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Card Games for Math: Teaching Basic Math Skills

Updated on March 29, 2012
My students playing Set.
My students playing Set.

The Learning Benefits of Card Games

There are so many great reasons to play cards. First there is the fun. There are not many better ways to have a really great social interaction with friends and family. I remember as a child going to my parents' friends houses where they would get together to play euchre or poker. Even at our family gatherings, there was always a poker game that was taking place. I can still hear the laughter and fun that was shared around those tables.

Card games hold a different yet very important attribute for children, that is one of learning. There are several games that you can play with just a regular deck of cards that will greatly enhance your child's learning of basic math skills. However, the first card game that I will share requires a special deck of cards. The game is called Set.

An example of a set match.
An example of a set match.

Set Game: A Math Reasoning Game

I was first introduced to Set when I was attending professional development training for teachers. In a series of math workshops, we explored what makes a good math game. There are many things that are included in this list such as, it involves thinking and reasoning, all participants are actively engaged at all times, it employs more than one of the standards of mathematical practice, and is of course fun all at the same time. Set is one of those games that easily lends itself to these. In fact it was around the holidays when I learned of this game and it became a "must give" on my list to everyone with kids.

One of the great things about this game is that it can be modified to fit ages 5 and higher. Take one or two attributes out and it becomes the perfect game for younger children. Leave all attributes in and it will even challenge adults.

Does Set sound like a game that you would enjoy playing with your children?

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How to play Set.

It's easy, well sort of. First you place twelve cards face up on the table. The goal is to find a "set." There are four attributes to create a set. A set is a match of three cards that have all the same or all different attributes. The four attributes are: shape, color, number, and inside filling of the shape. All players are looking to make a set at the same time. When you think that you have found a set, you call out set and then take your cards. You state why you believe that you have made a set and the players either agree or disagree with the match.

An example of a set would be all diamonds (shape); one is red, one is purple, and one is green (color); there is one diamond on one card, two on the next, and three on the last (number); and they are all empty inside (filling). Each attribute is either all the same or all different.

My students absolutely love this game and literally cheer every time that we play it. It's great because everyone is involved in finding a set at the same time and no one is waiting for a turn. They even help each other find sets and are very patient in explaining to another student why it may not be a set. There is also a daily set puzzle at

Multiplication, Addition, and Place Value Games

A deck of cards is a great math learning tool. There are some fantastic games that you can play with very little monetary investment. Simply head to the dollar store and pick up a regular deck of playing cards. Here are some games you can play.

  1. Multiplication or Addition War If you know the card game war, you know that you and your opponent each place a card down and the card with the highest number wins and takes both cards. Multiplication and addition war work the same way, except that each player places two cards down and finds either the product or sum of the two numbers. The highest product or sum takes all of the cards. In the event of a tie, you play another two numbers and the highest score takes all. The player with the most cards at the end wins.
  2. Greater than, Less than, or Equal too This game is great for little ones just learning their numbers and values. Similar to war, you each place a card down. Instead of just taking the cards, you say: four is greater than two. And the person with the highest number wins. You could vary it by finding the "less than" number and the person with the least value wins.
  3. Place Value Challenge Place value is always such a tough concept for kids to get. Make a mat for each player and label the place values for as high as you want to go to. Depending on the child and his skill level you can go into the millions. Shuffle and place the deck in the middle. Each player draws a card and places it under one of the values on the mat. Turns rotate until all of the places on each mat are filled. Then each player reads the number. Who ever has the highest number wins. Eventually the kids will figure out that there is a strategy involved in placing the cards on the mat. The nice thing is that you can play with several players and the children not only learn the place value of the numbers but also how to read them.

Place Value Challenge Mat

Player A
Player B

Player A would read, five hundred seventy three. Player B would read, four hundred sixty-two. Player A wins.


