The Versatility of a Classic Card Game: 4th in Our Math Teaching Tips Series

Many teachers use playing cards as a math manipulative in the classroom. They can be used to work on concepts such as number recognition, multi-digit addition, multiplication and more! We’ve taken one classic card game, War, and came up with multiple versions that can be played to practice new skills or reinforce old ones.

Variations of the Game of ‘War’

You can rename the game of ‘War’ to make it more school-friendly, such as Number Battles, Number Tangle, or Digit Duel.

In most of the versions, take out the face cards. Deal the entire deck among all of the players.  Players keep cards stacked face-down in front of them during play. Decide before the game begins whether the greatest or least amount wins.  Play continues until one person has all of the cards.

Traditional Game of Number Battles
For the youngest students, the traditional game works great. Each player flips over a card. The player with the greatest number wins everyone’s cards. For an added visual manipulative, use a ruler as a number line that kids can refer to during play.

Two Card Number Battle
Students can work on addition, subtraction, or multiplication facts. Each player flips over two cards and finds the sum, difference or product. Students can use the friendly number groupings on the cards to help them with strategies such as; adding on, counting back or using repeated addition. If students find the same number, they flip over another two cards and the ‘winner’ gets all of the cards from that round.

Modification: Remove specific numbers to work on certain facts.  For example, remove the 6-9s to work on facts up to 5.

Double Digit Number Battle
This version not only provides students with practice doing 2-digit addition but also allows them to consider place value in deciding a strategy for creating the greatest or least possible sum. Players each flip over four cards. They arrange the cards to make two 2-digit numbers, and then find the sum. Students that understand place value will know that the two greatest cards will need to be in the tens place to make the greatest sum. And if they are trying to make the least amount, they will want the cards with the least value in the tens place.

Battle of the Friendly Numbers
For this version put the face cards back in the deck and declare that each one is worth ten. Students can work on the friendly number strategy by arranging the cards in groups that make ten. Players flip over five cards and add all five numbers to get the sum.

For example, if you flipped over a Jack, 4, 2, 6, and Queen model physically moving the face cards next to each other. Next, move the 4 and 6 together and say, “Four and six make ten.” Now, count aloud as you point to each card, “Ten, twenty, thirty (pointing to 4 and 6 at the same time), plus two more.  I have 32!”