WPO Image

1st Grade Math Games To Help Develop Number Sense


Number sense games give kids practice comparing and using numbers. These 1st grade math games will give kids a fun way to practice skills in estimation, odd and even, comparing numbers, counting, and more. Several of the games are quite versatile, and can be changed slightly to practice other math areas as well.

Greater Than War

Play with 2 players. Remove the face cards from a regular deck of cards. Explain that Aces=1. Give each player 1/2 of the deck. Both players turn over the top card.

The one with the higher number should say, for example, “6 is bigger than 2” (or “6 is greater than 2”), then takes both cards. Repeat until the decks are used up, then you can turn the cards over and play again. The one with the most cards wins–or you can just keep turning your cards over and play indefinitely.

“War” is one of the more popular 1st grade math games because it is so easy to play, and also because it can be modified in so many ways. This version works on comparing numbers, but you can also add the numbers together, subtract them, and in a few years even multiply them. Keep coming back to this game; it’s a jewel!

Secret Number

You, the caller, will think of a number from 1-20. Say, “My number is greater than —“. Have the child guess the number. “It’s less than —“. Guess again. Keep going until the child guesses the number.

NOTE: Children at this age will have a hard time keeping the sequences straight in their head. It is helpful to play this with a number line in front of you, so you can mark off the numbers that are guessed and point to the greater-than or less-than points.

If the child wants to be the caller, be aware that this is a more challenging role than guesser. Bring in another player to be the guesser, and you can help coach the caller.

One Up or One Down

This is a simple 2-person card game, and is one of the more challenging (but quite fun!) 1st grade math games. All you need to play is a regular deck of cards with face cards removed. The goal is to get rid of your cards before the other player. To play, deal each player 5 cards. Put the rest of the deck face down in the middle. Turn over one card and set it next to the face-down pile.

To play, both players will try to be the first to play one of their cards on the one in the middle. They can play if their card is one higher or one lower than the card on the table. For example, if an 8 is showing on the table, a child can put either a 7 or a 9 from their hand on that card. Every time you play a card, you need to pick up another card from the face-down pile. Aces can be either a 1 or an 11. If an ace is showing on the table, you can play either a 2 or a 10 on the ace.

This game calls for a lot of flexibility on the part of the players, since the number in the middle is always changing, and kids have to readjust for which numbers are one up or one down. Generally, though, if first graders are playing against each other, the game moves relatively slowly and is manageable. It helps in early stages for an adult to coach kids along as they are learning this game: “Does anyone have a 9 or a 7? Who has a 10 or a 1?” Note: if nobody has a playable card, they turn over another card from the deck and keep playing. It helps to be quick: only one person gets to play on that card before the number changes!

Maniac Math

Make signs with numbers on them, up to the numbers you want kids to practice. Tie strings to the signs and hang them around kids’ necks. Say a math problem and then an action, such as, “10-3, hop in a circle one time.” The child who is wearing that number has to do the action.

These 1st grade math games are so much fun, kids will have no idea they are also improving their number sense skills!

You could mix up the problems, including addition or subtraction, or even comparing numbers. Have several fun actions in mind, such as jumping jacks, running once around the room, touching toes ten times, and so on. Your kids will love this game.

Show Me Math

Another game with the same appeal as the one above involves all the kids doing the same thing. To play, say an action and then a math problem. The kids do the action as many times as the answer. For example, “Jump 3+8.” All of the kids would need to jump 11 times.

Beanbag Math

Write the numbers 1-10 (or 1-20) outside with sidewalk chalk. Have kids throw two beanbags on the numbers, then add those two numbers together. The sum of the numbers is their score for that round.

Beanbag Share

This is a good number sense game for early division concepts. Put a pile of at least 20 beanbags on the floor. Tell a team of up to five people a number, then turn over a 30 second sand timer. The kids need to get that many beanbags and share them between them. Each child needs at least one beanbag. Kids get a point for doing the activity in under 30 seconds.

When you find good 1st grade math games, try to play them as often as you can. Nothing motivates kids to learn like a really fun game, and the more they play, the better they will get at these number sense skills.

You might also be interested in the related articles Number Sense and Number Sense Activities.

For more number sense games, we recommend the Shut-the-Box, Miss Brain’s Cool Math Games, or Fishing for Numbers Game.

Smart First Graders