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    • Maggie.L profile image


      7 years ago from UK

      Hi Cardelean. I really like the sound of the game 'Set'. I'll try it out with my 7 year old. I think she'll love it. Some great games here and all you need is a pack of cards so good for those on a budget - which is most of us!

    • cardelean profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Michigan

      You are right Sandy Frost. Decision making is a very important skill in playing really any game. This is a critical lifelong skill to have. Thanks for adding that! I appreciate you stopping by and reading.

    • Sandy Frost profile image

      Sandy Frost 

      9 years ago from India

      Very nice hub. Really, card games are always helpful in developing skills for decision making as well as strategy making. One wrong decision or assessment can turn the whole game down so it becomes important to always keep an eye on what's happening around us in game. Many thanks for writing this great hub.

    • cardelean profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Michigan

      Thanks freelanceauthor, hope that you can use some of them!

    • freelanceauthor profile image


      9 years ago

      Great games for kids to learn math at the same time. Thanks

    • cardelean profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from Michigan

      Try out the online set game. It really is challenging. Our math program has a lot of game components to it and the place value game is one that we play often. There are so many and I wish I could share them all but the explanations would be too complicated. I truly believe that games are a great learning tool. We play math games daily in my classroom during math workshop to reinforce new or difficult concepts. Thanks again for reading and commenting.

    • prairieprincess profile image

      Sharilee Swaity 

      10 years ago from Canada

      These are really good suggestion, cardelean. I have not heard of set, or the place value game, but these are excellent. I used to sub in the classroom of a lady who used bingo all the time with her special needs classroom. It taught them to concentrate, and to remember the numbers. They absolutely loved it, and she did it with once a week. Winners got a prize, like a pop from the fridge, or candy. It was very effective, and also brought the class together.

      Nicely done hub!

    • cardelean profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from Michigan

      I chuckled when I read your comment Kim. It can be frustrating at times! When I first teach it to my students I take out one or two of the attributes out so that they can "get it." Then when they are ready they add in the others. It really is a great game. Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

    • kimh039 profile image

      Kim Harris 

      10 years ago

      Fun....frustrating for awhile, though. I played a game of set using the link above. it took 16 mins but I got it! it was hard. I got to enter a drawing and signed up for more fun. I do like brain games, and used to use math a lot more than I do now. I felt like I just dusted off my right hemisphere:) Thanks cardelean.

    • cardelean profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from Michigan

      Thanks! It really is challenging that's why it's great for all ages. Keep trying, you'll get it. :) I have the game so we'll have to play it when you come up to visit.

    • Danette Watt profile image

      Danette Watt 

      10 years ago from Illinois

      great hub! I went to the link and tried my hand at the set game. What a challenge. I found one set but couldn't figure why it kept telling me my matches weren't sets. I had to copy/paste the directions and what makes a set into Word so I can refer to it when I play. I'm going to keep working on it till I figure it out!

    • cardelean profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from Michigan

      Oh Phillbert, I'm so sorry to hear that you hated math. I didn't care for it when I was young either but the new way that I'm teaching math makes it so much more fun. Too bad you can't come back and redo fourth grade! :) Thanks for reading and commenting!

      Thanks Mom. I always appreciate your feedback!

    • Denise Handlon profile image

      Denise Handlon 

      10 years ago from North Carolina

      Great hub write up, Cara. Explained the game effectively. Voted up/awesome.

    • Phillbert profile image

      Phillip Drayer Duncan 

      10 years ago from The Ozarks

      I always hated math as a kid, good idea sharing ways to make it fun!

    • cardelean profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from Michigan

      Thanks! Glad you enjoyed it. Yes, my students really are engaged when they play this game.

    • Happyboomernurse profile image

      Gail Sobotkin 

      10 years ago from South Carolina

      Great hub with suggestions for inexpensive card games that will improve a child's math skills in a fun way and provide hours of fun that are easy on a parent's budget.

      Love the picture of your students. You can see the concentration and rapt attention on their faces.


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