Three In A Row

Order of Operations Three in a Row
Digital Version

When I was teaching math to my middle schoolers, one of the biggest struggles they had was remembering the order of operations. They wanted to start on one side of the problem and complete whatever they came to first with no regard to the proper order. I knew this was not an unusual thing for students to do, and I tried to provide them with a lot of opportunities to practice. They all liked playing Smath, but I needed more games for them to play. Three in a Row is not unique to me, but it was very popular with my students. I liked it because it provided excellent practice and used materials we already had in our classroom.

Three in a row is an easy to prep, quick to implement, game to practice order of operations. Usually played in pairs (but able to be played in groups up to four), the goal of the game is to cover three squares in a row on a hundreds chart. To accomplish this, students use three numbers each turn (numbers can be 1-6 or 1-12, depending on teacher choice) to write a math sentence. It can be easily scaffolded up or down by allowing students to use parentheses, and assign one of them numbers as an exponent or not, depending on student abilities. The answer to the math sentence is then claimed by the student on the hundreds chart. More experienced students can make use of the optional black out rule, where a space that has been previously claimed can be blacked out by claiming it a second time. Any blacked out space is then unusable by either student. This adds yet another level of strategy, and difficulty, to the game.

To play Three in a Row with your students you’re going to first have to make a couple of decisions:

  1. How will the students obtain their three numbers each turn?
    • Roll one number cube three times. (this can be a six-sided or twelve-sided die, depending on the desired difficulty level)
    • Roll three dice once. (again, these can be a six-sided or twelve-sided die, depending on the desired difficulty level) This is my preferred method as it allows students to look at all three numbers at once without having to write them down.
    • Draw three cards from a set that has three of each of the target numbers on it.
  2. How will students cover or mark the squares? You’ll need one color for each student, plus a color for the black out squares, if using this rule.
    • Place mini-erasers (While I’m normally a big fan of using erasers as place markers in games, in this case they are not my favorite choice because each student needs to have a set of the same eraser, meaning I have to separate the assortment into shapes.), counters, milk jug lids, or other small objects on the squares.
    • Color laminated boards with dry erase markers. This is my preferred method as it makes replay incredibly fast and it’s easy to store.
    • Use unlaminated paper boards and color with colored pencils, crayons, or markers. If you choose this method you’ll need a lot of hundreds charts on hand for replay purposes.
    • Print, laminate, and cut sets of bingo chips or colored squares for each group.

Once you’ve decided on how students will obtain their numbers, and how they’ll mark the squares, the only other supply you’ll need is a hundreds chart for every two students. I highly recommend laminating them so you can simply reuse the same charts each time you play. (I’ll again recommend cold lamination, it’s thicker and never peels, even after you cut through it. I love my cold laminator and have been using the same one for nearly ten years without a problem.) I often will also pass out individual white boards, dry erase markers, and erasers to my students as well. This way they can write down their number sentences, calculate the answer, and experiment with different combinations before claiming a spot on the game board. This is not necessary to play the game, and students could simply use pencils and scrap paper instead, but it does help my students create more sophisticated number sentences and they like using the white boards.

Once you’ve gathered your supplies, all that’s left is to pass them out to students and play the game. Since numbers are randomly assigned each turn, the game can be played over and over again without students ever becoming too familiar with the answers that will land them a spot on the board. The game was always a hit with my students, and I’m sure yours will enjoy it as well. Happy teaching, everyone!

Don’t feel like gathering the supplies? No problem, you can get a download of everything you need (directions, hundreds chart, covers, and number cards) in my TPT store.

Want to play the game but need a digital version? No problem! There’s a Google Slides digital version in my TPT store as well. It features a specially coded “dice” menu. Please note: this menu does not add visual dice to the screen–nothing rolls or moves. It adds a “Dice” menu to the list at the top of the screen (File, Edit, View…Dice), which students click on and choose D6 or D12. The script then runs and students are presented with a box that says: “You rolled X, X, X” (X = a different number 1-6 or 1-12, depending on which was chosen). In order to play the game, make a copy for every group of students. Share the copy with the students who will be playing, being sure to give them editing rights. Students must keep the file in editing mode in order to play. Placing it in present mode will remove access to the dice menu and make the pieces unmovable. “Infinity” piles of covers are provided (there are 50 covers in each pile) for students to use. Students can use the chat menu, or talk to one another via your meeting platform, in order to communicate (for more information on the different ways my students like to play digital games see the blog post: A Grinchy Christmas, Part 1 and scroll down past the video). There is nothing for the students to return to the teacher.