Category Archives: Games in the Classroom

Magical, Musical MathDice!

There is a buzz in the air around here… a buzz that sounds a whole lot like the clattering of plastic dice… MathDice!

This Saturday, ThinkFun will host the 9th Annual Arlington MathDice tournament, and 5th grade teams all over the county and practicing like crazy in anticipation of the big day!  As I’ve shared in the past, the Team Spirit award is a huge part of the fun, and one of these creative teams passed on their team cheer in advance.  This made my day, and I just had to share!



Impossible not to start humming right!?

Fair warning to the other 21 schools participating, the Long Branch Lions have their brains and vocal chords tuned and ready… better bring your A-Game!


Play With Purpose at the Chicago Toy and Game Fair!

Are you a teacher in the Chicago area?!  I sure wish I was!

The Chicago Toy and Game Fair (ChiTAG) is coming to Chicago’s Navy Pier in just 10 days – and this fantastic family event includes a special conference designed just for educators!

The Play With Purpose conference hosted by Sharp As A Tack is an inspiring day of workshops to help teachers develop their students’ cognitive abilities and inject energy into the learning process through applying games as part of their curriculum!  Registration is still open through Friday, November 11th – so sign up and get ready to get your game on!

Want more? Tanya Thompson, the incredible Head of Inventor Relations here at ThinkFun, will be a featured speaker at this event, sharing her  involvement with the SNAP Math Fair program and offering ways to bring this unique hands-on program to your school community!

Still not sold?  Having taught for several years, there are two magic words I’m pretty confident will make any educator’s ears perk up…


That’s right, all attendees will walk away with loads of FREE GAMES for your classroom!

ThinkFun is thrilled to be exhibiting at ChiTAG this year!  If you’ve never attended and live in the area, I definitely encourage you to come out with your family for a day of play at America’s largest toy and game fair open to the public!

Please stop by our booth to say hello, play a new game, and meet some of our amazing game inventors!



New Technology Brings Chocolate into the Classroom!

The following guest post is by Jaime Lassman, Director of Technology Integration and Curriculum at The Lexington School in Lexington, KY.  I connected with Jaime after my presentation on Chocolate Fix at TEDxLex last month, and since then he and his colleagues have run with the idea and used creative technology to bring this great logic game to the classroom!

Technology Integration rarely means bringing chocolate into the classroom, but in this case, it worked.  After seeing Chocolate Fix at TEDxLex in Lexington, Kentucky, I knew it would be a great fit in our math classrooms at The Lexington School.

The Lexington School is an independent Preschool through 8th grade focused on providing an academic program of the highest quality.  My job is to find technology and make it work with our curriculum and in our classrooms.

Chocolate Fix fit the bill in terms of being a challenging addition to our math resources, and it filled an immediate need from our Geometry teacher to help our students begin to build logical, systematic proofs.  In middle school geometry, students struggle to understand that they are charged with applying rules or theorems to logically explain their thinking.  Chocolate Fix would provide a perfect platform for the type of thinking our geometry teacher was looking for.

My only problem was that it was just plastic.  I’m used to a certain amount of plastic in my job, but I’m used to plastic that surrounds microchips, batteries, or USB connections.  This was just plastic!

I first found the ThinkFun website on Chocolate Fix and looked for an online version of the game to play.  When I couldn’t find anything online, I searched for an app for our iPads.  I was happy to find the iPad app and immediately shared it with our Geometry teacher.  He loved it, and the two of us started playing in his room and immediately seeing the connection between the thinking needed to solve the game and the thinking needed to solve a proof.  What we needed was a way to introduce the game to the whole class before handing out the iPads.

Next I started working to create an interactive whiteboard file of the game.  I figured it would be simple.  I just needed some shapes, a three-by-three grid, and some chocolate.  After trying in vain to find some suitable chocolate images from the ThinkFun website, I contacted Charlotte to request some images for my SMART Notebook version of the game.  She returned something better.  She provided me with three, professionally made versions of the game in a format that we could use immediately on our SMART Boards.

(*Note: If you’d like these files to use with your SMART Board, just send me an email!

The next piece I needed was already online.  I was directed to ThinkFun’s BrainLab (originally developed for the 2011-2012 MATHCOUNTS program) with daily resources for Chocolate Fix .  That was the last piece of the puzzle for me.  I had the iPad version for individual play, the real version for students who needed the tactile (real) interface, and the interactive whiteboard version for large groups.  Each had instructions, puzzles, and solutions.

