This post originally appeared on the blog Thank God it’s First Grade.
Each year a new batch of students arrives and you can see pretty quickly which students excel with little help, which students are chugging right along at grade level, and which need a little more time, a little more guidance to figure it all out.
A few years ago I had a student who really struggled in math. He would get anxious and angry when our math block would come around. Bathroom breaks were frequent during that particular hour and it wasn’t uncommon for him to act out. It made me SO sad. I wanted to connect with him and let him know it’s okay for things to be hard and that we are in this together.
We play a lot of math games in my 1st grade classroom. It works for me and my students tend to enjoy them. I like the social skills that interweave with the academic ones while we play games. My kids learn how to win gracefully and not pout when they lose. They learn to take turns and they learn that sometimes it all comes down to the luck of the dice! All the while, they are practicing academic skills. Win-win right?!
Well, my little buddy did NOT like playing games with his peers. He feared getting things wrong and letting his classmates see him struggle, so I thought this game time would be the perfect opportunity for me to get to know him.
I made it a mission of mine to play a math game with him EVERY.SINGLE.DAY. He was my special partner and while we played our games, we talked. We talked a lot. I got to know all about what he liked to do after school, what his big sisters did to bug him, and what he wanted to be when he grew up (a police officer). While we had these conversations, we reviewed our math skills. He became more confident, more comfortable with his learning. For months, he and I would play a game each day. The games would get harder and I sure wouldn’t let him win, but he worked through it and we talked through it.
Now, of course, I had 23 other students I needed to attend to and help, so these games were quick, they were fun, they were different! Every few days I tried to find a new twist on a game to keep my students engaged.
As the year went on and my buddy gained more confidence, he started playing games with his peers. I could see him using the skills (both social and academic) I taught him when he would win or lose a game with a classmate. He started reaching grade level standards in math and even left me that year excelling in addition and number sense!
Since sending that student off to the next grade, I have LOVED creating games for my students to play. Every time I make a math game, I make it with that student in mind. “Would this game grab his attention? Would it help him learn to subtract from 20? Does it have a twist? Would this game bore him?” These are the questions that I ask myself in hopes that I could reach another student who may be struggling as well!
Taking that little time each day to connect with a student is what makes teaching so worth it. I found that the relationships I built with my students always made me a better teacher and a better overall person.
If you want to use some games in your classroom, I recently compiled 48 different print and play math games that cover the following topics:
Click the image below to see the games:
The games are all in black and white and only require dice, cubes, paperclips, crayons, and pencils! I wanted them to be easy for teachers to use and easy for students to learn to play. Many of the games provide differentiation as well.
If you think you can help a struggling student with one of these games, click the image below and download the preview to download a FREE number sense game:
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Susan Jones is an educator and curriculum author from Salem, MA. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary Education and Child Psychology. She taught 1st grade for five years in Nevada and Massachusetts before taking a couple years off to raise her two young boys. Susan is passionate about creating interactive and engaging resources that get both students and teachers excited to learn! You can follow her through her TpT store, her blog Thank God it’s First Grade, Facebook, Instagram, and