Connections Matter 2

In April, more governors decided to close schools for the remaining of the school year as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. More closings mean that more schools will be moving to remote learning and more time that learners will be learning at home with their families. To support families, teachers, and learners, I would like to share even more ways that they can continue to learn and connect through games.

Math games were key to my classroom instruction because it allowed me time to deepen my understanding of who my Black and Latinx learners were as learners. Once I taught the games in a whole group format, then I could walk around as they played with partners or in small groups and listen to their mathematical thinking about the concepts they were practicing. My Black and Latinx learners were more successful when I gave them multiple opportunities to work together and discuss their thinking.

Games also became a way for me to connect what we were doing in the classroom with learning at home. I sent home games for homework assignments because learners could teach games to family members and continue practicing at home.

In this post, I chose a few more games for children in Grades K-5 that will provide them with meaningful practice in addition and subtraction.

21 is another card game that I played with my family growing up. The object of the game is to have cards with a sum equal to 21 or close to 21 without going over. Taking turns, each player pulls a card from the deck and adds up the sum of the card value. Before each turn, each player has to decide if they need to pull another card based on the previous sum (Number cards = their face value; Aces = 1 or 11; Kings, Queens, and Jacks = 10). For example, if a player has a sum of 16, the player has to decide the likelihood of pulling a 6 or less considering the cards that have already been pulled from the deck. During the game, ask players to tell the sum of the cards they have in front of them and what strategies the players are using to add their cards.

Oh No 20! is one of my favorite games that I learned from one of my colleagues. The game was recently reprinted in a Math Solutions resource called Math Games for Number and Operations and Algebraic Thinking. Oh No 20! is another card game that helps children practice addition and subtraction within 20 mentally. The object of the game is to try not to get a total of 20 or over. The card deck for this game uses number cards 1-4 and face cards (6-10 and Jokers are removed from the deck).

Value of Face Cards

Ace = 1

Jack = -5 (subtract 5)

Queen = 0

King is a wild card and can be any number card, Jack, or a Queen (0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, or -5)

On each turn, players lays down a card in the pile and tells the sum of all of the cards in the pile. Players must replace the cards played to keep a total of 4 in their hands. Encourage players to figure out how far away from 20 is the sum and their strategies for finding the total of the cards (counting on, counting up, or making a ten).

For an advanced game, play Oh No 99! to practice adding and subtracting within 100 mentally. The object of the game is to not get to 100. All of the number cards 2-10 are used; Ace = +1 (add 1); Queen = +10 (add 10); Jack = – 10 (subtract 10); and Kings are wild (any number 2-10, +1, +10, or -10).

How Far Away? can be played with dice, playing cards (2-6, and Ace =1) or another alternative. Players roll 3 dice and use the numbers rolled to generate as many 2 digit numbers as possible. The object of this task is for players to choose five of the 2-digit numbers generated and figure how far away each number is from 100 using tools such as a 100 chart or number line. Children also use benchmark numbers such as 50, 25, and 75 to explain how they figured the differences between the number and 100.

Version 2: To practice how to add and subtract within 1,000, players can roll 4 dice and generate as many 3-digit numbers as possible.

Have fun trying any of the games above with your children or learners to practice addition and subtraction skills that connect to state standards–using multiple strategies such as mental, making a ten, using place value, and using properties of operations.

Find more of my favorite math games for children in grades K-8 in last month’s blog post, Connections Matter.

Special Note: Happy Teacher’s Appreciation Week to all teachers, educators, and those who have increased their teaching roles at home! Thank you for all that you’re doing to support your students!


Bresser, Rusty and Holtzman, Caren. “Developing Number Sense.” Sausalito, CA, Math Solutions, 1999.

Bresser, Rusty and Holtzman, Caren. “Minilessons for Math Practice.” Sausalito, CA, Math Solutions, 2006.

Petersen, Jamee. “Math Games for Number and Operations and Algebraic Thinking: Games to Support Independent Practice in Math Workshops and More.” Sausalito, CA, Math Solutions, 2013.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s