At The Lexington School, in only a few short weeks, we have already played Chocolate Fix in third grade (a whole-group activity on the SMART Board with kids coming up and moving the larger than life pieces on their own), in sixth grade (a fun hands-on puzzle during free time), and in eighth grade geometry using the iPad version to support the building of logical reasoning.  Each group of kids fell in love with the simplicity and with the challenge, and I got Chocolate Fix into the classrooms with a few microchips and USB connections as well.

Snack Attack Serves up Fun and Learning as a Speech/Language Tool!

I am thrilled to share another guest post by Kelly Rholes.  Kelly is a fabulous Speech Therapist who integrates game play into her practice to engage young players and make learning fun and meaningful!  In a previous post she described ways to use Zingo! to support her clients, and here she dives into Snack Attack!, sharing creative ways to use game play to target a range of different learning needs:

This game is FULL…let me say it again…FULL of options for targeting So many speech and language goals. I have created a few of these into a list that may help you when you want a new way to play this game, or when you need a new way to target a goal!

First of all, this game is just great fun, overall. I’ve played it with many of my kiddos and they all enjoy it and ask to play it again and again! They especially love spinning the tube that holds the tokens.
If you’re working on subjective pronouns (he/she):

*If your child needs to work on “he”, find a boy to play with you, and if your child needs to practice “she”, find a girl. (This obviously may be a little difficult depending on your situation. Play the game as you normally would except with this twist: Each child will play the other child’s card. The children will call out to you what the other person has. Have the child use the carrier phrase, “S/he has ____” to ensure the use of the pronoun. For example, Bobby needs to work on “she”. Bobby is playing with Sarah. The spinner will be spun, and Bobby will look at Sarah’s card. Sarah has popcorn, and popcorn is available on the game piece. Bobby will yell, “She has popcorn!” Sarah will then put popcorn on her card, and the game continues like this.

*You can play this way for pronouns I/you have. Also, consider targeting has/have if you child has trouble with this “be” verb and tweak the rules based on the child’s ability to follow new rules/skill level.

*Another quick way to target pronouns is to look at the front of the box the game comes in and discuss what each child has on his/her card.

If you’re working on imitation:

* Put some beans or rice in the tube, and close both ends. Shake the beans/rice and hand it to your child. You can even add words or sounds when you shake. For example, “shake, shake, shake!”

* Use the game piece and the tube, but leave the tube empty. Spin the tube and say, “weeeee!” Wait for the child to take a turn, or help the child imitate you by guiding his hand.

If you’re working on requesting:

* Place a small reinforcer in the tube. Close the tube. Then, show the child the tube. If the child is young, it will probably be hard for him to open the tube; therefore, he will need help opening it. If he’s reinforced enough, he will communicate in some way to let you know he wants it. (Keep in mind this may be crying!) Provide him with a model so that he can imitate you to request at his skill level.

If you’re working on memory:

* Lay target number of tokens out in front of the child. Name them or have the child name them. The child then closes his eyes. Take one of the tokens away. The child will open his eyes and guess which one is missing.

If you’re working on phonological awareness:

* Lay target number of tokens in front of the child. Make sure you have different tokens. Tell the child to give you the one that starts with __. Letters you will be able to target: a, c, g, i, m, p, s. There are 12 different food items. Some start with the same letter. You could also have the child give you the foods that start with the same letter. Another game you could play is to have the child make up a silly (nonsense) word that rhymes with whichever food item you hand him or he draws from the pile.

If you’re working on articulation:

These are for specific sounds:

/g/: I got _______! (The child will use this simple sentence when he finds a food on the game board that matches on his plate.)
/h/: I have ______! (The child will use this simple sentence when he finds a food on the game board that matches on his plate.)
/s/: I see ______! (The child will use this to name the food items once the tube has been spun around the entire game board.)
/f/: I found _______! (The child will use this simple sentence when he finds a food on the game board that matches on his plate.)
/l/: I like/don’t like to eat _____! (The child will use this to talk about the foods on the game board or on his plate.)

If you need this as a reinforcer:

Obvious? The game itself is a reinforcer, but a way you can use this and still target your goals (when targeting them other ways) is to have the child perform the target activity, then take a turn with the game. A turn can mean spinning the tube once and playing until he can no longer play.

If you’re working on ANYTHING:
(answering questions, following directions, speech sounds, etc, etc, etc!)

Use this template if you want or make your own: Colored circles for Snack Attack

Cut out the circles and tape them down over the small circles inside the holes where the food lands once the tube has passed over it. Confusing? Here’s a picture. P.S. To make your own circles, use whatever program you want but make sure the circles measure 7/8 of an inch.

