Great Games for Literacy and Numeracy

Great Games Part One: Bought/re-purposed games

games collage

Thanks for dropping by again! This week I’m kicking off my mini-series on some of my favourite English and Math games to play with primary school students, you can find the introduction to this mini-series here.  In this first post I’m looking at games that I’ve either brought and used as they are, or re-purposed.  Most of these are picked up pretty cheaply and all make a great addition to the classroom.  In general I use these for small group activities to sneak in some extra practice of a concept or skill.  I’ll play with the students a few times until they have the hang of it, then let them take over!


This classic card game is great for general number sense and to encourage a strong bond between maths and fun! It’s also really useful to have around to re-purpose for lots of other games too. For anyone who doesn’t have this in their classroom I do highly recommend grabbing a pack!

Why I love this game: Simply put, the kids love it – and anything that makes maths fun has to be a winner!

Addition Quick Draw

While we’re still thinking about Uno cards a lovely way to reuse them is to play Addition Quick Draw.  Two students split the deck and each draw a card at the same time.  The first student to successfully add both cards together keeps them.  The winner is either the first person to win the whole deck (if you have the time) or has the most cards in a given time period. It’s an easy switch from here to subtraction or multiplication too, and a third student can join in as referee easily too.

Why I love this game: it’s a great way to get in lots of fact practice without heavy and quite boring drilling!


Maths Jenga

My class of 7-9 year olds love to play this (especially at the start of the year).  As you can see from the picture, it’s much like regular Jenga, only when you successfully pull out a brick you also have to answer a maths question.  To make it I used a well-loved Jenga set and printed out some addition and subtraction problems then glued them on.  This process is a little time consuming, but for me it was well worth it as my set has lasted 3 years now!

Why I love this game: it’s fun, it’s a great ice-breaker in the first few weeks.


Story Cubes

I love these! Each box has 9 dice in them, and students roll out the dice then use the pictures to prompt a story.  There are plenty of combinations and imaginations soon run wild!  I now have 3 sets of the cubes and they get used weekly!

Why I love this game: It really helps students who struggle to make up their own stories to get their creativity flowing.

story cubes

Spell Buzz

I have no idea where I picked this up from…but I’m really glad that I did! It’s a cute little box of spelling bees, but if a student pulls out ‘buzz’ they have to put all their bees back! It’s really best for 5-7 year olds, but could easily be recreated if you were dedicated enough! I’ve since tracked it down here in India and you can click here to find it through

Why I love this game: After a quick practice with me, my students soon took this on as their own game with one person being the ‘game master’ for each round.  It turned into a great group word work activity.

spell buzz

Boggle Slam

This little game is great for recognising spelling patterns and is also a lot of fun to play.  You create a word (I usually do a common four letter word) and then divide the rest of the cards between the players (3-5 works best).  The idea is to get rid of your cards by changing one letter at a time to make a new word, e.g. lake -> rake -> race etc.

Why I love this game: It’s just a lot of fun to play, so its a bonus that it is also great for spelling practice!


That’s it for Part One, if you’d like to check out the other posts in this series please keep an eye on the intro post here, and come back soon!


Great Games for Literacy and Numeracy

Great Games for Literacy and Numeracy

games collage

During the last week of school I love to round off our year by replaying my class’ favourite Maths and English games from the year.  I rotate our games through the year as ability, preference and focus changes but its always fun to go back and bring out some of the ‘classics’.  The kids love it too, plus its a good demonstration of how far they’ve come.

This got me thinking that I should write about some of my favourites that both offer a great way to practice concepts and skills AND keep my students engaged and happy throughout. Part of the reason I’ve not written this post before is that, to be quite honest, it’s a bit of a daunting task! I mean, there are so many great activities out there and they cover such different topics and skills that I had no idea how to write about them all.  After a fair bit of head-scratching (and don’t worry, it’s not another lice outbreak! … sorry Primary School humour) I’ve decided that the best way forward will be to create a mini-series of posts all connected to the theme of great classroom games, but each with a particular focus. Rather than create a separate post for every sub-section of the curriculum I’m going to group the posts by the materials used – this way I can also discuss how I incorporate them into my lessons. In each post I’ll aim to discuss 3-5 games for both Literacy and Numeracy, although I can’t guarantee I won’t sneak a science or humanities games in there too!

