When students think “fun,” memories of math class likely won’t be the first to pop into their heads. But that doesn’t have to be the case.
There are approaches and exercises, with and without computers, that can enliven your math lessons.
You’ll likely find that the reward justifies the work of preparing and introducing them. After all, according many studies from as early as the 1960s, engaged students pay more attention and perform higher than disengaged ones.
Complete with a downloadable list to keep at your desk for quick reference, below are 20 fun math activities for students. Make math class more engaging by using the ones that best apply to you.
1. Read a Math Book
Show your students that reading engaging stories isn’t exclusive to language arts class.
There are many age-appropriate math books that effectively explain skills and techniques while providing exercises to help students understand content. For example, the Life of Fred series introduces and teaches essential math skills aligned with most elementary school curricula. The four books, each containing 19 lessons, present content through stories about cats, ice cream and other child-friendly subjects. With full answer keys, the series lends itself to practicing, reviewing or learning entire skills. You can find age- and topic-specific math books through a few Amazon searches or a brief bookstore visit.
2. Create Mnemonic Devices
Dedicate time for students to create mnemonic devices — cues such as rhymes and acronyms — to help recall math facts.
A popular example is “I need to be 16 years-old to drive a 4×4 pickup truck.” Such cues should be rhymes or quick stories that distill larger chunks of information, always using tangible objects or scenarios to make them memorable. Although you can think of mnemonic devices yourself and share them with students, it’s beneficial to run an activity that gets them to make their own. They’ll likely find it easier to remember ones they create.
3. Deliver a Daily Starter
Drop by Scholastic’s Daily Starters page each morning to find entry tickets suited to solo and group work.
Content levels range from pre-kindergarten to 8th grade, including problems from subjects other than math. Many teachers either print the questions or project them onto a whiteboard. Aside from entry tickets, there are different ways to use Daily Starters — such as including them in learning stations or wrapping up a lesson with them.
4. Play Prodigy
Try Prodigy — a free game-based learning platform aligned with curricula around the globe — to engage your class while reinforcing lesson content and teaching essential skills.
It borrows elements from students’ favourite video games, such as Pokémon, as they compete in math duels against in-game characters. To win, they must answer sets of questions. You can customize these questions to supplement class material, deliver assessments, prepare for tests and more. If you choose to not customize content, Prodigy uses adaptive learning and differentiated instruction principles to adjust problems, addressing each student’s trouble spots.
5. Visit the National Library of Virtual Manipulatives
Have students visit the online National Library of Virtual Manipulatives to access activities that involve digital objects such as coins and blocks.
Created by Utah State University, the online library aims to engage students. To do so, there are manipulation tasks for students at every grade level. For example, a 6th grade geometry activity involves using geoboards to illustrate area, perimeter and rational number concepts. Ideal for classes with one-to-one device use, the website can also act as a learning station.
6. Run a Round of Initials
Add a game-like spin to content reviews by playing Initials.
Hand a unique sheet to each student that has problems aligned with a common skill or topic. Instead of focusing on their own sheets, students walk around the room to solve questions on their classmates’. Here’s the catch: A student can only complete one question per sheet, signing his or her initials beside the answer. The exercise continues until all questions on each sheet have answers, encouraging students to build trust and teamwork.
7. Play Math Baseball
Divide your class into two teams to play math baseball — an activity that gives you full control of the questions students answer.
One team will start “at bat,” scoring runs by choosing questions worth one, two or three bases. You’ll “pitch” the questions, which range in difficulty depending on how many bases they’re worth. If the at-bat team answers incorrectly, the defending team can correctly respond to earn an out. After three outs, switch sides. Play until one team hits 10 runs, or five for a shorter entry or exit ticket.
8. Start a Game of Around the Block
Play Around the Block as a minds-on activity, using only a ball to practice almost any math skill.
First, compile questions related to a distinct skill. Second, have students stand in a circle. Finally, give one student the ball and read aloud a question from your list. Students must pass the ball clockwise around the circle, and the one who started with it must answer the question before receiving again. If the student incorrectly answers, pass the ball to a classmate for the next question. If the student correctly answers, he or she chooses the next contestant.
9. Play Math Tic-Tac-Toe
Pair students to compete against one another while building different math skills in this take on tic-tac-toe.
To prepare, divide a sheet into squares — three vertical by three horizontal. Fill these squares with questions that collectively test a range of abilities. The first student to link three Xs or Os — by correctly answering questions — wins. This game can be a learning station, refreshing prerequisite skills in preparation for new content.
10. Modify a Classic Card Game
Put a mathematical twist on a traditional card game by having students play this version of War.
Students should pair together, with each pair grabbing two decks of cards. Cards have the following values:
- Ace — 1
- Two to 10 — Face value
- Jack — 11
- Queen — 12
- King — 13
The rules of the game will depend on the grade you teach and the skills you’re building. Each student will always play two cards at a time, but younger kids must subtract the lower number from the higher. Older students can multiply the numbers, designating a certain suit as having negative integers. Whoever has the highest hand wins all four cards.
11. Share TeacherTube Videos
Cover core skills by visiting TeacherTube — an education-only version of YouTube.
