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10 Alternatives to Drill and Kill Addition Instruction

Updated on January 31, 2013

Back in the Dark Ages when I went to elementary school (walking uphill both ways in the snow) the only acceptable ways to teach addition seemed to be daily speed drill worksheets and group fact chanting. Neither was particularly memorable or enjoyable and there seemed to be little life experience to hang a fact on. I certainly never lounged by the monkey bars lamenting that I hadn't drawn a four to go with my six and complete my ten fact. Here are ten games requiring nothing more than cards, dice, paper, pencils, and in one case dominoes to help make basic math facts more immediately relevant to children.

Flip Ten

Required: A deck of Uno or playing cards

Face down lay out only the number cards from an Uno or playing card deck. The students take turns flipping over two cards. If the cards total ten then the student keeps the cards. The winner is the student with the most cards when time is called or the board is empty.

Flip Sums

Required: A deck of Uno or playing cards

This game is similar to Flip Ten. A deck of cards, numbers only, is laid out face down. The student flips over two and then announces the sum of the two numbers. If the sum is correct the student keeps the cards. If he is incorrect the cards stay in play. To make the game more difficult a timer can be used to require a speedy answer.

To determine a winner either count the number of cards in each student's hand or add up the total point value held by each student.

Greater Than Dice

Required: Two dice per player, a pen and paper to keep score

At the same time, each player rolls his own dice. Each player adds the value of his two dice together. The player with the highest total in each round receives one point. Play until a player has earned ten points.

Card Spiral

Required: A deck of playing cards, one die, one game piece or place marker per child

Lay out a deck of cards in a spiral pattern. Start each game piece on the outer most card. The first player rolls the die and adds the value of the die to the number on the card. If he is correct he moves forward the number of spaces (cards) on the die. If he is incorrect he does not move forward and the next player takes his turn. Players take turns until one reaches the center of the spiral and is declared the winner.


Student Created Coloring Sheets

Required: One basic coloring sheet per student. A Google image search for "easy coloring sheet" plus any keywords should bring up something that will work for your needs

Give students the black line masters of the coloring sheets. Have them create a color key with the sum equal to a particular color. The student then needs to fill in an addition problem in each area to be colored. Students can trade sheets to see if the intended pattern appears.

An unused copy of this sheet can be downloaded from the First Grade Parade link in the article.
An unused copy of this sheet can be downloaded from the First Grade Parade link in the article.

Find the Sums

Required: Two dice, one recording sheet and pencil per player

Credit for this activity goes to First Grade Parade. Please visit her website to download a blank version of the printable recording sheet. Students roll the dice and then record the number sentence above each sum. The first student to fill one of his columns is the winner.

Evens and Odds

Required: Fingers, a way to keep score, student pairs

Each student in a pair is assigned to be either even or odd. Much like Rock, Paper, Scissors, at an agreed cue (often "One, Two, Three, Shoot!") each student will display between zero and ten fingers. The total number of fingers displayed between the two students is added together. If the total is even then the student representing even gets a point. If the total is odd then the student designated odd gets a point. The game is repeated until one of the students has twenty points.


Required: A sheet of paper and a writing instrument per student. If desired a five by five grid per student can be printed off in advance in lieu of having the students create their own grids.

First decide the number set for your answers. The easiest answer set is the numbers 0-25. Then have the students create a five by five grid with the numbers 0-25 scattered across the board. Call out a series of addition problems, one at a time, recording the problems for future reference as you go. As the problems are read the students will solve for the sum and then each will mark off the answer on his own Bingo card. When one calls out, "Bingo," review the entire answer set with the class and confirm the winner.

Dicey Dominoes

Required: a set of dominoes, a die or set of dice

Each student receives ten dominoes. One domino is laid on the playing area as the starter. When his turn arrives each student rolls the die. He must connect one of his dominoes to one already played on the board to create a number fact with an answer that matches the number on the die. For example, if the die shows six a student can match a four end of a domino to a two end to create six.

Because the board will very quickly become confusing it is easiest to play this "straight line only, "T only" or "X only" with the acceptable shape of the board established before play begins.

If a student is unable to make a play on his turn with a sum (addition) or difference (subtraction) equal to the number on the die then he does not lay down a domino in that round. The game is won by the player who uses all of his dominoes first.

Black Jack or 21

Required: A deck of playing cards

Each student attempts to get a hand of cards totaling 21 without going over. Players are initially dealt two cards. Each decides to "hit," meaning get another card, or "stay," keep the cards he currently has. The round is won by the student closest to or exactly totaling 21.

Each teacher will need to judge her own community sensibilities to determine how similar to or different from the gambling game this math game should be. The addition of a dealer who plays with his hand face up and chips certainly adds a touch of grown-up glamor to the game but would cause a parental uprising at some schools. Others may find that a number other than 21, all cards shown, or all cards hidden are the only way to make this math game suitably distant from gambling.


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