Learning to THINK Can Be Exciting with Yahtzee

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I don’t know about you, but our family loves to play games together, Yahtzee is one of our very favorites. There is nothing better than a hot game of Yahtzee with three generations of family members at the table.- Seriously.

I realized while playing Yahtzee with my family that it was a perfect game to help students to develop higher-level mental math strategies with students of all ages.

Yahtzee in the Classroom

Yahtzee to learn math

First of all, when playing a game like Yahtzee for instruction, be purposeful. Try to limit your group size to 3 students if possible. – I know that doesn’t always happen.
Find out how your students currently solve addition problems. For example:

Do they count by ones?
Can they count on?
What about double-digit numbers?
Do they need the support of materials when adding? Or maybe they just solve mentally with their own strategy.

Be prepared to have patience and offer a lot of Wait-Time!

Just a few of the math skills you can support playing Yahtzee are:

  • Subitizing
  • Counting on
  • Skip counting
  • Grouping for Multiplication (How many groups, how many in each group & how many all together.
  • Adding double-digit numbers all the way to adding 3-digit numbers
  • Mental strategies (jump, split, jump/split, etc)

That’s a lot for one game, right??
I mean, you aren’t going to teach all of those math skills in the context of one game, but when you know what strategies each child is successful with, you can support their current thinking and encourage using more sophisticated strategies.

Yahtzee With Materials

Using bundles of sticks to solve playing Yahtzee

I always have materials ready to support students who still need them.

There are Popsicle sticks bundled in groups of 10 and a supply of single sticks.

Using 10-frames to solve problems playing yahtzee

I also have a supply of 10 frames. Some ten frames are complexly full to use for building numbers and counting by 10s.
There are also, lots of 10 frames with dots representing quantities of 0-9.
(In the Math Recovery world, we call these “Bob’s Cards”)

100-Bead String for solving problems from math Recovery®

Be sure to have a 100-Bead String handy. This is not only a great tool for solving problems but works as a visual when modeling someone’s thinking for other students.

When using materials, be sure to watch how students manipulate the materials and hopefully explain their thinking as they work!

For example
when solving a problem like 24+32,
Do they count “24, 34, 44, 54, 55, 56” (this would be a jump strategy)
Or, do they put all the tens together first, put the ones together and then combine them?
(this would be a split strategy)

However, they solve, ask them to explain their thinking to the other students.

Yahtzee Without Materials

Some students don’t need materials any longer and can solve mentally using more than one strategy and chooses the strategy that works best for the problem!  We call them “flexible thinkers”.

When this happens it is my chance to model notation of their thinking using an empty number line
or with a drop-down arrow notation. If the student is ready, they can begin to notate their own thinking.


Let’s not forget the opportunity to teach multiplication on the top of the score sheet.
Here you may simply want a collection of counters if needed for students to make equal groups. Or if possible a set of Dot Cards from Math Recovery.

Again, this is a great chance for you to gain insights into the students’ thinking.

Watch to see if they count each dot by ones?
Maybe the skip count using multiples.
Or do they a combination and use repeated addition.
Maybe they simply multiply!!

Finding the Yahtzee Winner

The most fun is when all the boxes are filled and everyone has to find their total score on the top half, the bottom half and combine the two.
It may also include the 63 bonus points at the top if they earned them.
There is nothing wrong with teaching strategies of how to play, like which area to enter a total first, etc.


Questioning techniques are super important when listening to how students solve.
I know I will be asking questions like:
“Tell us how you came up with that answer!”
“Is there another way you could add those numbers together?”
“What number did you start with?”

If you are familiar with Math Recovery’s Guiding Principles of Teaching, you probably used them all!!!

I hope this all made sense and you give it a try with your own kids or a small group of students.
Please share your experience in the comments below or visit our Community Forum and start a Yahtzee discussion!

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