Paula's Archives .

Get Paula's Vocabulary Vine for Latin & Greek roots.
More fun, more reinforcement, less money!
And for Biology Vocabulary, check out Science Roots.

Educational Games

HOME & Site Map / Lit for History & Science / SOTW Lists / Latin Roots / Sonlight / Art / Spelling / Socialization / Preschool / Boredom Busters / More

Geosense - fantastic on-line geography game for older students

Sheppard Software Geography Games - Wow! What a great collection of meaningful games!

StudyDog - a free downloadable computer-based early reading program

Math Language History & Geography Science General  


Calculated Cards, from Rhonda

My parents reinforced math facts with card games. Assign the following values: A=1; J,Q,K=10. At first it was simple. Deal out 2 cards, face down, see who can add theirs fastest. Older kids got more cards. Later we did subtraction and multiplication.

For bigger kids deal each player six cards, one Up, five Down. The Up card is your goal. You can add, subtract, multiply, and divide your Down cards, but you must use each Down card exactly once. If a deal is impossible, the dealer gives you another card. This game helps you calculate fast, and do more complicated math.

  • Example: Up: 4 and Down: A, 3, 7, 7, K (1, 3, 7, 7, 10)
  • One solution: 7 x 3 = 21 - 10 - 7 = 4 x 1 = 4

    My Son's Favorite, from Kathy

    We would play this game with dominoes or playing cards. He and I would each turn one domino over (or 2 over if it was cards), then add (or subtract). Whoever had the highest number got to keep both dominoes (or all 4 cards). He *loved* that game!  

    Times Target, from Gigi

    This card game is a fun way to reinforce subtraction and multiplication facts. Ace equals 1. J, Q, and K equal 10.

    Deal each player four cards. Place two cards face-up in the middle of the table. Multiply these two, to find the Target number for that hand. Players try to come as close as possible to the Target number, by multiplying any two cards in their hands. The difference between their product and the Target number is their score. You could play for a set amount of time, or a certain number of hands. Lowest score at the end of the game wins!  

    Flashcards for Combined Ages, from Debbie Nollan

    When my first grader was practicing addition with her flash cards, her brothers couldn't resist blurting out the answers before she could, reducing her to tears. Consequently, we made it a game for everyone. She calls out the addition answer, and one brother multiplies the same numbers and calls out the answer. My other son, who sits with his back to the flash cards, must determine the two numbers on the card that result in these answers.  

    Denise in IL's Number Games

    Play number bond games. Throw two dice and tell how many more you would need to make 10. (On the rare throws of 11 or 12, the answer is a negative number.) Throw 3 dice and tell how many more it takes to make 20. One player names any number 0-100, and the other tells how many more it takes to make 100. You could also play the last game with math cards (see below), turning up one for the tens place and one for the ones, to make a two digit number.

    Play card games... Make a couple decks of Math Cards (take out the jokers and face cards, leaving just ace-10) and play War, with these changes: Each player turns up two cards and adds them, and whoever has the highest sum takes the trick. Or subtract the smaller from the larger card. Or multiply. Whichever you want to practice. Once through the deck will make him do 20 practice problems, plus he hears you do 20 more.

    10's Concentration: Turn all the Math Cards face down on the table. On his turn, each player turns up two cards. If they add up to 10, he gets to keep them and try again. If one of the cards is a 10, he gets to keep it and turn up another card. Whoever takes the most cards, wins.

    My kids' current favorite math game is "Zero" which they call "Hit Me." It's based on the game of Blackjack, but instead of trying to get a score of 21, your aim is zero. Black cards are positive, red cards are negative. For each player, turn one card face down and one face up. Everyone can see the face-up card, but only the player gets to look at his face-down card. The player adds them together in his head. Then he may ask for up to 5 "hits"--extra cards which are dealt face up--for a maximum of 7 cards total. Whatever they add up to is his score, and whoever scores closest to zero when all the cards are revealed wins that hand. Winner becomes dealer for the next hand.  

    Cuisenaire Rod Math Games, from Paula H

    We used these Cuisenaire Rod games quite a bit in first grade. The first one is our favorite.

    1. Counting Pictures. Student makes a picture out of rods. It can even be a 3-D construction (build a house, fence, etc). When he's finished, he sells it back to me for 10-rods. i.e., he gives me a 6 and a 4, and I give him a 10-rod. When he has all the 10-rods, he sells them back to me for a 100-board (a 10cm x 10cm piece of cardboard works fine). When he has sold everything back to me, we count how much his picture was worth. i.e., he may have three 100-boards, four 10-rods, and a 2-rod and 3-rod. Therefore his picture was worth 345 units. We write that number down to reinforce how place value works. Benefits: get familiar with the rod numbers, learn what adds up to 10, understand place value principles, have fun building pictures.

