The vast majority of my students through the years have needed basic math fact practice, especially with their times tables. The reason for this need varied from it was what they were learning that year, to interrupted education, to never learned them in the first place, etc. At the end of the day, the reason the students needed practice didn’t matter, the fact that they needed it did. Today I’d like to share with you two of my students’ favorite multiplication (can be adjusted for other operations, especially addition) games that can also be used as time fillers at the end of a class period. Then I’d like to tell you about another game that gets students up and moving, the digital task cards I created to replace it for distance learning, and the newest add-on that has me excited.
Shake ‘N Multiply
All this game requires is a few basic items that you likely have laying around the house already, and about two minutes of your time. You will need: an empty egg carton (I use the 12 cup version, but you could use 18), a couple of pom poms, and a marker. To make the game, open the egg carton and number the bottom of each cup 1-12. Drop in two pom poms, or other small objects. I like the pom poms because they are cheap and, more importantly, quiet, but you could use beans, marbles, erasers, anything that will move around the carton. Close the lid and your game creation is finished.
To play the game put the students in pairs or groups (I do no more than four to a group to prevent boredom while waiting for their turn, pairs is my favorite way to play.), and give each set of students a prepared egg carton. The first player shakes the carton, opens the lid, and multiplies the two numbers the pom poms are on. If he/she is correct, he/she gets a point. The second player then closes the lid, shakes, and multiplies the two numbers indicated. Play continues in this manner until time is up. The player with the most points is the winner.
Since the cartons are free, pom poms are extremely cheap, and set up takes almost no time at all, I keep sets of these in my classroom year round. When there are five minutes left in class all I have to do is pass out the cartons and students can play. It’s a great academic time filler for the end of class, or a nice brain break for when we need a change of pace.
Toss ‘N Multiply
Requiring even fewer materials, and taking almost as little time to create, is my students’ other favorite fact practice game. All you need for Toss ‘N Multiply is a small soccer ball (the one I use is size 1.5, 6″), and a marker. The reason I use the soccer ball is that the clearly defined sections make it easy to label. Write the numbers 1-12 in the sections of the ball, repeating as many times as necessary. If you get a ball with black and white sections, simply use a silver marker on the black sections. Let the numbers dry (should only take a few seconds), and set up is complete.
To play, have students gather in a circle. You can choose to play as a whole class, or in groups of three to six students. Students must toss the ball under hand, and catch it with two hands. Toss the ball to a student, reminding him/her to catch with both hands. The student then looks and multiplies whatever two numbers his/her thumbs are on. There will be a couple of sections without numbers, due to the presence of logos and other advertising, but the student can always use a different finger if his/her thumb is on one of those sections. If the student is correct, he/she stays in the game. The ball is then tossed to another student who repeats the process. If a student answers incorrectly, he/she is out of the game and must sit down. The last student standing is the winner.
Again, this is the perfect game for filling time at the end of class, or a brain break during class. The ball takes up very little room at all, and other than having students stand in a circle, there is no prep work.
This last activity does take a little more prep and time, but it is still a lot of fun. When we play Picking Apples, my students help me clear space by shoving all of the desks to each side of the room. We then have a starting line at one end, and a table for our apples at the other. I divide the students into two to four teams, and each team has a set of cards (we usually put them on a chair near the team’s starting area) and a bucket. At the opposite end of the room I place a table and hundreds of miniature apple erasers. When I start the game, the first person on each team grabs the top card, computes the answer to the problem shown (I have sets for multiplication and division as well as addition and subtraction), runs to the opposite side of the room, gathers the correct number of apples for the answer, and runs back to the team. If correct, he/she earns a point for his/her team. The second person then takes the bucket, grabs a new card, runs to the other end, dumps out the apples from person one, and gathers the correct number for his/her card. Play continues in this way until time is called. The team with the most points wins. When playing this game with more than two teams, I will appoint at least one student to be my fellow answer checker. Also, when the answer is a large number (such as 144), I do not take time to count all of the apples, I look, estimate, and ask the student to tell me verbally how many are there.
This year has brought new challenges to our lives; students are no longer all in the classroom together, and when they are in the classroom the sharing of materials is forbidden. Thus there is no Picking Apples game play this year. Instead I created digital task cards for students to practice with. Each card features a single problem written in the clouds, a basket to hold their apples, and an apple tree with over 150 apples on it (I copied and pasted the apple about 15 times, selected them all, aligned them to center and middle, and then copied and pasted the stacks to create “infinity” piles of apples in the tree.). On all of the sets except subtraction, the basket is actually a pile of baskets, so students can use groupings (such as repeated addition) to help them find the answer. These digital task cards allow students to safely use manipulatives to practice their basic math facts, 1-12 for multiplication and division, 1-20 for addition and subtraction.
Helpful Add On
When making these kinds of digital activities I always design my non-moving elements in PowerPoint and save them as image files. I then upload those images as the background of my Google Slides. In order to speed up the background insertion (these activities had between 146 and 202 slides each!), I’ve long used the add-on Slides Toolbox. I once again used Slides Toolbox, but I also needed to do something else: randomize the slides. In order to be sure I included all of the facts students needed to practice, I created the task cards in order. When using paper task cards this isn’t a problem, because I simply shuffle them before giving them to students. Digital task cards a little more tricky, and I needed a way to shuffle them so students would have to do more than count in sequence for the answers (multiplication is still in order because you may want to practice only certain facts). Thankfully, much as there’s an app for every situation, there’s an add-on for every situation today. I used every teacher’s best friend, Google, and found an add-on called Slides Randomizer. This add-on will randomize the order of your slides once, or every time you open the file. You can choose to have the first slide remain stationary or not, and you can initiate a randomization of slides anytime you choose. In order to reset slides, you must use the back or undo button, and they will not return to their original order when you close the file. I decided it was worth a try, and it worked great. It was incredibly easy to use, and took hardly any time at all to perform the randomization of the slides. The only thing I wished was that I could choose the number of slides at the beginning to keep in place, as my activity has a title slide, a directions slide, and a helpful tip about groupings slide. I realized later that I should have just built my deck without those slides, randomized it, turned the auto-randomization off, and then added those three slides last, but at least I know for next time.
I know most people don’t automatically put math instruction together with ESL, but I have actually done quite a bit of it over the years. There’s a lot of vocabulary in math, and it’s an important subject for every student. I hope your students enjoy these fact practice games as much as mine. Happy teaching, everyone!