So, here’s the breakdown of the posts I’ll be putting up over the next few weeks:

Part One: Bought or re-purposed games

Part Two: Created/printed games

Part Three: No materials needed!

Thanks for dropping by!


Consistency and Choice: The Core of Good Teaching?

As a teacher I love to read about education, I know, I know it seems sad doesn’t it! But, in my defense I love teaching, education, learning and all things connected to it! Whilst I love to read about education I sometimes feel like there is a disconnect between some of the broad theories of education and the practice of the classroom. This often prompts me to think about exactly what constitutes great teaching – that elusive goal that we all strive for in our classrooms.

More and more as I think about it I come back to 2 things that form the core of my teaching: consistency and choice.


Consistency for me is central to my classroom management.  From day one of the school year I have clear expectations of my students, and guide their expectations of me and these remain strong throughout the year.  My students understand the benefits of behaving ‘well’ (for example persevering in their work, being respectful of others, showing responsibility, etc.) and with that goes the understanding that failing to meet these expectations will have consequences too.  No exceptions.  Once a rule is broken without consequence it no longer serves a useful purpose because my students don’t know whether breaking it will have consequences or not, and as such wonder if the rule is really all that important.  It might sound a bit tough but it’s a pretty simple line of thinking to follow.  For example if we take a simple rule such as ”No Climbing” and imagine a students breaks this rule without consequence.  Surely they could assume that it must not be dangerous afterall?  I’m not suggesting that this is always a conscious thought on the part of the student for a second! However, it’s an easy road to follow. Therefore my approach is clear – I remain consistent regardless of the circumstance.  This isn’t to say that if a student makes a mistake or fails to meet a behavioural expectation there is no chance to explain and discuss it; in fact it is quite the opposite.  What I want my students to realise is that rules, conditions and expectations are a part of life, as are choices and as the old saying goes ‘You are free to choose your actions.  You are not free from the consequences of your choices.’ I also need them to know that I hold them to high standards not for my own benefit, but to help them to internalise the responsibilities we are practicing together.  They should understand that being a good person means doing the right thing even when noone is watching because it is always the right thing to do.

Consistency also works on the positive side too! I always celebrate my students’ successes, they help celebrate mine and everyone feels like their own learning journey, their passions and their thoughts are valuable. Knowing that hard work will always be rewarded makes doing it just that little be easier and anchors it to all the positive emotions that go hand in hand with feelings of recognition, accomplishment and respect. I also treat my students consistently; whilst I don’t hide the ups and downs of life from them I always endeavour to treat them the same regardless of what else may be happening.

consistency and choice image


I also really value choice.  In my classroom I use the Daily 5 model (if you haven’t checked it out I highly recommend you do so by clicking this link) which promotes the importance of student choice.  This isn’t a choice of doing one task in avoidance of the other, but the idea of allowing students control over the order and methods they use to accomplish a task. For example I started this year with a VERY reluctant reader in my class, everyday he dreaded having to read.  Yet by being allowed to choose when he reads, where he reads (within the room) and what he reads he feels some control and this has made the experience much easier for him.  In fact, he’ll now happily read for 15-20 minutes a day, because he knows that for the rest of our ELA time he’ll get to do other activities that he enjoys much more AND he’s in control of his reading.  If I’d told that same student that he must sit 5 pages from Book X and 10:30 he’d have fought so hard against it, but by offering him real, positive choices he takes ownership of the situation.  I really don’t mind whether he reads at the start of ELA, in the middle or at the end; it doesn’t bother me where he sits, and I’d rather he happily reads something a little easier than detests reading ‘on level’.  I’ve got my reluctant reader reading, and he’s got control of his situation – win win!

