In many school districts there is a big push to be sure that all students have their basic math skills down and the classroom teachers in all other content areas are asked to help. Apparently many students do not have their times tables down pat and this is affecting their ability to do higher math. So in an attempt help out (this is not exactly making lemonade from lemons, but it is close), I have temporarily put up a big multiplication chart (#’s up to 12 x 12) on the wall of my classroom—I just blew up an 8 ½ x 11 sheet of numbers to a 2’ x 3’ poster and taped it to a blank wall space in the classroom. It really helps to reinforce multiplication for students, especially the multiples of 7 when we play the following game. You can see the wheels turning.

Here are two activities that work to support the content in math classes, both are no prep activities that could be done as a brain break, at the end of a period or as a treat at any time:

1) This is like the old counting game “Buzz”. My family played games like this on long car trips when I was a kid at it helped me to learn my times tables. In my classes, we called it “Arroz y Frijoles” instead of “Buzz”. We did multiples of 5 to start out, “Arroz”, and then switched to multiples of 7, “Frijoles” later. Both of these are common food names that are good for kids to know, plus “arroz” has five letters for multiples of “cinco” (five), and “frijoles” has some of the same sounds as “siete” (seven), but that is admittedly a stretch.

Here is how we play it: Students are divided into two circles that contain all of the kids in the class. This is with class of about 24 students. With bigger classes, do three circles, but not less than two, even with a smaller class, because the competition keeps it going.

Kids go around counting numbers aloud one at a time in Spanish. When they hit a multiple of 5 that student says “Arroz” instead of the number, and the counting continues with the next number. With the multiples of 5 it moves pretty fast. Once they get the idea and have had some success, we switch to multiples of 7, and students say “frijoles”. The 5’s were obviously much easier than the 7’s for them. The object of the game was to get to 35.

One thing that works well is to have the circles compete against each another. When someone misses an “Arroz” their circle had to start over with the counting, so the motivation to be as accurate as possible is self-reinforcing. The person that misses had to go to the other circle, but is welcomed into that circle without them stopping–so someone can be a “loser” in one circle, but still contribute and help the next circle to win.

There is constant movement back and forth between the circles, but what I like the most is the palpable feeling of acceptance that this set up in the classroom: A kid screws up and ruins his circle’s potential high number count so he has to leave his circle, but the next circle accepts him because they do not have to start over. They accept him and help him to keep up with them because they want to win.

This set up takes care of what I think of as “Dodge Ball Syndrome” that is so common in competitive elimination games–there are no permanent losers, no “smart kids” versus the rest of them, no one feeling left out, and no one trying to get out so they can just sit at the side free to be a non-participant.

With this arrangement no one is sitting out, the peer pressure keeps them all trying, and the kids in the winning circles are proud of their accomplishment. All the teacher does is walk around and monitor their progress and applaud the winning circle. Nice rest for the voice and no discipline problems.

next time play “Frijoles”—with multiples of 7, which will be more challenging.

Final version is “Arroz y Frijoles”—with multiples of both 5 and 7 at the same time, which is even more challenging.

Each game is played just to 35. first team to make it to 35 wins.

Kids like it so much that they ask if they can do it for PAT time, so this activity could be considered a winner.

2) The second activity was just a quick one. I asked students to tell me which numbers did NOT appear on the big 12 x 12 multiplication chart and why (These are the prime numbers above 12, btw. There are prime numbers below 12, but since all of the numbers 1 -12 are shown on the chart, those did not count at this time in this activity).

Students at all levels have a shot at success with this one because it accesses prior knowledge in another content area. If they did not already understand the concept of prime numbers, they could still look at the chart and grind it out the hard way by figuring out which numbers that were NOT there. Kids used both strategies to come up with their answers.

It was interesting that even Spanish I students were able to talk around the idea of prime numbers. Circumlocution is a valuable skill that I model continually as I attempt to “stay inside the circle” daily in class. If they know “mulitplicado por” (multiplied by), they can express this idea by giving examples in the TL. For this activity we called the prime numbers “los númerous no divisibles” (the non-divisible numbers), to help kids that did not quite remember the term “prime numbers” to get the idea.

Works for me!

chillOctober 24, 2011 at 5:03 pmCarol Gaab wrote somewhere about a number game. Whatever the game was the numbers were randomized. How’s that for vague? Does anyone know what I’m thinking about?

Bryce HedstromOctober 24, 2011 at 5:08 pmDoesn’t ring a bell with me. Hopefully someone else will remember it. Carol has a lot of great ideas.

ClariceOctober 24, 2011 at 7:42 pmThank you. This could even be a brain break or a warm up in small groups if you don;t have enough time to play the game in large groups.

gerrywOctober 27, 2011 at 3:55 pmI tried this today for the first time and it was very popular. Because I had tiny Spanish I classes today with sophomore testing going on, they invented a variation that worked well too. We play a game with a koosh ball, just a big circle and you have to say the next number, day of the week, month, classmate’s Spanish name or whatever before the ball reaches them. It starts slow and then moves to hot potato with one second to get the throw off. All throws are underhand and if you drop it you’re out. We added “arroz” to it for an extra level of complexity. What I really like about this is that it adds an extra level of mental challenge that grows more brain connections. When you add the physical activity, you’ve got right and left brain working together, and growing new connections between the two hemispheres.

Bryce HedstromOctober 27, 2011 at 5:21 pmI have not tried something this complex. The element of adding physicality to it does seem like it would increase the brain connections. I think that both you and your students must be pretty bright, Gerry.