By searching for a specific topic or browsing by category, you can quickly find videos to supplement a lesson or act as a learning station. For example, searching for “middle school algebra” will load a results page containing study guides, specific lessons and exam reviews. Students and parents can also visit TeacherTube on their own time, as some videos explicitly apply to them.
12. Co-ordinate Live Video
Don’t limit yourself to pre-recorded videos — straightforward conferencing technology can allow subject matter experts to deliver live lessons to your class.
Whether it’s a contact from another school or a seasoned lecturer you reach out to, bringing an expert into your classroom will expose your students to new ideas and can lighten your workload. Add the person on Skype or Google Hangouts, delivering the lesson through the program. Skype even has a list of guest speakers who will voluntarily speak about their topics of expertise.
13. Research the Leaning Tower
Delve into the Leaning Tower of Pisa, one of Italy’s famous landmarks, by running this popular interdisciplinary activity.
Although the exercise traditionally spans across subjects through guided research, you can focus on math by requiring students to:
- Develop an itinerary, complete with a budget, for a trip to Pisa
- Calculate measurements such as the tower’s area and volume
- Investigate the tower’s structure, determining if or when it’ll fall
For younger students, you can divide the activity into distinct exercises and allow them to work in groups. Older students should tackle it as an in-class or take-home project.
14. Party on Pi Day
Celebrate Pi Day on March 14 each year by dedicating an entire period, or more, to the mathematical constant.
Although specific activities depend on your students, you can start the lesson by giving a historical and conceptual overview of pi — from Archimedes to how modern mathematicians use it. After, delve into exercises. For younger students, get construction paper and choose a colour to represent each digit. Red can be one, blue is two, green can represent three and so on. Their task is to arrange and order the paper to represent as much of pi’s value as possible. For older students, run learning stations that allow them to complete questions, process content and play math games related to pi. For a fun finish, serve students pizza or another kind of pie.
15. Hold a Scavenger Hunt
Send your students on an Internet scavenger hunt, a potential addition to Pi Day fun, allowing them to build research skills while processing new math concepts.
The exercise starts by providing a sheet of terms to define or questions to solve, which students can complete by using Google or a list of recommended websites. Regardless, the terms and questions should all fall under an overarching topic. For example, “Find the definition of a negative integer” and “If you multiply a positive integer with a negative integer, will the product be positive or negative? What about multiplying two negative integers together?” More than engaging, educational hunts introduce your students to resources they can regularly refer to.
16. Play One-Metre Dash
Start this quick game to build students’ perception and understanding of measurement.
Grouping students in small teams, give them metre sticks. They then look around the room for two to four items they think add up to a metre in length. In a few minutes, the groups measure the items and record how close their estimates were. Want more of a challenge? Give them a centimetre-mark to hit instead of a metre. You can then ask them to convert results to micrometres, millimetres and more.
17. Put a Twist on Gym Class
Fuse math and physical education by delivering ongoing lessons that explain and explore certain motions.
It’s time to practice long jumps. But first, students can estimate how far they’ll jump. After, they can see how close they were. Such activities can also supplement lessons about lifting, throwing and other actions — potentially interesting students who don’t normally enjoy gym or math.
18. Run Think-Pair-Share Exercises
Launch a think-pair-share exercise to expose students to three lesson-processing experiences in quick succession.
As the strategy’s name implies, start by asking students to individually think about a given topic or answer a specific question. Next, pair students together to discuss their results and findings. Finally, have each pair share their ideas with the rest of the class, and open the floor for further discussion. The three parts of this exercise vary in length, giving you flexibility when lesson planning. And because it allows your students to process content individually, in a small group and in a large group, it caters to your classroom’s range of learning and personality types
19. Hold a Game of Jeopardy
Transform this famous game show to focus on your latest skill or unit, preparing students for a quiz or test.
Setup involves attaching pockets to a bristol board, dividing them into columns and rows. Each column should focus on a topic, whereas each row should have a point value — 200, 400, 600, 800 and 1,000. A team can ask for a question from any pocket, but other teams can answer first by solving the problem and raising their hands. Once the class answers all questions, the team with the highest point total claims your prize. But each student wins in terms of engagement and practicing peer support.
20. Take on a Challenge from Get The Math
Teach your students about how math is used in different careers and real-world situations by visiting Get the Math.
The website, aimed at middle and high school students, features videos of young professionals who explain how they use algebra. They then pose job-related questions to two teams of students in the video. Your class can also participate, learning how to apply algebraic concepts in different scenarios. It’s a straightforward way to vary and contextualize your lesson content.
Downloadable List of the 20 Fun Math Activities
Click here to download the list of exercises, keeping it at your desk for quick reference.
Each of these exercises can inject engagement into your lessons, helping students process content and demonstrate understanding.
What’s more, they’re versatile. You can use many of the above activities to introduce concepts or reinforce lessons, and as minds-on exercises or exit tickets. Useful for you, fun for students.
Who says math can’t be engaging?
>>Create or log in to your teacher account on Prodigy — a free game-based learning platform that delivers fun math activities based on the student’s unique strengths and skill deficits. Aligned with curricula across the English-speaking world, it’s loved by more than 700,000 teachers and 25 million students.