As alluded to in the example, these choices must be two things; real and positive.  I certainly to not support the terrible choices we’ve all heard offered by exasperated teachers or parents such as ‘You can choose to come inside now or you can sit here ALL day on your OWN and cry!’ … really, you’re happy with them staying there all day? …. thought not! The choice must be one you are happy with regardless of which option they pick.  A colleague of mine recently had two students refuse to return from the playground.  She asked my advice and I gave her two choices to offer them. ‘You may come inside now with your classmates, or you may wait out here for 2 minutes and then come in – but you will lose those minutes from your next break.’ Either option was safe, the girls came inside after 2 minutes, but they had to lose break time later (consistency remember!) and so they’ve not tried to stay out again.

Back inside the classroom this is surprisingly easy to enact! Let’s say you want students to practice using full stops correctly in an English lesson. You have two activities set up for this; one where students edit a piece of writing to add in full stops, and a write and draw activity in which they write a sentence, include their punctuation and then illustrate the sentence (since they are likely to be young learners!) It’s an English lesson so you can add in a session of reading too! So if we say for simplicity that this lesson is 30 minutes your students will read for 10 minutes, pair up to edit the writing for 10, then work on their own sentences for 10.  Likelihood is they need more help with the latter activity.  If you let the students pick the order in which they complete them they will be more engaged, feel greater ownership and it will be easier for you to help out with the writing task, since fewer kids will be attempting it at once. This is obviously just one example, and it takes practice – but it makes a tremendous difference, especially when done everyday.

Obviously these two ideas do not and cannot form and entire teaching approach I do think they are incredibly important. As I continue to try and improve my practice everyday I also can’t wait to see what other thoughts, ideas and approaches will shape my teaching in the future.

What about you? What do you consider to be the core of your teaching? What do you value most in your approach?

Making Word Work Work

Like many teachers I have taken inspiration for my student centered ELA classroom set up from The Daily Five by Gail Boushey and Joan Moser.  Their premise is quite simple; students are given 5 elements of their learning that they must complete (mostly in self-selected order) each day.  My classroom obviously differs somewhat from their model but the underlying dynamic of a truly student centered classroom remains at the core. One of the ‘sessions’ as my students refer to them, is Word Work.

Each week I provide my students (in ability differentiated groups) with a set of ten words.  They must learn to spell each word (recognising any appropriate spelling patterns plays a big part of that for many of my students) but also be able to use the words effectively in writing too. This integration of spelling and meaning, whole language and phonics, helps my students to really know the words and boost their vocabulary not just their spelling.  All this sounds great, but in reality my students need very different levels of practice for this task with some needing only an hour to master 10 words and others needing 3-4 or even more over a week.  So how do you ensure that those who need help and practice get it, without the other students finding it too easy and becoming disengaged and not challenged enough?

For me the key to this lies in having both flexibility in my scheduling (not all of my groups do Word Work everyday) and a broad range of activities too.

Starting Out – Recognising Patterns

Coloured Write Out: Students write out their spelling words using one colour for the pattern (e.g. vowel digraphs, consonant blends) and another for the rest of the word.  This highlights the targeted phonetic pattern and helps students to make a connection between the words on their list.

Link n Spell: Students begin with a flash card (or tile if you have a pre-made resource) with the targeted pattern on it and then use other letter cards on either side to build a whole world around the pattern.  This works particularly well for my students who need some physical reinforcement to build their learning.

Learning the Spelling

Spell it Backward: Have your students spell each word out loud, backwards. This sounds silly, but it works really well.  Try it yourself, chances are you have to run through the word in your head a few times to get the letters in the correct order.  This means your students are having to spell and respell the word multiple times.  If your students are anything like mine they also think this is much more fun!

Rainbow Write: A classic, write each letter in a different colour.  This slows them down to think about each letter and helps to add an additional dimension to their understanding of the word.

Tactile/Sensory Write: My class love writing in rice or sand on a tray, in hair gel or paint in a ziplock bag and to air spell their words.

Buddy Spelling: Spell out loud with a partner either taking turns or chorally.