You could:

*(Best for 2 players, not including you) Make one colored circle and put a thin thin layer of sticky tack on the back of it. Place it randomly on one of the circles of the game board. Have the children close their eyes. Spin the tube so that the tokens cover up the circles. The children play as they normally would except if someone grabs a food item with a red circle underneath, he must put that token back into the tube. Once that round is finished and the children can no longer play, pick up the tokens that could not be played, move the red circle to another spot, and spin the tube to cover the holes again.

* Put a different colored circle in each of the holes. Have the child spin the empty tube and see where it lands. The color that he lands on is the coordinating color card (that you already made) in which he has to do. These pre-made cards will correspond with your target goals. So, if you have a following directions goal, he will have to perform the activity that the card states.

Here is an example of pre-made cards with a following directions goal:  Following Directions

If you need to work on body parts or clothing, make your cards correspond to pointing to body parts.
If you’re working on specific question types (i.e. “who”), make your cards fit that goal (i.e. “Who delivers mail?”, “Who do you see when you’re sick?”, “Who takes care of sick animals?”, “Who cuts your hair?”)

* Put different colored circles in each of the holes. Play the game as you normally would. Each time a token is picked up, the child must remember the color underneath it. When one round is finished, the child has to repeat the colors in the order he picked up the tokens.

You are not limited to just colors. You can put numbers on your circles (provided as a template) and make up your own games. You would write target letters and work on speech sounds that the empty tube lands on after it has been spun. If working on basic reading and/or phonological awareness, have the child spin the empty tube and read the word it lands on and/or think of another word that starts with that letter and/or rhymes with the word.

If you’re working on patterns:

There are 12 different food items and 11 of each one. Use only the tokens for this. Lay them out to make a pattern (i.e. peanut, peanut, cheese…) Have the child finish your pattern or make his own. You could also make a pattern, then remove one of the tokens. The child must figure out which part of the pattern is missing and replace the token with the correct food item.

If you want the child to answer questions about the foods:

Play the game as you normally would. When one round is finished, look at the child’s plate and ask him a question about one of the foods. Here is an example sheet of questions you can use: Asking Questions

That is all!

Can Games Make Kids Eat Their Broccoli?!

Sometimes it’s hard to give a quick, concise answer when I try and explain why I do what I do… which is why I’m grateful to little Joey R. at Pelican Elementary, whose letter I opened today.

What do our games actually DO?! I  couldn’t have said it better myself!


Our company is called ThinkFun for a reason – and both words are equally critical in guiding the games we produce.  Sometimes the “thinking” piece comes so naturally that kids aren’t even aware how hard they’re working as they play… think of us as the parent who hides the ground-up broccoli in the hamburger patties, making a yummy treat secretly more nutritious!

If kids are only aware of the FUN, that’s certainly not a bad thing, but this letter stood out because this  student actually recognized all the ways his brain was working as he played Rush Hour – and STILL he reported that this game was his favorite!

Encouraging kids to enjoy stretching their brains and the challenge of a great thinking game is a wonderful thing – So maybe ThinkFun can’t get your kids to eat more broccoli, but brain games are a step in a healthy direction!

Games Ignite Minds in the Classroom

Another great note from the ThinkFun mailbag – this one from a school that received a donation from our company and is using games to inspire and motivate!

Dear ThinkFun,

Thank you for donating your educational games to our classrooms!

Our students love your hands on and interactive games… Our teachers do, too!  Since receiving the games and incorporating them into our academic classes, we have seen a spark in student’s motivation to apply their logic, reading, spelling, and teamwork skills.  Working with children in an alternative school placement setting often presents teachers with the challenge of making the classroom a “fun” place to be.  Your games have ignited our student’s interest in learning and have allowed classroom teachers to use the games as a motivational activities.  We often hear students saying, “Once I am finished with my classwork, can I play a game of Rush Hour?”.

As any teacher can attest, seeing students excited about learning and actively engaged in their academics is a successful day in the classroom.  Thank you for generosity!

Caroline Walsh, Special Education Teacher
Granite Academy, Braintree, MA

Resource: Students benefit from teachers who build off their early childhood education degree and think outside the box to bring fun and engaging activities into the classroom.

A Homeschooling Mama on a Mission!

I am thrilled to feature the following guest post written by Amy, a missionary and homeschooling mom of 3 who uses games to enhance her curriculum.  Amy is the fantastic mom behind the Missional Mama blog which I encourage you to check out – and you can follow her tweets here!