    2. Mystery Tube. I modified the Miquon First Grade Diary idea for rod tubes. Cut a 3x5 card to 10 cm long, roll it into a tube, and tape it so it's wide enough for a 10-rod to slide through easily. You slide two rods which add up to 10 into the mystery tube. When you show the student one open end of the tube, she figures out what the hidden mystery rod is. i.e., student sees that one end has a 6-rod, so the mystery rod must be a 4. Benefits: what adds up to 10, addition and subtraction principles. Of course, you can use mystery tubes of different lengths, and you could even slide three rods into a longer tube, let the student see both ends, and have her identify the middle rod.

    3. How Much is a Million? A thousand is 10 x 10 x 10. So if you use cardstock to make a block (or buy one) that is 10 cm on a side, that's equal to a thousand one-rods. Likewise, a million is 100 x 100 x 100. So in a corner of a room, measure 100 cm (ten 10-rods) in each direction to form an imaginary cube. That's the volume of a million one-rods. It's ROUGHLY the size of a card table. So how big would a BILLION one-rods be?

    Not everyone agrees with this, but we NEVER refer to the rods by their color, always by their number (6-rod, etc). I think it helps the thinking process. When my son is holding a long rod, I want him to think of it as a TEN, not as an orange thing.  

    More Cuisenaire Activities math games

    Return to the top of this page


    Big Word, from Gigi

    The following game is from Making Big Words by Cunningham and Hall. I give each student a bunch of letters, which I tell them make a big word when put together in the correct order. They are asked to find as many words as they can using these letters. Try to find the most words, find the big word, etc.  

    Adverb Acting, from Marty

    This one could profitably be used for a grammar lesson that will stick. It's so hilarious! Make many folded slips of paper, with a different adverb on each. One person, who is It, chooses a random slip, and must perform various actions suggested by the group, in the manner of the adverb, until someone guesses what the adverb is. Whoever guesses correctly goes next.

    For example, It has the adverb "stealthily". Other players might tell It to close the window, tie his shoe, cook dinner, etc. It must demonstrate each task in the manner of the adverb. We kill ourselves laughing at this game!  

    Synonym Game, from Julie B

    My husband and I spent much of our dating life trying to top one another with better words for any expression. When we were standing in the sweltering heat of the Atlas mountains in Morocco, I said to him that I was extremely hot. He countered with, "Well, I am broiling." Then I replied, "I am roasting." Thrity minutes later we were still going. This became a ritual with us (we love words).

    As the kids have come along, they have joined in spontaneously. They want to participate in something that is so obviously fun for us.

    We also do the same with puns--Let's say someone starts to mention something related to fishing (like fishing for a compliment). Then one of us might add, "I'm not hooked on compliments." The other might continue, "Well, I'll bait you until you are." Then a reply might follow, "I won't be reeled in that easily." You get the idea.

    The kids scream with laughter at these. And my older two (5th and 7th) play along pretty easily. My 7yob joined in the other day and we were floored. So fun to see them catch the power of language.

    Mis-heard Words, from Paula H

    My husband and I play a silly word game; our son has begun to join in. I'll use an uncommon word, and that gets it started:

    me: I was just being facetious.
    dh: "facetious" - isn't that like an aggressive dog?
    me: Oh, you mean "vicious."
    dh: No, "vicious" is your sight.
    son: You're thinking of "vision."
    me: No, "vision" is deer meet.
    You get the idea.

    Restaurant Vocabulary Games

    Thesaurus (develops vocabulary and an understanding of synonyms and antonyms): "It" says a target word, and "synonym" or "antonym." The other players take turns trying to come up with a synonym or antonym, as appropriate. Players must wait their turn, they may not yell out the answer. The first person to come up with a proper word gets to be "It" next, or you could take turns around the table. You could add a rule that you automatically win if you come up with a homonym.

    Imaginary World (develops creativity). We have played this game in the food category, and the kids love it. My guess is that you could also play it with other categories, like animals. Players take turns, filling in the sentence, "In my imaginary world, the _____ are _____." e.g. "In my imaginary world, the trees are ice cream cones," or "In my imaginary world, the car tires are doughnuts." You just keep going until the pizza arrives. My kids love it.

    Synonym Pile, from Charlotte

    I focus on developing vocabulary through read-alouds. When I get to a challenging word, I say, "Synonyms." If they start rattling some off, I know that they are familiar with the word. If not, I might reread the sentence again if I think they should be able to get it from the context. If they still can't get it, I give them two or more options to choose from, one of them being the correct meaning of the word. Then I reread the sentence again, just to reinforce the sound and meaning of the new word. When I ask for synonyms of a word, I use that opportunity to add onto the list they give me, to broaden their vocabulary even though they might know the original word.
    Return to the top of this page

    History & Geography

    Chronology®, from Paula H

    We bought the Chronology Game®, by the Great American Puzzle Factory. We like it quite a bit. The game consists of a big stack of cards (ala Trivia, Pictionary, etc.), and each card has a year and an event. Each player tries to make a 10-item timeline. You read the event to your opponent. They try to guess when the event occurred, compared to the cards they've collected thus far. So, if the only card you have is the signing of the Declaration of Independence, and your opponent reads you a card which says, "In this year the pyramid at Giza was built," you know that it goes BEFORE your other card. But if you have 9 cards, and 4 of them are in the 1800's, and you have to figure out where to put the invention of the telegraph, it becomes much harder.

