Here is a list of the top five numeracy lesson starters for teachers and parents to use with children. This is the second instalment of numeracy lesson starters on my blog. These activities and games require minimal equipment and are extremely fun and easy to play. The games can be used at the start, middle or end of a lesson. The students will often learn more and be more engaged due to the fun and competitive nature of these activities.


Number Guessing

Equipment: None

Description: This game is about students learning to be systematic, methodical and organised in their reasoning. Tell the students you’re thinking of a number between 1-100. Their task is to determine what your number is using no more than seven ‘yes or no’ questions. As soon as a student asks, “Is it ___?”, the game is over, right or wrong. It is always possible to determine the number in seven steps by asking questions that eliminate half of all remaining numbers. So the first question could be, “Is the number between 1-50?” Whether yes or no, half the numbers have been eliminated. Another opening question could be, “Is it an odd number?” Again, half the numbers are eliminated. Keep a running record on the board or overhead of what numbers are left. The hardest question is the last one. If students have narrowed their choice down to two numbers, it doesn’t mean it has to be a 50/50 guess. There are questions they can ask to determine the number: If the remaining numbers, for example, are 51 and 53, a student could ask, “Can we eliminate 51?” Whether yes or no, they now know the number you selected. Another possible question: “Does your number end in a 1?” This is a fun team-building exercise.

Up Up and Away

Equipment: Balloons for each group

Description: Put students in groups of four to five and give each group a balloon. The aim is for the group to keep the balloon in the air.  If it touches a part of someone’s body, they have to either count or keep a sum going. For example, the first student says “2”, the next to touch the balloon might say “2 + 3 = 5”, followed by “5 + 4 = 9” and so on. Students can mix addition and subtraction problems. Or students can count in 3s or 5s or any number depending on the group’s ability. This is a great game for students who are trying to learn their times tables.

Computer v Human

Equipment: Calculators, deck of cards and two dice

Description: This game is played in pairs. The first student uses a calculator and the second student uses brainpower. Two cards are flipped over or two dice are rolled. The students need to use these two numbers in a sum. They can be used for multiplying, addition or subtraction depending on the pair’s ability or the topic you are working on at the time. For example, if the two cards or dice are 5 and 6, the first student uses the calculator to work out the answer, the second student uses their brainpower to see who can work out the answer first. After each question, swap brainpower and the calculator between the students.

Magic Twenty-Five

Equipment: Deck of cards with picture cards removed

Description: Magic Twenty-Five is played by two or more students at a time. Each group will need a deck of cards, ace to nine, with the aces being worth one. To start the game, deal out all the cards – an equal number to each student. The cards are left face down in a pile in front of each student. The first student turns over a card and places it face up in the centre of the play area. The next student turns over a card, adds it to the card already played, says the sum out loud and places the card on top of the previously played card. The next student turns over a card and adds the card to the sum of the first two cards. Play continues in this way until one student has a card that, when added, will give a sum greater than 25. When that happens, the student must subtract rather than add. Play continues until someone gets a sum of exactly 25. The student who gets a sum of exactly 25 wins that round and goes first in the next round.


Equipment: Deck of cards per group

Description: Students play this game in groups of threes or fours. The teacher or the students can determine whether it’s going to involve addition or multiplication. Each group of three needs a deck of cards with 10s, Js, Qs and Ks removed. One student is the judge; students are to rotate the judge duty after each game. For an addition game, the judge gives each student a card that is face down. When the judge says “Salute!” each student, without looking at their card, places it to their forehead so the judge and the other player can see it. The judge then announces the sum of the two numbers on the cards. The first student to correctly announce their own number wins the two cards. The game winner is the one with the most cards at the end. An example of this is, if student A sees that student B has a 7 and the judge announces the sum as 13, student A knows that their card is a 6 and says so.