiteboard placed in front of the students on each team. Show the last student on each team an alphabet/number/shape card, which they must trace on the next student’s back and so on up the line. The first player to write or draw the correct letter, number or shape on the whiteboard and name it scores a point for her team.
Note: You will probably have to continually enforce the ‘no hints / no talking’ rule.

5. Baby Step Back (Adding Game)

Materials: whiteboard & marker
Time: 6-8 minutes
Receptive Language: ‘(number) plus (number) equals?’
Productive Language: numbers

Game Explanation: Two teams. Draw a simple math equation on the blackboard (e.g. ___ + ___ = ____). Fill in the two numbers to be added together. The first student or team to add the numbers together and say the answer in English scores a point. To make the game more challenging, other forms of mathematics can be used instead of addition. To add excitement, if a student on Team A answers one of the problems correctly (‘Seven!’), award his team that many point, dollars, yen, etc. Mock the poorer team for being broke, living in a box outside Shinjuku station, & so on.

Note: As the focus should be on having the students answering in English, avoid making the problems too difficult, mathematically speaking.

6. Slow Motion Numbers

Materials: whiteboard, markers
Time: 5 minutes
Receptive Language: instructions, numbers, alphabet, slow
Productive Language: numbers, alphabet
Game Explanation: Review ‘slow’ & demonstrate to the students that you’re going to slowly draw numbers (&/or letters) on the whiteboard. While drawing ask the students ‘How many?’ The first student to correctly identify the number or letter becomes the ‘slow drawer’ for the next round.

7. Eleven-Twenty

Materials: #14-17 Flash Cards
Time: 5-6 minutes
Receptive Language: instructions, 14, 15, 16, 17
Productive Language: 14, 15, 16, 17
Game Explanation: Put the 14 flashcard on one wall of the classroom & the 15 flashcard on the opposite wall. Divide the class into 2 teams, with one team lined up against the 14 wall & the other against the 15 wall. Calls out ‘Fff...’ (the first sound of both 14 & 15). Every time you call out this sound the students take one step towards the middle of the classroom. When the students are about to crash into each other, call out either 14 or 15 & the students race to run to that side of the room. Repeat with 16 and 17.

8. Count Me In

Materials: Number Flash Cards
Time: 5-6 minutes
Receptive Language: instructions
Productive Language: flashcard vocab
Game Explanation: Review the number cards & split the class into 2 teams. Shuffle the number cards, demonstrate that the teams will race to place the cards in proper numerical order, give the cards to team A, tell Team B to watch the clock for you, & yell Go! Switch & let Team B have a go. The faster team is, unsurprisingly, the winner. Shuffle the cards, shuffle the teams, & repeat.

9. Back And Forth

Materials: Number Flash Cards, alphabet
Time: 5 minutes
Receptive Language: instructions
Productive Language: numbers, alphabet
Game Explanation: Two teams standing in line, each with a chair placed at the head of the line (and with the chairs facing each other). The first student from each team sits on the chair. Designate one student to start with either ‘One!’ or ‘A!’ The second student must continue (‘Two!’ or ‘B!’, as the case may be) and play continues back and forth until one student cannot continue. The other student’s team scores a point and two new students begin.

10. Animalize

Materials: vocab cards, dice
Time: 10 minutes
Receptive Language: instructions, numbers, unit vocab, plurals
Productive Language: numbers, unit vocab, plurals
Game Explanation: Two teams. Review and/or introduce plurals. The first student on each team rolls a die, while the instructor simultaneously puts a vocab card down in front of them. The students must add the two die amounts together and pluralize the card. For example, 3+6+dog = ‘9 dogs.’ The first student to correctly do so gets the point.
Note: Be firm with the students regarding pronunciation, with rewards for those students who make an effort to correctly pronounce the final ‘s’ (i.e. ‘dogs’ instead of ‘dogzzzzz’).

11. What Plus What Is What?

Materials: none
Time: 3-5 minutes
Receptive Language: ‘___ plus ___ equals what?’
Productive Language: numbers
Game Explanation: Students line-up to enter (or leave) the classroom & can only come in (or go out) when they have correctly answered a simple mathematical problem.
Note: Keep it in mind that the main focus is to get the students to think & answer in English & not to test their mathematical abilities. They’re only kids, you know, & may have difficulty with ‘What’s the square root of x to the power of npg over pi?’, etc.

12. Clusters

Materials: Number Flash Cards (optional)
Time: 6-8 minutes
Receptive Language: numbers
Productive Language: numbers

Game Explanation: At your command, the students run (or walk, jump, skip, dance, etc) around the classroom. You then shout “Stop!” & a number. Within a predetermined length of time (a slowly counted 5 seconds works best), the students cluster in groups of that number & sit down. Walk around the class checking the various groups, making sure to congratulate/highfive/praise the groups that are “safe.” If any of the students haven’t managed to join a group with the right number of students, inflict whatever “punishment” on them that you’ve decided upon: lightly tap them with a plastic hammer, throw them over your shoulder, give them a thunderous thumbs-down, eject them from the game, etc.

