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Teaching Thinking Skills to Children Using Games

Updated on April 13, 2016
Rosie writes profile image

Rosie was an elementary school teacher for 13 years, teaching grades 3-5. She is now a Library Media Specialist in an elementary school.


Using Games as a Tool for Teaching

All children enjoy playing games. During indoor recess, when the rain is pouring down, students quickly choose the game cabinet, even over the computers. They play games like Battleship, Uno, Scrabble, Jenga, Mancala, Tangrams, Trouble, and many more. When they play these games, they are strategizing, learning from their errors, thinking ahead, and finding ways to win. They play over and over again in hopes of winning, and they eventually do.

Games can also be used as an effective tool for teaching. Specific skills can be practiced, and new connections can be made. Students can become better thinkers as a result of playing games. Unlike written practice, instructional games motivate students to win, and as a result, they learn.

At school, teachers can implement games at little cost to themselves. Students in my math class look forward to the weekly instructional games, which I try to incorporate at least twice a week. I've found that the games provide the practice they need after learning a new concept, and for students who have not caught on, a chance to understand and make connections. It also allows me to spotcheck for understanding, visit with small groups and guide them, clarify misunderstandings, and engage in meaningful teaching moments.

At home, there are numerous games that can be played to improve a child's thinking skills. A wonderful website to learn about these games is Fat Brain Toys, "a retailer and developer of unique specialty toys, games, and gifts." Here, you can find thousands of toys and games for all ages, that entertain and educate." Each year, I find a new game there, purchase it for our family to play, and it goes under the tree at Christmas. Some of the games I would recommend are Blokus, Pentago, and Konexi. Comparison shopping at Amazon is always a good idea.

Games for Teachers to Use in the Classroom

One of my favorite games to use for instruction is the simple game of war with playing cards. First, I remove all of the face cards and aces. Then I place the number cards in ziploc bags. These games can also be played with dice, however, the numbers will only go up to six. We practice a variety of skills using the rules of war. Here are a couple of examples:

  • Multiplication Facts War: Students choose two cards and find say their multiplication fact. The student with the largest facts gets both players' cards. If they tie, they draw two more cards, and the student with the highest fact gets all of the cards. This continues until one player is left with 1 or no cards. Tip: students who are just beginning to learn their multiplication facts can use a multiplcation chart to look up answers as they play.
  • Fraction War: Students draw two cards. The smaller number goes on the top, and the larger on the bottom, to form their fraction. Whoever has the largest fraction, wins all cards. If students have equivalent fractions, they will draw two more cards. Students can do the "butterfly" method, or cross multiplication to compare fractions. Tip: whiteboards are a great tool for this.

Teacher tips: At the beginning of the year, at back-to-school night, ask for decks of cards on your teacher wish list. They are inexpensive and parents will send them in for you. I also love the foam dice, as they are quiet, and easy to keep track of. There are many other variations of this game that can be used to teach and practice numerous math skills. You can find more great ideas at Let's Play Math.


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    • Rosie writes profile image

      Rosie writes 3 years ago from Virginia

      If this site causes you that much frustration, then you should try other resources. I do not believe this site's purpose is to teach but to allow practice after a concept has been learned.

    • profile image

      Open 3 years ago

      I'm a student at a I go to a scohol that uses IXL. Honestly, this is the worst website to practice and hone your "skills". I have been doing the same practice for over 5 hour, nearing the 100% until I get a question wrong and get downed all the way to 80 or something. Now I have to climb up all way back to the agonizing top level, but I always end up getting screwed up and I lose a bunch of points. This not a creative system to level students such as I, all it does it create frustration towards the mind. Even when I get a problem wrong and click on the Explain button, all it does is state the answer. Their questions involve some activities some of us may not know, such as gold. In the practice it used golf scores as an example to do integers. I have no idea what the golf scores are set as, so I have no idea what the question meant. They should have used more familiar activities or subjects, such as temperature. Taking a chunk of points away when someone gets it wrong won't "help" anyone, it just stresses the person more until they end up on the floor crying. Reply

    • Rosie writes profile image

      Rosie writes 5 years ago from Virginia

      pstraubie, thanks for visiting. Social skills are definitely improved through games. I see that you having 40 years teaching experience - that's incredible. My colleague has 25 and she is amazing - full of knowledge - can only imagine your wealth of wisdom.

    • pstraubie48 profile image

      Patricia Scott 5 years ago from sunny Florida

      You are so love the games and they do learn so much from them. Not just thinking skills but also social skills which as you know are equally important.

      So glad you shared this.

      Sending Angels your way :) ps

    • Rosie writes profile image

      Rosie writes 5 years ago from Virginia

      Thanks Glimmer Twin. I really enjoyed writing this one. My grandmother was big on games and she taught all the grandkids how to play Rummy. My mom loved them too and now I do. Our latest is Monopoly with electronic banking!

    • Glimmer Twin Fan profile image

      Glimmer Twin Fan 5 years ago

      Love this hub. We are big time game players in the house and really think it encourages thinking behaviors for all of us! My daughter got a fun one for Christmas that we have been playing quite often! Shared.