    The cards which come with the game are weighted toward US History since the Revolution. There's plenty of "soft" history (when canning was invented to preserve food, when Tupperware was invented), but also things like Magna Carta and Spanish Armada. I found very little drivel (history of bubble gum or Neru jackets). The biggest problem we had (other than the price tag: $30), was that we liked the game so much that we cycled through the cards too fast.

    There's no reason you can't make your own cards, as you study topics in history. We used old business cards from my husband's work, but you can also buy blank business cards from a printer or office supply store. It's a good game to review history, and it's a lot more fun than most "educational" games I've played. If you want to get serious about making more cards, Usborne's World History Dates is a good resource (I've seen it from Scholastic for cheap).

    To level the playing field, my 8yo son gets two guesses each turn instead of one. That handicap makes us all about even in ability. I also let him use a cheat-sheet with about 8 landmark dates on it, such as the Reformation, US Civil War, fall of Rome, etc. That way, if the event is regarding the first Puritans, he knows it has to be after Reformation. Julius Caesar must be before the fall of Rome. This helps his logic skills, too.

    The following stores carry it: Game Keeper, Learning Express, Noodle Kidoodle, Store of Knowledge, World of Science, Zany Brainy. Or you can order it at or

    Before & After, from Ryoko

    We played a similar game when we studied the Civil War. We made a set of event cards (e.g. French Revolution, steam locomotives, electric light bulbs), and asked whether each event was before or after the Civil War. We also made People cards, and asked, "Could this person have fought in the Civil War? Was he/she born before, during, or after war? You could do the same for other time periods.

    Train Ride, from Paula H

    This is a good geography game for preschoolers and lower elementary. We sit together on the sofa, with a map in our laps, and trace, with our finger, our path across the map. We pretend we're on a train, looking out the window, and we comment on what we see. Let's say we started in San Francisco:

    "Look at how steep those hills are! How do the people ever walk up them? And see all the colors they paint their houses? Oh, now we're crossing the bay on a bridge. See the boats down there? If you stretch your neck you can see the Golden Gate Bridge, do you see it? Pretty soon we'll be in the Central Valley. I hear they grow rice up here. Do you think that's rice plants out the window? See how wide and flat the valley is? No wonder California can grow so many vegetables! Oh, here's Sacramento. Do you see the dome of the state capital?" The kids also make up stuff they see out the windows.
    Return to the top of this page


    Animal Classification, from DianeZ

    Make two sets of cards: Categories and Species. Each Category card will have a group you are learning (mammal, fish, bird, etc., or mollusk, arthropod, vertebrate, etc.). The Species cards will each have a name and/or picture of an animal within the Categories. Arrange the Species cards in a circle (or a grid if there's too many). Give each player three Category cards (or two cards?). Choose a starting point on the circle, and place each player's game piece there. On your turn, roll a dice and move your game piece that many cards forward. If the Species card you land on matches one of the Category cards in your hand, keep that Species card. (Optional rule: at this point discard the used Category card, and pick up a new one from the deck.) If the Species card matches your Category card but you miss it, and another player sees it, the other player gets to take the Species card. Play continues until the cards are gone.


    Hallway Review, from Paula H

    This Mother-May-I type game can be used to review most anything. It's good for when the kids get the wiggles. The kids stand at one end of a hallway or similar long clear path. Every time they get an answer correct, they may take one step forward. When they reach Mom at the other end, they get a hug!
    Subject Baseball, from Litina in Illinois

    We love "Subject Baseball." Make review questions for any subject. The "pitcher" (teacher / mom / dad) asks the first child a question. If she gets it right without any help, it is a home run. If he gets 1 hint, he may advance one base. Alternately, you could call it a strike if they don't know the answer without hints. This has been a real "hit" at our house. By the way, we really run the "bases" - the couch, the TV, etc.

    • Games for Math and Games for Reading by Peggy Kaye. They are geared for K through 3rd, and have many, many good games, divided by age.
    • Family Math by Jean Kerr Stenmark.
    • Math for Smarty Pants and The I Hate Mathematics! Book, both by Marilyn Burns.  
    Internet resources
    • Geosense, awesome on-line geography game!
    • Take a look at The Parker Family Games Page for some more ideas; be sure to check her links, too.
    • I also found some good games links on Coyle's Where on the Web. From Karen: I've gotten many good game ideas from the Games For Learning e-mail loop on OneList. When you sign up, you can also access the archived digests. In the shared files section, you can download at least 80 pages of game ideas you can make at home. It's not hard - let the kids help! The kids would rather be tested by playing a game than by sitting down with a pencil and paper.
    • Math Games from South Washington County Schools

    If you have a favorite educational game, or know a good web site for homemade games, please share it.

    Return to the top of this page
    Home Page
    Email Paula H