More Critical Thinking Games and Quick Tips


Emily_and_kids_beachLooking for more ways to engage students or your own children this summer? Here are a few more ideas for you.

Krypto—This is a challenge that I have in my classroom that can easily be recreated at home. You need number cards for the numbers 1–12. You randomly flip over five cards. Then, flip over one more as your target card. Students use any mathematical operations to find a way for the first five numbers to equal the target card. They must use each number only once, but they can put them in any order. This is a great way to teach your child about order of operations!  Here is an example with the following cards: 1, 6, 2, 9, 8, and target 7. Answer: (8 ÷ 2 – 6) × 1 + 9 = 7  (Younger students don’t have to follow the order of operations. They can just write equations from left to right.)

Self-Created Boggle—Have your child draw a 4 x 4 grid on a piece of paper. Call out 16 letters, and tell them to place the letters wherever they want in the grid. (Be nice and give them the most-used letters. As you play more often, you can substitute in more advanced letter combinations.) Then, have them list all the words they can find by connecting touching letters. They can only use each letter once in each word. The letters have to be touching in order to be used. They get one point for three-letter words, two points for four-letter words, and so on. Here is an example board with some words that can be found in it.

W    M    S    I
E    A    E    D
R    T    H    U
B    O    P    S

Words: wear, brat, brew, pot, she, side, suds, mat . . .

Countdown to School – Today’s Number—Have students do a today’s number journal using negative numbers. They can start by writing equations for the number -1 and proceed to a new number each day all the way to -56. However, be sure to give them some high standards for what kinds of equations you expect. Do not let them use simple addition and subtraction sentences. (This includes even our youngest students!) Encourage fractions, division, multiplication, and even exponents! You can simplify this by using positive numbers from 1–56. For example:

Too Easy:    x + 3 = -1
Better:        16/x + 4 = -1 or 3x –  2/3 = -1

  •     Tell them how many equations they need for each day (at least 10).
  •     Buy them a special journal for this activity.
  •     Encourage the use of time or money equations where possible.

Written by Emily Smith

Your Turn!
What are some of your favorite “brain games” for students—or even for yourself?  Add your ideas in the reply section!


Author bio

Emily R. Smith, M.A.Ed.

Emily R. Smith, M.A.Ed., Editorial Director

Emily R. Smith, M.A.Ed., is an award-winning editorial director and former elementary school teacher. She has worked in the field of education as a teacher and editor for 20 years. Emily is currently an editorial director with Teacher Created Materials, Inc. As a former classroom teacher, she knows how hard it can be to reach and engage students in today’s schools. Her experience and insight are valuable tools as she strives to help teachers by creating thoughtful, original products and delivering them in flexible and innovative ways.