13. Circle Soccer

Materials: Number Flash Cards, ball
Time: up to 10 minutes
Receptive Language: numbers
Productive Language: numbers
Game Explanation: Using either the whiteboard or the number cards, review numbers 1 through 20. Get the students into a big circle. Produce a ball. Demonstrate how you’d like the students to kick the ball from one side of the circle to the other (while making sure that they understand that they must be holding hands while they kick & that they must stay in one position while this activity is going on; you may need the teacher’s help to get this across to them) & make it clear that the ball must be successfully kicked a certain number of times without rolling out of the circle before the entire class scores a point. Continue play, gradually increasing the number of kicks necessary. When the class successfully completes 20 kicks without letting the ball roll out of the circle, lead them in a rousing cheer &/or ‘champion jump’.

14. Buzz

Materials: Number Flash Cards, whiteboard & marker
Time: 5 minutes
Receptive Language: numbers
Productive Language: numbers
Game Explanation: A good activity for reviewing numbers at any difficulty level you’d like to try. For young classes, write 1-12 on the whiteboard & then erase the multiples of three. Student A says ‘One’, Student B says ‘Two’, & Student C says ‘Buzz!’ (or stands up, or sits down, or claps, or says whatever word you tell them to say instead). Continue until a student says ‘Buzz!’ in the wrong place, or neglects to say ‘Buzz!’ when he or she should. For older classes, continue to add replacement words as the game continues (you may wish to use other unit vocabulary words instead of ‘Buzz!’).

15. Bingo Challenge

Materials: whiteboard, markers, dice, flashcards, chips
Time: 8-10 minutes
Receptive Language: various
Productive Language: various
Game Explanation: Two teams. Create a grid on the whiteboard with a random number from 1-6 in each square. The students compete to name flashcards, answer questions, build sentences, etc. The winner rolls a die and places a chip/writes or draws his team’s symbol on any of the corresponding squares on the whiteboard. The first team to get a predetermined number of squares in a row wins.

16. Hot Potato

Materials: ones own hands
Time: 10 minutes
Game Explanation: Practice the Hot Potato chant with the kids and demo in front of the class with several Students. Play rock, paper, scissors to see who goes first. The Winner puts their fist out, then you start chanting, “1 potato, 2 potato, 3 potato, 4!, 5 potato, 6 potato, 7 potato, more!” as you stack your fists on top of each other. Keep stacking your fists on top of each other until the stack is too high for one person to put their fist on top. Play the game as a group by first dancing around to some music. When the music stops the student form pairs and do the chant as outlined above. Play several rounds.

17. You Know My Name (Look Up The Number)

Materials: marker, whiteboard
Time: 5-7 minutes
Receptive Language: instructions, numbers, circle
Productive Language: numbers
Game Explanation: Two teams. Write the numbers 1-20 on the whiteboard. Call out a number. The first student to circle the correct number on the whiteboard scores a point. This game can be adapted to fit the abilities of almost any class. Substitute letters, telephone numbers, simple words, etc.

18. Count To 20

Materials: none
Time: 5 minutes
Receptive Language: instructions, numbers
Productive Language: numbers
Game Explanation: Students sit in a circle. Explain to the students that you will go around the circle, counting from one to twenty, and that they can say one, two, or three numbers at a time. Whoever is forced to say 20 loses.

19. Counting Cards

Materials: Number Flash Cards, dice
Time: 6 minutes
Receptive Language: instructions, numbers, flashcard vocab
Productive Language: flashcard vocab, numbers
Game Explanation: Divide the students into small groups. One student in each group holds a pile of flashcards, while another rolls a die and identifies the number in English. The student with the cards turns over that number of cards (while the other students count along in unison). The student who rolled the die must identify the last card to be turned over (or ALL of the cards, if you think they can handle it). If she can do so, she wins the card / scores a point.

20. Mexican Wave

Materials: none
Time: 5 minutes
Receptive Language: instructions
Productive Language: alphabet, numbers
Game Explanation: Have the students sit in a line facing you. The first student on the far left jumps up, says ‘A!’ & sits down. The student next to her immediately stands up, shouts ‘B!’, sits down, & so on. Continue play until a student makes a mistake, then begin again. This game can also be played in teams, using numbers instead of the alphabet, etc.

21. How Many Ones?

Materials: whiteboard, markers, Number Flash Cards
Time: 5 minutes
Receptive Language: ‘How many __?’
Productive Language: numbers
Game Explanation: Review numbers. Draw three 1s on the whiteboard & ask ‘How many ‘one’s’? Draw one 2 & ask the students ‘How many ‘two’s’?, etc. When you’ve covered a sufficient number of numbers, turn the whiteboard around (or otherwise hide what you’ve written) & ask the students the same questions again. Excitedly congratulate any student who can remember how many ones, twos, etc, there are.
Note: This activity can easily be adapted to any target vocab that you’d like to cover: how many hamburgers, how many jump ropes, how many Tim senseis, etc.

22. Seven steps game

Materials: Number Flash Cards
Time: 5 mins
Receptive Language:
Productive Language:
Game Explanation: Make a circle with the whole class and count the number of students as a group. Think of numbers that the class can be divided equally into. Hold hands and move around the circle in one direction While chanting "' 7 Steps":

1 2 3 4 5 6 7
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
1 2 3
1 2 3
1 2 3 4 5 6 7

Now call out one of the numbers you thought of before. You could use a flash card too. The students have to get into groups of that number, hold hands, and sit down.
Repeat a few times. 

*Hint: it may be wise to demonstrate the game using a small group of kids first so everybody understands how to play before you begin.