5×5 Most Amazing Just for Fun Game

UPDATE DECEMBER 2021 – Simplified Version: I’ve spent quite a bit of time in K-5 world the last several years. This year I introduced this game to my Elem math Ed students. They loved it. Since they are not yet regularly working with students they played it with their familiesand a few turned it into a drinking game. A group working with 2nd graders turned it into more simple version using a 4×4 board and only the number cards from 1-5. It worked well. If you want to try the 4×4 version with students, here is a template of a board you can print out. (Read below for directions on game play) https://docs.google.com/document/d/15Ogi-jpVNFWS9khdq0ZTiFsyYrGxyIaKUpZ4lDVMv-8/edit

UPDATE DECEMBER 2020 – Virtual Options: I love the game in this post (read all about the game below) – but if you and your students are learning remotely, it may be a bit of a challenge to use this game. I’ve created this game in JamBoard as an option for Distance Learning. I included several versions you can edit as you like (Note: to edit, make a copy of the document). Some versions students can write in values or type in values or on some I created moveable numbers students can move. See a few pics below for more ideas…

This version on JamBoard has movable yellow numbers your students can use. Students can record row and column totals either by writing or by clicking each cell and typing.
This version of Jamboard has more boards per screen. Students can either type in numbers or write them in….their choice…Again, as a teacher – Make a copy of the board and edit away.

Click the Button below to be connected to a Google Folder of Resources – with several JamBoard options (and the original printable board). NOTE: You will need to ‘MAKE COPIES’ of these documents to edit them.

Update 7pm: GREAT NEWS! Michelle Schoenberg made a Desmos Version of the 5×5 Game. Check it out HERE!

Update 7:45pm: I now have a version of this game in Google Slides with moveable numbers from Susan Barnhouse. I’ve added it to the resources in the Black Button below. She also recommended using this online set of cards app. Enjoy.

Update 12/14/20: Great News, Again! Scott Davidson made another version of the 5×5 Game in Desmos. Amazing. Check it out HERE!

Update 12/14 6pm: More great news. We have a 2nd version made in Google Slides with a random number generator included and a page for students to select their slide #….etc….all from the great David Sladkey. Click on the black button below to see David’s version.

First Slide from Google Slide Version

Update 12/16: GREAT NEWS! Kurt Salisbury just made an amazing Desmos Version of the 5×5 Game. Check it out HERE!

Update 12/17: Yet another great addition. Alisha Zare made a PearDeck version of the 5×5 game. I also love her adaptations suggested for elementary. Click the link below for the PearDeck Version.

NOTE: If anyone creates the 5×5 game in Google Slides or Desmos, I’d love to see what you did. Email me at saravdwPD@gmail.com or message me on Twitter or Instagram.

Update May 2019 John Ulbright has put the 5×5 game in Geogebra.  Check it out HERE.  (thanks John!)


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 post 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.

    Sara VanDerWerf

    I am Sara Van Der Werf, a 24-year mathematics teacher in Minneapolis Public Schools. I have taught math in grades 7-12 as well as spent several years leading mathematics at the district office. I currently teach Advanced Algebra at South High School and I'm also the current President of the Minnesota Council of Teachers of Mathematics (MCTM). I am passionate about encouraging and connecting with mathematics teachers. I'd love to connect via twitter.  Join the community.  Tweet me @saravdwerf.

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