This game is part of my “simple but high leverage” collection of games that are flexible, engaging, and easy to prep. Others include Number Boxes and the Answer Is...
I’ve played the Skip Count Game in kindergarten and also in 8th grade! It is adapted from the “21 Game,” which is in and of itself a variation on Nim.
This Game, In a Nutshell:
In the 21 Game, players alternate saying 1, 2, or 3 consecutive numbers, to get from 1 to 21. The player who says 21 loses.
In the Skip Count Game, players alternate writing 1, 2, or 3 numbers that follow a skip counting pattern. The primary difference is that the game does not need to start at 1, or end at 21, and it can be much more fun to skip count by 8s or 125s or 1/4s. The player who lands on the ending number wins the round.
All you need to play this game is an idea where to stop and start, what to skip count by, and some materials for recording (e.g. something to write with and something to write on). It can be helpful to play in two different colors, but it’s not necessary.
For example, in this photo, you see the end of a round that started at 12,000 and ended at 54,000, skip counting by 3000s.
As students play, they innately look for patterns that help that determine the next sequence of numbers, and develop strategies to hit the target ending number.
Why I love this game:
- It’s flexible. We can play it with lots of different content, and change it up based on current content or topics for review.
- It helps students look for and make use of structure (SMP7).
- It’s collaborative. Students can help one another follow the pattern. It works best when students have an idea of ways to help one another without just revealing the next number. (This often serves as a minilesson before playing the game — how can we help without stealing someone else’s chance to think?)
- It requires few materials. Thankfully, all of these materials can be spontaneously gathered. Nothing needs to be copied in advance. With about 30 seconds notice, your class can play this game.
Sample round with first graders:
“Today, we are going to play the skip count game!”
I invited Aisha up to the board to play a sample round with me. I handed her a green marker, and told the students that we would start with the number 3 and go up to the number 26, skip counting forward by 1s. I wrote “3 –>26 by 1s” at the top of the whiteboard.
“When it’s my turn, I get to write 1 number, or 2 numbers, or 3 numbers. Watch.”
I wrote on the whiteboard, neatly in a column, using my purple dry erase marker:
3 4 5
“I wrote 3 numbers. Now it’s Aisha’s turn. Keep skip counting forwards by 1s, Aisha. You can write 1 number, or 2 numbers, or 3 numbers.”
3 4 5 6 7 8
Aisha wrote 3 more.
“Now I only feel like writing 1 number.”
3 4 5 6 7 8 9
“Your turn, Aisha.” Without skipping a beat, she added the next few numbers to our list.
3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12
“Oh! Look! I notice that Aisha is now writing numbers that start with a 1. Do you notice anything else?” I asked the class.
“Now all of the numbers have two digits,” Leroy said.
“Ms. Laib is going to have to write teen numbers on her next turn,” Bryson said.
“No matter what?” I pushed him.
“No matter what!”
“Okay. We’ll keep going. Whoever is the person to write the number the ending number wins the round. What’s our ending number, again?”
“26,” Aisha reminded me.
When we reached the end of the column, we continued by making a column to the right. We kept playing until Aisha finally wrote our target of 26.
It was then time to give the rest of the class an opportunity to play. The classroom teacher and I put a stack of whiteboards, and a bin of dry erase markers, at a side table, and called out “popsicle stick partners,” randomly generated pairs using popsicle sticks with each child’s name written on it.
“Whichever person has the next birthday gets to go first for round one,” the classroom teacher explained. “Remember: you need to pick your starting and ending number from the menu before you can start playing.”
The room was abuzz. The classroom teacher and I circulated around the room, listening for sticky moments and patterns that students were noticing.
I came across Anneliese and Wei stuck on some numbers. They had chosen to start at 9 and count forwards to 46. Wei went first and wrote “9, 10, 11.” Anneliese followed.
9 10 11 21 22 23
“She’s wrong, teacher,” Wei told me.
I shrugged. “Why do you think that?”
“It doesn’t go 9, 10, 11, 21, 22!”
Anneliese looked puzzled. “Why did you skip numbers like that?”
Maybe Anneliese didn’t realize that she inverted the digits on the number 12, and then she kept following the pattern.
“Let’s read the numbers out loud,” I suggested.
“9… 10… 11… 21… 22… 23…” Wei recited.
Defensively, Anneliese countered: “that’s not 21, that’s 12!”
“Hmm. How can we decide?” I asked with a furrowed brow. I directed the students to look for patterns. “Let’s look at the last digit of the number.”
“9, 0, 1, 1, 2, 3… ohhh. It shouldn’t go 1-1,” Anneliese said.
“I told you. Twelve is like 1-2,” Wei said. He erased Anneliese’s numbers with the sleeve of his sweater. “Try again.”
Anneliese fixed the mistake, and the play continued.
Ultimately, I want students to take over that problem solving role. I want them to figure out what to do when they get stuck, and I don’t want it to be “telling the partner that they’re right.” We use evidence to prove our points.
Students continued to play the game, choosing different targets. Some students even tried to write their own. Many that tried to write their own chose starting and ending numbers that were too far apart, requiring them to write 40 or 60 or 73 numbers! There’s a reason I always make the menu — at least the first few times.
To close the lesson, the classroom teacher and I composed a fictional letter about Anneliese and Wei’s dilemma
We asked students to help us brainstorm ways to respond. We emphasized being kind, being helpful without stealing the other person’s chance to think, and using patterns as evidence.
Choosing the Content
Primary Grades Examples
Forwards, by 1s
from 3 to 31
from 26 to 53
from 88 to 111
Backwards, by 1s
from 31 to 6
from 62 to 34
from 114 to 95
Forwards, by 2s
from 2 to 42
from 3 to 39
Backwards, by 5s
95 to 5
155 to 40
Upper Elementary Examples
Backwards, by 100s
from 3,300 to 1,200
from 5,799 to 2,599
Forwards, by 1/4s
(identify whether this should be done with mixed numbers or fraction form)
from 1/4 to 6 1/2
from 7/4 to 8
Backwards, by 0.1s
from 5.7 to 3.4
from 9.95 to 6.85
Middle School Examples
Forwards, by 0.15s
from 0 to 3.75
from 0.2 to 4.1
Forwards, by x + 3
from 0 to 20x + 60
from x – 1 to 22x + 62
Backwards, by 3y
from y² + 15y to y² – 15y
from 88 to -63y + 88 (or 88 – 63y, depending on your mathematical goal)
Playing the Game
Grade level: any grade where students can write numbers
Time Frame: at least 5 minutes, ideally more like 15, and conceivably 30+
- Something to write with and on. (e.g. paper and pencil, whiteboard and dry erase marker, etc.)
- Prepared suggestions for content
- Create different rounds.
- Choose a starting number.
- Choose an amount to ‘skip count’ by, e.g. 1, 8, ¼, etc.
- Choose an ending number (*that players will actually land on if they start at the starting number and skip count accurately)
- It should only take 20-30 ‘jumps’ to get from the starting number to the ending number. If there are fewer, there won’t be enough turns for the students to get into a rhythm. If there are more, the game will feel like it lasts forever!
- Distribute things to write with and on.
- Player 1 records the starting number. Play will continue by skip counting by the set amount.
- Player 1 records 1, 2, or 3 of the next numbers.
- Player 2 continues skip counting, and records 1, 2, or 3 of the next numbers.
- Play continues until one of the players lands exactly on the ending number. That player wins the round.
- Repeat with new starting and ending numbers.