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The Purpose of Games

The purpose of games

Well-designed games serve two important purposes.

  1. They are fun.
  2. They provide a way to extend practice outside of a lesson.

When we introduce games in a lesson, it is generally so that they will be played beyond that lesson time, to help provide the necessary practice. Sometimes no more lesson time is needed, or would even be worthwhile, but practice is needed. For that, a game is ideal. Games may be introduced within lessons, but should be available for students to play during "free time" or even to borrow and take home. Every chapter in Think Math! describes two or more games. As the year progresses, you can build up a library of these games for your students to play. If you have Centers in your classroom, add Think Math!'s mathematical games to your center as they come up during the year.

Feel free, also, to introduce your children to other games that use mathematical thinking. For young children, board games that involve tossing dice, knowing what total they've seen, moving a specific number of spaces, and responding to the local instructions, builds a very useful foundation for the mathematics you will help them learn. For the youngest children, commercial board games like Chutes and Ladders and Candyland help build number-line-like skills. Sorry uses cards instead of dice, but also helps children think about counting spaces and using judgment about distance. Card games that involve making certain point values or sets, and that involve keeping score can be wonderful fun and are excellent for building arithmetic skills. Almost anything beyond "War" and "Fish" will do. A simplified version of "21" (or "blackjack") is perfect for second graders: they add numbers trying to get as close to 21 as possible without going over. Casino involves making collections of cards that match or add up to a certain amount. Cribbage also involves adding cards and keeping score: excellent for third graders. Instructions for card games can be found on the web. Feel free to use simplified versions of the games, but keep the essential spirit. Yahtzee is a wonderful dice-based game for third grade and beyond -- lots of fun and children need to add up their scores.

The teacher's guides tell you only when to introduce games, but do not remind you to let the children use them afterward. But keep them handy and available, and make time for them. Playing games also teaches social skills!

How to create a borrowing library of games

Here is one practical way to create a borrowing library of games:

  • Write your classroom's name and the game's name on a resealable plastic bag large enough to contain all the materials for the game.
  • Write the game's name on a 3x5 card that students will use as a sign-out card.
  • Photocopy the rules, or make a 3x5 card with an abbreviated version of those rules.
  • Put the materials, rules, and "sign-out card" in the bag, and place the bag where a library of games can grow.
  • When students want to borrow a game for use outside of school, they take out the sign-out card, write their name on it, and leave it in a designated place on your desk. That way, you will have a record of who has borrowed each game.