White Boards: Break out the white boards to practice (always a winner with my students)

Letter Tile/Stamp Spell: Spell out the word using letter tiles or stamps

Boggle: I have a giant boggle board with velcro letters on my door, set the time and see what words they can find

Embed and apply the knowledge

This for me is the most important part of word work: without grounding their phonetic knowledge into whole language and applying it students risk not developing a true understanding of the world.  As a teacher my goal is get my students beyond knowledge to understanding and application.

Vocab Rock and Roll: The idea for this is simple; students take a dice and there are 6 activities to do with each word based on the number rolled. For example: 1 = Give a definition, 2 = Make a sentence, 3 = Say a synonym, etc. I came across this idea a couple of years ago and unfortunately cannot remember where (if you know, please send me a message so I can credit the person with the original idea!). Click here for my version (2 levels) on TPT. 

Word Shaker: Put each spelling word on a laminated card (different colours if you want to really add to the challenge) and put them in a jar of coloured rice or other sensory item.  Students shake the jar to find the word, then either make their own sentence or match them up on a worksheet.

Story Challenge: Can you get all 10 words into a story?

Word Bingo: Students write their words into a bingo grid and someone (teacher, assistant, volunteer, or student) gives a definition: students match their words to the definition and see who can get the first line, all the corners, etc.

Crossword Puzzles: Use a simple crossword builder (there a lots available online) for a challenging puzzle

Sentence Clozes: This works better for my struggling students who find it hard to construct their own sentences (or varied ones at least)

I’m always open to new ideas for word work and would love to know if you have any other activities or ideas that I could try out!

Motivating Readers: Book Talk

Like many teachers I have a couple of students who are reluctant readers; I try to keep them as motivated and engaged as I can using a combination of different approaches that vary from student to student and change over time as needed.  I often use strategies such as praise, positive reinforcement (you’ve gotta love Class Dojo), variety of books, audio and visual content, digital books etc.

In general my class this year are now reading well and many of them are advanced readers for their ages; however we just hadn’t quite got the kind of passion and lively discussion that really turns a class into avid readers.  Then we did our first book talk. Wow.

The idea is simple, get a bunch of kids to pick a book they like, write about why they like it and a few other points and then turn it into a speech. I invited the parents of my students to attend the event, organised a celebratory lunch and we also recorded their talks to produce a podcast.  This week was a scheduled review week in my ELA curriculum so our focus became the book talks.  We read, we talked, we wrote and we thought about books all week. Of course, it also gave me a great opportunity to recap and where needed reteach some elements of planning, grammar, sentence construction, comprehension strategies, etc.

It was great to see how much they put into it all; I have one student in particular who is far behind grade level and came to us in September unable to read 3 letter cvc words.  She wrote a 153 word book talk with only some spelling support on an Amelia Bedelia book: I would never have expected such a great turn around and it was so heart warming to see.  For my advanced kids they really dug into their books using textual evidence to support their claims about the author’s purpose of the books and making connections to other books they had read.

So, here are my tips for holding your own book talk:

  • Allow students free choice on book selection
  • Go slow.  We went through step by step reading, rereading, planning, drafting, editing, redrafting and speaking skills.
  • Before they do any writing get them to just talk about their book; to you, a partner, a group – try to build that excitement
  • Encourage their creative side – one of my students works best if he can draw alongside his writing. It’s not the format we were working with as a class but what’s more important meeting the learning objective or following the formatting?  Easy question, right?
  • Involve parents – spread the excitement and double the encouragement
  • Review at the end.  We did a 3-2-1 review that afternoon.  3 things they did well, 2 things to improve on next time, 1 person they were impressed by (and why).  It really helped complete the learning process.

We had a lot of fun and I can see that they learned and practice a lot of important skills, but  more importantly they ALL really got into it; want proof? After we finished our book talks we had 20 minutes until lunch, what did my class ask to do with time?


Click here for the link to my TPT store where you can download the Powerpoint file and here for the planning sheet.