Quick maths games: what are the most effective for engaging students?

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Engaging students in maths lessons: why is it important?

In an AP poll discussed in Psychology Today, over a third of adults describe maths as a subject that they ‘hated’ when they had to study it at school. The same study also showed that the subject received twice as many ‘hated’ votes than any other subject surveyed.

Research on neurocognition confirms how damaging ‘maths negativity’ can be to pupils studying the subject at school. Students who are maths negative demonstrate greater signs of mental stress when engaged in maths exercises, resulting in decreased memory and a perceptible drop in motivation.

For this reason, it is important to teach maths in a way that is effective for engaging your students. If you lift the stress many children associate with maths, you will be teaching your students something far more valuable than how to solve the problems themselves. You will be establishing a solid foundation upon which they can build their future maths knowledge.

Incorporating maths games into your lessons is an excellent way to do this. Playing a quick and exciting maths warm up game or two with your class before you begin serious study can work wonders to get your pupils into a positive frame of mind towards the subject before the lesson has even begun.

You can also incorporate quick maths games into the body of your lesson. A strategically placed game, midway through a lesson, can enliven a class whose attention spans may be lapsing a little.

Quick maths games: the environment

One of the most effective ways to engage children in a subject is to take them out of the physical environment that they ordinarily associate with it. Venturing outside their maths classroom is an ideal way to stimulate fresh thoughts and ideas.

While having maths classes outdoors is more often associated with children in younger age groups, such as Year 1, there are plenty of more sophisticated quick maths games that can be played outside.

One such maths game is to go outside and find a tree with a visible shadow in the school playground or field. By measuring the shadow, children can then use the data they gather to estimate the tree’s height and circumference. Your pupils will be practising valuable skills and having fun at the same time  – they often don’t even realise they are solving a maths-based problem!

Nevertheless, there are many situations in which it isn’t possible to venture outside with your pupils – and taking everyone out to the field on a drizzly day isn’t going to engage anyone.

If you’re in this position but still want to create an engaging environment in which to play quick maths games with your class, rearrange the desks and chairs in a way that facilitates your warm up game to give everything a shakeup.

How to gauge the difficulty of quick maths games

It’s advisable to have a range of quick maths games prepared and ready to go – ideally a couple for each age group or skill set.

Think of your maths warm up in a similar way to the warm up you would do for exercise. You don’t need to use your quick maths games to push your students to the limit. Just get them energised and having fun before you transition into more serious work.


Ever considered teaching maths in the UK? Contact us to find out more about teaching in London and beyond!

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