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Tuesday Teacher Tip: Game of SET

Welcome to the Tuesday Teacher Tips series! Each week we’ll highlight teaching and learning resources, ideas to use in the classroom, as well as things to ponder as you go about your teaching day.

I love using games in the classroom. One of my favorite math games is SET®, a game of visual perception. It’s a game I’ve used with my regular education students, as well as with gifted & talented students.

This is an excellent game to teach students how to identify patterns. The game was created by a Population Geneticist, Marsha Jean Falco, who was studying epilepsy in German Shepherds. To organize her data, she drew symbols on index cards to search for patterns. While explaining to her colleagues what she was looking for with all of the cards spread in front of her, she realized that this could be a fun game.

Each card in SET has four attributes:

  • Color (green, red, or purple)
  • Number (one, two, or three symbols)
  • Symbol (ovals, squiggles, or diamonds)
  • Shading (open, striped, or solid)

The dealer places nine cards face-up in a 3 x 3 array. No one takes turns in this game. Instead, when a player finds three cards that make up a set, they yell, “Set!” Immediately, they must point out the three cards. If the rest of the group agrees, then that player gets to keep the three cards. The player with the most sets at the end of the game is the winner.

Players are searching for the sameness or distinctness of each attribute. A ‘set’ is three cards in which each attribute is either all the same or all different. For example,

  • All of the cards are purple OR all are different color.
  • All of the cards are diamonds OR all are different symbols.
  • All of the cards are striped OR all have different shading.
  • All of the cards have one symbol on them OR all have a different amount of symbols.

Especially for the younger students, the hardest part of the game is teaching how to identify a set. Sometimes I found it easiest to show what a set was not by showing three cards that did not make a set and talking about why it wasn’t a set. The magic rule on the website explains, “If two are…and one is not, then it is not a Set.”

The official website has a daily puzzle that would be excellent to use with your class. In addition, the website provides a number of suggestions for variations of the game.

Teachers: Do you have a favorite math game that you use in your classroom? I’d love to hear about it!

Do you have an idea for a future Tuesday Teacher Tips topic you’d like to see covered? Let me know and it could be featured in a future blog.

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