Here Amy shares the many benefits of game play:

It all started with Rush Hour Junior!

Another family, who was years ahead of us in the homeschooling endeavor, mentioned that Rush Hour was their family favorite.  We were convinced to give it a try.

My oldest was around six at that time and he would spend hours setting up the cars just so and working his way toward the conclusion of the puzzle.  It was mind work and he enjoyed every minute of it. Once the levels were completed, he moved on to Rush Hour leaving Junior behind for the siblings.

After this experience, we found ourselves drawn to the ThinkFun displays at educational stores to see what else could help us along in our learning. ThinkFun games are highly motivational and enjoyable for our multi-aged homeschooling classroom not to mention useful towards our educational goals.  Here are a few reasons we like ThinkFun…

  • Critical Thinking Skills – Forget the workbooks, my children enjoy the hands on mental and visual skills required by ThinkFun. It does not even feel like learning!
  • Competition with Yourself – Because most of the games we have are one player, they can work towards harder cards and skills trying to exceed themselves.
  • Math – Many of these games sneak in Mathematical Skills. Try the Math Dice game which promotes mental math, for example.
  • Creative Thinking Skills – We found that ThinkFun can be enjoyed “outside the box” for those children who are wired that way. My oldest likes creating new patterns and sometimes new games with ThinkFun products.
  • Working Together – The older kids enjoy sitting with the younger ones occasionally and showing them how a game works.  They become the teachers and learners.
  • Playing Together – It is just fun!

We keep our ThinkFun games in our homeschooling basket to be pulled out during learning time, down time, or when we need a break. It also has been used as part of the curriculum when we are working on a skill such as mental math. So whether you use the games for homeschooling, quiet time, or family game night, you cannot help but have fun while learning along the way.

Our favorites are Zingo and Rush Hour, what are you family favorites?

Manipulatives Make Math Meaningful! (say that 3 times fast!)

Several months ago at the TED Conference I received a $100 certificate to Donor’s Choose to help fund a project for a school community in need.

With so many worthy projects to consider, I ultimately settled on one called Problem Solving Produces Productive Citizens.  This 3rd grade teacher in a high poverty community in rural Kansas was looking for manipulatives, puzzles, and games to give her young learners hands-on math experiences.  Her description of the ways in which she sees hands-on learning translate to invaluable life-long thinking critical thinking and problem solving skills resonates so strongly with me and the work I do at ThinkFun!

Ms. Sutton writes, “Kids who can solve problems grow up to be adults who can solve problems and choose their destiny. The resources that I am requesting (manipulatives, puzzles, money, etc.) will provide with hands-on practice during rotating center time to develop this ability, empowering my students to thrive in the real world, confidently looking within themselves for answers rather than to me or other authority figures. Such students can and will shape their own futures.

Problem solving is a hard concept for children to grasp. If children can be presented problem solving activities in an hands-on daily approach, then it will allow them to work through everyday problems and internalize the skills they need to use to do this regularly.”

Clearly this project struck a chord with several other donors as well, and I’m thrilled to see it was fully funded and then some!  I recently received photos and a Thank You package from Ms. Sutton’s grateful 3rd graders and wanted to share a few of their sweet notes!

Thanks to Donor’s Choose for helping bring problem solving to life – and to TED for the funds to donate!

ThinkFun Games Help Rebuild a Classroom in Joplin, Missouri

Earlier this summer, ThinkFun was contacted by Loree Green, an incredible Gifted Teacher in Bullard, Texas.  Loree volunteered to Adopt-a-Classroom in Joplin, Missouri that had been destroyed by the tornado back in May, and she was reaching out with a very specific request.  Among other special items lost, the teacher specifically wanted to replace a  copy of a beloved SmartMouth game.  We were more than happy to help with a donation of this, plus 15 other new games to help restock this classroom!

Upon returning from her recent trip to help with classroom setup, Loree shared the following letter to friends and family about her experience – it’s incredible to read how many friends and companies supported this project, and it gives me goosebumps to think about the impact one teacher’s kind outreach will have on an entirely new community of young learners in the coming school year!

Dear Friends,
I just want to share with you the exciting things that have happened since I signed up to Adopt-a-Classroom. First a little background of what led me to do so. I will be teaching 5th and 6th Gifted and Talented this next year, I wanted one component of our program to be Community Service. As I thought about what it means to be “gifted”, it came to me that the purpose of giftedness is to give. One of the things I wanted my students to think about as school begins is what their gifts and talents are and how they can use them to help others. We will be participating in a different service project each 6 weeks.

