5×5 Most Amazing Just for Fun Game

This post is the first time in 24 years I’ve shared this activity with anyone other than my closest teaching peers (and I did not even share it with most of them).  I’ve sworn them to not sharing this activity with anyone.  I share everything I make, but I have not shared this.  This is my winter break gift to those of you that read my blog.

I’ve used this activity every year I’ve taught. The woman I student taught with, Jane Kostik, taught me this game 24 years ago.  I play this game just one time a year, the day before winter break.  It is not a game connected to any MN state math standards, it is just for fun.  It has a bit of logic and a bit of luck.  Both my high performing and students who struggle the most love this game.  They beg to play it again.  I don’t because I am unwilling to give up more than one day of class to something like this.  I love it for the day before winter break because there are always students absent that day and it can be a tough day behavior wise due to students excitement for break – but not with this activity.  (note:  I refuse to ever, ever, ever – ever – show a movie in class, never ever again).

The reason I have protected this game all these years is because all students arrive to the game never having played it before-so I never have to deal with the ‘This game is boring, we played it last year’ kind of comments.  Because I am now willing to share this game widely, I have ONE CONDITION.  If you teach at a school that feeds into my own, you may NOT use this game.  This means if you teach at Marcy, Sanford, Sullivan, Anishinabe, Folwell, Green, Anderson, Seward or teach Intermediate Algebra or Geometry at South, you may NOT use this.  I will know and I will do something to get back at you. Just Sayin.

To the rest of you, here is how my game works.

  • I call this game 5×5 (or 5 by 5).  You use a sheet of 5×5 grids to play this game.  Here is the game board I give students.5×5 game  You will have time in a 55 minute class to play 4-6 games.5x5
  • You will need a pack of cards with all the face cards removed.  Shuffle the remaining cards numbered 1-10 (Aces=1).
  • The goal of this game is to get the largest sum.
  • Before handing out the game cards, go over the rules of the game.  I shine the following image up on my Promethean board. 55game00Here is my script:  “Today we are going to play 5×5.  The goal of this game is to get the largest total possible.  I have a stack of cards with the face cards taken out.  I will randomly draw 25 cards one at a time and yell out the number.  When I yell out the number, you must immediately place the number somewhere on the game board.  Once you write a number down, it must stay there.  If you erase or scratch out anything during a game, you will not be able to win.  If you ‘save’ numbers to write later, you will not be allowed to win.  Write down every number I call right away.  (one number per box).”  I then model a super fast game with them where I am the only one writing numbers on the game board on my Promethian board.  When I am done it looks something like this:55game0 I then say “If I am done calling numbers and you have an empty space, it will stay empty.  I will not repeat numbers.  Once the board is filled with numbers you will look at every row and column and add up numbers that are the same in adjacent boxes.  For example in row 1 there are 2 7’s next to each other. The score for row 1 is 14 points.55game1Notice I did not add the 3rd 7 in row 1.  Do the same thing for every row. 55game2Now do the same thing for every column.  If there are 3 numbers in a row or column, you add all 3 numbers together.5x5 2Once you’ve found the score for every row and every column, add up all these values for your grand total.  5x51The goal is to have the largest total of any student.  Let’s begin with our first game.  Any questions before we start?”
  • Once I finish my script explaining the game, we play the game. I call out numbers an they place the numbers on the board.  I keep my eye on a student who tends to be slower than the rest of the students and pace myself accordingly.  When I’ve called 25 numbers I yell ‘Add em up”.  This takes students 2-5 minutes depending on the students.  
  • I award prizes to the top 2 or 3 students in every round.  I tell students that I am going to check their board to hold them honest, but if I tell the truth, I just casually glance at it. My prizes are extremely cheap.  Students can select either 2 mini candy bars or a FREE homework pass.  Almost every student selects the free homework pass.  If a student wins round 1, they are frozen out of winning round 2.
  • Before round 2 I give this hint.What is better, placing 4 10’s like the first picture or like the 2nd pictue”  better strategy.Many students think it does not matter.  We then add up each option.  Option A(blue) gets you double the points and we talk about trying to get numbers in an ‘L’ shape or if all 4 are called in a box.
  • Then we play round 2.  Winning scores always go up.  I award another 2-3 prizes. (and put these students on freeze and invite the previous winners to join in again).
  • In round 3 there are 2 ways to win.  You can either go for the top score again or I will give a prize to whoever gets closest to zero. This means students have to try and keep like numbers apart on the grid.  I usually have 4-8 winners for getting exactly zero and a couple of top scoring winners.
  • In round 4 I again say there are 2 ways to win.  This time I say top score and whoever is closest to 30.  This adds different strategy for players.
  • In round 5, usually my last round, I secretly take out all the ace cards, 2 cards and 3 cards and half of the 4 cards leaving me with 25 cards (all high numbers).  I tell them in round 5 the only way they can win is with one of the 3 highest scores.  Because I’ve taken out all the low numbers, every student gets excited thinking “I will surely win”.  I love how excited they get.  It does not seem to dawn on them that everybody else is getting these same high numbers.  I tell them to add them up and then we do a count down (note:  I have to tell them to keep their score secret or they will not win) “Who has at least 100 points?  Who has over 150?  over 200?  over 350″.    The winning score is usually in the 300’s in this round.
  • I’ve told you my well crafted version of playing this game, but really you can change all of the rules above to suit your class.
  • Again, here is a link to the game board for students. 5×5 game
  • Note: since I do this before winter break, as students walk out my door I give all students 1 additional free homework pass as my winter break gift to them.  They love it and it costs me nothing.  Nothing.

