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Math Games and Movement Breaks
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Math Games and Movement Breaks

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Topics: addition, subtraction
Materials: none
Recommended grades: K, 1, 2, 3, 4
Common Core: K.OA.A.2, K.OA.A.4, K.OA.A.5, 1.OA.C.6, 2.OA.B.2

When kids get antsy, it is time to break out these quick, fun, physical math games. They are perfect for a class break between stations, or a moment of flagging energy.

Why We Love These Games

Getting kids moving is a win-win. Movement refreshes your students while giving them another take on math concepts. These games are super quick and fun for everyone.

Teacher-led Games

Groups (2-5 minutes)
The teacher calls out a number (3), and the students have 10 seconds to get themselves into groups of that size. It might be impossible for everyone to get in a group every time, but each new number gives everyone another chance. In the basic game, just call out single numbers. Once students get the gist, you can call out addition or subtraction problems (i.e., “get into groups of 7-4”). Don’t forget to call out a group of 1 and a group of however many students are in the entire class at some point in the game.

Stand Up/Sit Down (2-5 minutes)
The rules are simple: if the teacher gives the number 10, students stand up. Any other number, they sit down. The trick is, the teacher will say things like “7+3” and “14 – 5” (pick appropriate sums and differences for your students to solve mentally). This is a great game to try to “trick” the students by standing up or sitting down on when they should be doing the opposite. There are endless variations.
For Example:

  • stand when the number is larger than 5; sit if it is 5 or below
  • stand when the number is even; sit when it is odd
  • stand if the digit 1 appears on the number; sit otherwise.

Bigger/Smaller/Equal (2-5 minutes)
If the teacher says a number greater than 10, students expand their bodies to take up as much space as they can (while keeping their feet firmly planted on the ground—no running around). If the teacher says a number less than 10, students shrink their bodies to take up the least space they can. If the teacher gives the number 10 exactly, students hold their body neutrally and make an equals sign with their arms. As before, the teacher moves to sums and differences once students get the rules.

Rhythmic Clapping/Counting (2-5 minutes)
The teacher claps/counts out a rhythm. Students imitate the rhythm of the clap and the count.

Skip Counting with Movement (2-5 minutes)
Make up a movement that comes in 2, 3, or more parts. Whisper the first parts, and call out the final move loudly.
Example: Windmills. Whisper “1” and touch your right hand to your left foot. Whisper “2” and touch your left hand to your right foot. Call out “3” and do a jumping jack! Continue counting like this up to 30, calling out the multiples of 3 and whispering the numbers in between.
For Example:
Skip Counting Guide

Circle Count (2-5 minutes)
Stand in a circle and try to count off as quickly as possible all the way around the circle. Start with 1, then the student on your right says “2,” and the student on theirright says “3,” and so on until the count comes back to you. Challenge the kids to go as quickly and seamlessly as possible. When everyone can do this proficiently, count by twos, fives, tens, or threes. You can also start at numbers greater than 1, or try counting backward.

Student-pair Games

Finger Speed-Sums (1-5 minutes)
Students meet in pairs with one hand behind their back. On the count of three, they each put forward some number of fingers. Whoever says the sum first wins. Then the pair breaks up and each person finds a new person to play with. Advanced players can use two hands instead of just one.

Finger Speed-Differences (1-5 minutes)
Same as speed-sums, except whoever find the difference between the two numbers first wins.

Make it Five/Make it Ten (1-5 minutes)
In this cooperative game, students meet in pairs. One student throws forward some number of fingers. The second student must throw forward however many fingers will make the sum 5 (or 10). For example, if two students meet and one student puts forward two fingers, the other student should, as quickly as possible, look, think, and throw forward three fingers. Then they part and each finds a new partner.

Five High Fives (1 – 2 minutes, or longer with the exploration)
Students try to give a high-five to five different classmates. When they’ve gotten their five high-fives done, they sit down. This game is part mystery: sometimes it will be possible for everyone to get a high-five; sometimes not. The difference (which the teacher knows but the students don’t) is that it is only possible if there are an even number of people giving high-fives. Try this game at different times and let students guess whether they think everyone will get a high-five or not. Why does it only work sometimes, not always? If you make it four or six high-fives instead of five, then everyone will be able to get their high-fives every time.

Tips for the classroom

  1. Make sure kids never feel ashamed if they don’t already know the right answer. You can also tweak competitive games to make them collaborative.
  2. You enthusiasm is critical in these games. Figure out your favorites, and expand on them, or get the students to come up with their own variations. If you’re into them and having a good time, the kids will have a good time too.

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