3 Math Games to Spark Conversation, Curiosity, and Competition

August 30, 2023

Are you looking to infuse a burst of joy into your math classroom? Maybe you need a quick brain break to refocus your students in the middle of class? Or, maybe you just want to remind students that math can be exciting, maybe even a little loud, and definitely fun. Math games are a perfect way to spark classroom conversations, student curiosity, and a little friendly competition, all while keeping the focus on academics and boosting fluency skills.

These are 3 of our favorite activities that are designed for 3rd–5th grade students, but can be modified to scale up the difficulty or used as they are with middle school students for a low stakes way to review previous grades’ content.


1. Geometry Taboo

In this activity, students try to get their teammates to guess a specific geometric term by giving clues. But, students have to be careful not to use any of the “taboo” words in their description. This activity is can be done as a whole class or is a great option if you want to try using centers.

What You’ll Need

For this activity, you’ll need to split students into pairs or small groups to play as teams and a set of taboo cards (you can download one of our 4th grade sets below). Taboo cards should be cut along the dotted lines.

How it Works

One student will choose a taboo card from the set. That student will then try to get their teammate to guess the term at the top of the card without using any of the words listed below. Students can’t use any part of the word or give “sounds like” or “rhymes with” clues. Each team gets 2 minutes to get as many words as possible, earning one point per word.

Geometry Taboo Card Set

Download a Geometry Card Set

For example:

  • I pick up the Vertex card.
  • I start giving clues like “where two rays touch.”
  • My teammate guesses Vertex and we win a point.
  • I pick up another card and continue until our time runs out.


To make this game suitable for older students, you can select a different set of vocabulary words. Fishtank’s Vocabulary Packages, available with a Fishtank Plus account, make it easy to identify the key terms for students to focus on. To help younger students engage, you might allow them to use hand gestures as clues for their teammates.


2. Number Bowling$$^1$$

In this activity, students use randomly selected digits to create expressions. The goal is to “knock down” bowling pins by creating as many expressions equivalent to the digits 1–10. This activity is another great option if you want to use centers in your classroom.

What You’ll Need

For this activity, you will need to split students into pairs or small groups, give each student a worksheet to write their expressions and “bowl” on, (you can download our game board for free below) and provide a single die to each group. 

How It Works

Each student rolls the die 4 times and records their rolled digits in the appropriate area of the game board. Then, each student creates expressions that are equivalent to as many digits from 1 to 10 as they can. Once they create an expression equivalent to a digit, they shade that bowling pin in. The total sum of their pins is the score for that frame. Students continue rolling for digits and creating their expressions in turns for as many frames as you’d like! 

For example:

  • I roll the die for the following values: 3, 6, 1, and 2
  • I create the following expression: 3+6+1-2
  • I would shade in the bowling pin for 8.
  • I would continue creating expressions until I “knocked down” as many pins as possible.

Number Bowling Worksheet

Download a Number Bowling Game Board


To make the game a little easier for students, you could have them work in pairs to generate expressions or reduce the number of rolls for each round. To increase the difficulty, you could require students to use multiple operations or increase the number of digits students must use in each expression.


3. More or Less 

In this activity, students use mental math to decide whether a given fraction expression is more or less than a benchmark. This activity works great with the whole class or in small groups. 

What You’ll Need

For this activity, you’ll need to create a set of fraction expressions and provide each student, or small group of students, with an individual whiteboard and marker. If you don’t have access to individual whiteboards, you can have students write their responses on paper to hold up, or have students show a thumbs up or thumbs down to represent their answer. 

How it Works

If you are working with the whole class, you would put your fraction expression and a benchmark on the board, and then give students a short amount of time to determine whether they think the expression is more or less than the benchmark. After the determined time, students would hold up their whiteboards on which they would either have written “more” or “less”. You would then call on individual students to share their thinking before showing the next expression.

For example:

  •  As the teacher, I would write the following on the board:

Fraction addition problem

  • I would then give students 30 seconds to determine their answer and have everyone hold up their boards at the same time. 
  • I would then have 1 to 3 students explain how they determined their answer.


This activity can be played using addition, subtraction, or multiplication expressions depending on the skills your students are working on. You can also include more than one operation in an expression or choose more challenging benchmarks to scale up the difficulty. 

Want more math games for your classroom? Upgrade to Fishtank Plus to unlock our library of more than engaging Fluency Activities. With your Fishtank Plus account, you will also have access to our library of Number Talks, our Word Problems bank, and many more Teacher Tools to help make your math instruction more efficient and effective.


 $$^1$$Inspired by Paul Shoecraft, “Bowl-a-Fact: A Numbers Fact Game”, Arithmetic Teacher, vol. 29, no. 8, 1982, pp. 24-25.

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