I’d love to hear what your favorite game it and have you share it with us all.  Send it my way by commenting below, tweet me @saravdwerf or email me at sarav@mpls.k12.mn

POST SCRIPT:  While making this p55game3ost I made a mistake in one of my photos – can you spot it?  (2+2+2 is not 8).  I am just finishing teaching a unit involving exponents and logarithms.  It made me think that I should add a 2nd version of the game where you score points by multiplying values that are in adjacent squares.  It would change one’s strategy a bit.


28 thoughts on “5×5 Most Amazing Just for Fun Game

  1. Thank you for sharing. My favorite game comes from Yummy Math. It is called the Ghost Whisperer. The students are completely mesmerize by this activity. They think I have the room bugged or maybe I am controlling it.
    It is so easy that even 4th graders could solve it, but it’s challenging right through middle school and probably beyond.


  2. How does the Ghost Whisperer work? That is crazy. It must be some sort of optical illusion or something? Please… tell me how it works!


    1. Ah…you must try several numbers and keep a record of your guesses and the symbols. If you look at the numbers you guessed in prior rounds, you’ll notice those numbers keep showing up. Then look how all those numbers have the same symbol during the round. (The symbols do change from round to round.) Basically your numbers is ALWAYS a multiple of 9. Therefore all the multiples of 9 have the same symbol. Not magic…it’s math.


      1. AH…. It was late! I saw the multiples of nine but didn’t write anything down, so I didn’t see that the symbols were changing each time I tried a new puzzle. Thank you! I can’t wait to try this with the kids!!! 🙂


  3. Love the flexibility of the 5×5 game. Have you asked kids to make rules for new versions? If so, what have they suggested?

    On the Ghost Whisperer game: basic algebra + a tiny taste of number theory. Any 2 digit number can be written as mn, where m and n are integers from 0 to 9. The value of the number is 10m + n. Adding the digits gives m+n. Subtracting from 10m + n leaves 9m, so the result must be a multiple of 9 from 9 to 81. So it suffices, as others have pointed out, to have the same symbol for just those 9 numbers and then to change that symbol each time to keep people from guessing too quickly what’s up. Look like magic? It fooled my retired accountant father sufficiently for him to write me in amazement. It’s not magic: it’s algebra. 🙂


  4. Love the game. Our class put in the jokers and counted them as a wild card. In addition, a couple of my students tried to figure out the most points you could get without the jokers and just the full 40 cards. The messed around a little bit and came up with 322. I haven’t checked their work out, but thought that might be interesting to see if it’s more than that. Thanks for sharing this game.


  5. Thanks for sharing the game. My students were really into it, considering it was the 23rd of Dec. We mixed it up a little and used the two jokers as wild cards. The joker could be any number 1-10 even if it meant there were 5 tens or 5 nines.
    We also tried to figure out the best score you could have without jokers. We came up with 325.


  6. Hello Sara,

    I am now retired, but when I was teaching and had a few extra minutes in class, I did a variation of Tic Tac Toe. Everyone knows how to start it and you can use it with everyone, including the special needs students. I use objects that can move around, usually small squares, and circles. Only use 3 of each object. Start as usual for tic tac toe, and then explain when their objects are all in place, to continue moving them in turn until one player makes a tic tac toe. There are many stratagies they will figure out. Each game can be played in a few minutes. It is fun for them, and they usually go home and teach someone, and then tell me about their experience.


  7. Thanks for sharing Sara! You are a peach to let go. I get it, I really do.

    For review I like row games where each partner gets the same answer to different problems. that’s how they know they are correct. I also love a review game I call “42,”
    I give each team the same 4 problems. They add the solutions and tell the number, I just tell them they are correct or incorrect, then they have to figure out the mistake if their answer is incorrect. I give 4 extra credit points on the test (if it is a big one) or a free homework pass. If I think of more, I will write back! (Here is another I like https://nrich.maths.org/5468


    1. Thanks for this great game! I used it today in my algebra classes as a “ease back into school” activity. We played it a few times the normal way and then, since we were studying sequences, we played where they had to get 3 or more numbers adjacent that make an arithmetic sequence. So 4, 6, 8 would work, as would 9, 8, 7 or even 5, 5, 5. Explaining sequences led to an interesting discussion between the students. We had to decide ahead of time on things like 3 4 5 4 3 – count it as two different sequences.


    2. I love the game contig, and contig JR its on line and it helps with addition, subtraction, multiplication and division fluency. the JR version y only adding and subtracting. it is fun, helps with math and it is great for fast finishers


  8. Hello! This post was recommended for MTBoS 2015: a collection of people’s favorite blog posts of the year. We would like to publish an edited volume of the posts and use the money raised toward a scholarship for TMC. Please let us know by responding via email to tina.cardone1@gmail.com whether or not you grant us permission to include your post. Thank you, Tina and Lani.


  9. I will be playing this with my Geometry Support classes today! Thanks for reminding me about 5×5. I haven’t played it in years. I love your variations to keep it fresh for the whole hour. Have a great last day and a very Merry Christmas!


  10. Sara,
    My students enjoyed this today, our last day before break in St Paul. It was amazing to hear how quiet they were while I read the numbers as other rooms next and near me were rather noisy. Thanks for sharing this engaging game! -John


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s