Do you struggle with how to create fun math games for your middle school classroom? Creating meaningful classroom games in math doesn’t have to be time-consuming. Over the next few blog posts, I am going to share 3 classroom games to start using in your math classroom. Today’s blog will cover one of my all-time favorite math games to use in my middle school classroom, Tumbling Towers and a FREE download of the game to let you try it in your own classroom.
Why Use Math Games in Your Middle School Classroom?
There is a big misconception that using games in your classroom means there is no learning taking place. I am here to loudly tell you that that is FALSE. Using games and activities in your middle school classroom actually creates meaningful opportunities for your students to practice, apply, and/or review the content you taught them. We know that engagement and experience make all the difference in a student’s buy-in to the material. Some days and topics need worksheets, some need project-based tasks, and others may need a game or activity. Using math games in your middle school classroom is an additional strategy to support your students and their learning.
My Go-To Classroom Game: Tumbling Towers
There are so many games and activities you can create and use in your classroom. I use a variety of games all year, but in today’s blog, I am going to break down my #1, go-to classroom game you can create and use with your own students in a variety of ways all year long.
A Quick Overview of Tumbling Towers
My absolute go-to fun and favorite math game to create and use for my middle schoolers is Tumbling Towers, aka “Math Jenga”. Tumbling Towers is a low prep game that you can use in your classroom over and over again. All it requires is the Tumbling Tower sets from Dollar Tree (the most inexpensive game ever) and your question game mats prepped, which I will explain further down this post. This game can be used for review or practice for a specific skill(s). I promise that once your students play this game once, they will ask to play again and again.
Materials and Prep for Tumbling Towers
The materials and preparation for Tumbling Towers are super easy and the best part is, once you prep the blocks once, you never have to do it again. So, let’s break this down so you can bring this fun math game into your classroom.
- Tumbling Towers sets (Can be purchased at Dollar Tree for $1)
- Permanent markers to color code blocks
- Tumbling Towers template to create problems
- Optional: Iris Photo Cases for storage. Click here. (this is an affiliate link and I make a small commission if you purchase).
- Color code your set of Tumbling Towers blocks using a permanent marker. I prefer to make a small marking on the block so students can’t see the color they are pulling until the block is fully out.
- You will need 6 green, 6 yellow, 6 red, 6 purple, 6 orange, and 6 blue blocks.
- Create your questions/problems using the Tumbling Towers Template
- Optional: Laminate each page or place in sheet protectors for durability and to reuse in the future.
- Print a recording sheet for each student.
- Optional: Organize Tumbling Towers sets for each storage and distribution. You can download the free labels here.
- Prepare ahead of time to place students in groups of 4.
How Do You Play Tumbling Towers?
If you’ve played Jenga before, then Tumbling Towers is going to be super easy to mimic in your classroom.
Here’s how to play:
- One student pulls a block from the tower.
- Whatever colored block they pull is the colored problem their team will answer from the game mat.
- After everyone has answered/solved the problem, one person checks the answer key. If everyone is right, the next person repeats the process. If someone gets it incorrect, the team must help them correct their mistake and/or reteach before the next person goes.
- After x amount of minutes, (Whatever amount of time you allocate for the activity- I usually do 30-45 minutes) the team with the tallest tower wins. You can have an actual “prize” like a candy, eraser, etc. or just play for bragging rights.
How To Structure Tumbling Towers
We all know that when anything involves competition in the classroom, students can get super excited. For the most part, that’s great and part of the goal of using math games in your classroom, but we want to cultivate an environment that is fun while also productive. So, I structure Tumbling Towers so that everyone has a job and part in the process. This allows for students to keep each other accountable, remain productive throughout the entire duration of the game, and stay engaged.
Tumbling Towers Group Roles
These are the following roles I use when we play Tumbling Towers:
- Question Tracker: This person is in charge of reading/showing each problem after someone pulls a block. Once a question is answered, they cross it off.
- Answer Key Checker: This person is in charge of checking the answer key after everyone has answered/solved the question. They must let their team know if they are correct so they know whether they can move on to the next round.
- Tower Builder: This person is in charge of building the tower at the start of the game and anytime it falls.
- Referee or ____: This role changes based on what we are covering. If my students are working on a skill or standard that allows them to use a calculator, this person is in charge of typing any calculations for their team. If students do not need a calculator for the skill, this person is the “ref” and is in charge of making sure everyone is on task and participating. This role can be adapted to best fit whatever best meet’s your content’s needs.
In order to remind students of their role and the process, I keep a slide displayed with all of this information so I do not get asked a million times who is supposed to be doing what.
Frequently Asked Questions About Tumbling Towers
I share frequently about how I use Tumbling Towers in my middle school classroom and get asked the same questions time after time so I want to share some of the most popular FAQ’s as you dive into the Tumbling Towers world.
- How many kids do you put in each team?
- I try to keep my students in teams of four, however, I adjust that number to 3 or 5 as needed when I have odd amounts or absences.
- I can’t find the Tumbling Towers at my local Dollar Trees, where else can I buy them?
- The first place I recommend looking for your Tumbling Tower sets is dollartree.com as they often have them for local delivery or home shipping. Click here to find Tumbling Towers sets on Dollar Tree’s website. (Keep in mind that this link is for a 72 piece set so you can make 2 sets out of this box.)
- The second place I recommend buying them is Amazon. Although the price is not $1 per set like at Dollar Tree, you can still get 12 sets for just under $35 making the cost just under $3 a set. Click here to find Tumbling Towers on Amazon (this is an affiliate link and I make a small commission if you purchase).
- How do you keep students focused on the Math and not just the game?
- This is probably the most popular question I get and I wish the answer was more simple but it all goes back to expectations and classroom management. Model exactly what the game should sound and look like when you explain it. Model exactly what it should not sound or look like and when students are playing, if they are not meeting those expectations, stop and correct them. It’s okay to stop the activity if the majority of students are not following the directions you gave.
- How do you ensure your students are actually doing the work and not just playing?
- Very similar to the previous question, this goes back to the expectations you set. From day one, I am very clear that students are to show their work/thinking for everything we do. When explaining the expectations of the game, I revisit that everyone needs to have their work and answer before the answer key is checked. This is never a problem in my classroom once they know I mean business because they know we will simply do a paper-pencil assignment if needed instead of Tumbling Towers.
Resources for Tumbling Towers
I’m sure your brain is spinning from all of that information so I am going to link some of the Tumbling Towers resources I have created for my classroom that you can also use to create for your own students.
- Tumbling Towers Accompanying Resources (free download of storage labels and student recording sheet)
- Tumbling Towers One-Step Equations Mini Set (free download to try it in your classroom )
- 6th Grade Math Tumbling Towers Bundle
- Tumbling Towers Editable Template (Powerpoint Version)
- Tumbling Towers Editable Template (Google Slides Version)
- Tumbling Towers Back to School Edition
Tumbling Towers has been a favorite year after year in my middle school classroom. See it in action below or visit my Tikok and Instagram to see more posts and videos it in my classroom. Be on the lookout for the next blog where I will discuss another game idea for your classroom. I hope this was helpful and sparked a new idea for how to create fun math games for your middle school classroom.