When thinking about the concept of “Gifted to Give”, I realized I needed to answer the question for myself. As I thought about my talents, I joked with my husband that I have some talent at “decorating a classroom”. I then wondered where that talent could be used to help someone else. It came to me that many of the schools in Joplin, Missouri had been destroyed during the tornado in May. Many of their schools were destroyed. I could not imagine starting over in my classroom. This is where I could help!

Volunteers Loree Green and Patti Porter

I contacted Bright Futures and applied to be a part of the “Adopt-a-Classroom” program. Last week I packed up items to take to Joplin to help a teacher named Amanda Pliler. She teaches 3rd-5th grade children in a Special Education classroom. My friend Patti Porter generously offered to go with me. She was golden!! Amanda and her husband were so sweet, we had so much fun making over her classroom. We left Texas early that morning and arrived in Joplin around 1:30 that afternoon, 4 hours later we were finished and left to return home.  It was a “tornado” in reverse!

Loree's truck full of goodies prepares to roll into Joplin!


I would like to tell you about all the exciting ways that different people have helped with this project. I received a “Wish List” from Amanda, on it she listed several books from the Evan-Moor publishing company. I contacted them with her list and they immediately boxed up 44!! books and sent them, Amazing.

Next I emailed ThinkFun and asked them for a game she had mentioned, they were so supportive sending that game and 15 others! I’ll be posting some information on their blog.  They went above and beyond anything we had hoped!  Exciting!Amanda had mentioned that she wanted to decorate her room in a kind of “Candyland” theme, I Googled that and kept coming up with photos of a GummiBear lamp. I found the designer to order the lamp, but couldn’t afford it. It was a crazy $125.00! So I emailed this company (Jellio) his business is located in NYC. The owner emailed me his phone number and I talked to him at length. He was great, he sent 20 or so lamps, and some of their gummibear clothing for her students! He has been so enthusiastic.

I went to “Adventures in Learning” and they loaded up a cart full of books and items for me to bring.  I also sent out a letter to my GT students about getting involved and had several replies.

Every day people respond with so much kindness and enthusiasm that it takes my breath away!

Amanda's Classroom AFTER!

Loree also shared this recent email message from the teacher she helped in Joplin. I can read her gratitude and excitement for this fresh beginning in every uppercase letter and exclamation point!

Dear Loree,

THANK YOU!! THANK YOU!! THANK YOU!! Words cannot express how grateful I am. My classroom looks amazing. Everyday I walk into my classroom, I think what a blessing you are to me. You are very thoughtful and generous!! Just looking around my room makes me smile. Not only did you provide the decorations, materials, and resources for my room — you saved me time. Some teachers are still decorating their classrooms… AND open house was tonight!  Teachers come to my room to get out of their cluttered, non-organized classroom. My kids are going to love the room. Everyone that walks in always has a HUGE smile on their face. You went above and beyond my classroom dreams.

THANK YOU SO MUCH!!!! I will keep you posted!!

Building Game Play into the School Day

The following guest post is by Sherry Olfert, a middle school math and science teacher in Abbotsford, British Columbia.  The other day, I received an email from Sherry, writing to share her excitement in discovering ThinkFun’s free printable resources online!  Sherry was excited to use these resources with her students , and when I asked her to share how she uses games in the classroom, she had this to say:

I love to use math games and puzzles in the classroom, whether they be logic, brainteaser, visual, manipulative, strategy, easy, challenging, competitive, cooperative, single, group …  I regard them as an essential component to my math and science curriculum, but also beneficial to their oral language requirements, social responsibility objectives, and work habits development.

I use games and puzzles as warm-ups, closers, energizers, breaks from routine, and rewards. But I also, perhaps more significantly, plan at least one block per week of Math Games class where I lead a game or set of games. Sometimes they play that same game the whole class, other times they mingle freely between a variety games or rotate game stations at a signal.

Games time keeps them in pairs or small groups for structured interactions, and while they feel liberated because they’re playing games, there’s always a clear purpose with clear criteria for reaching that goal. Through games and puzzles they exercise and develop their brain in ways that cannot be simulated (at least at their age) otherwise, safely.

The students learn to problem solve, to work respectfully with others, to follow instructions and rules, to care for materials, and to record their thinking. They also learn how to persevere and keep puzzling even when it’s challenging. And they learn to play a game or puzzle over and over again (often with different partners), to develop better strategy rather than play each game just once.

My students rarely have “free time”. Instead, they have Game Time. It may be spontaneous or planned, noisy or quiet, but it’s definitely highly educational!

How do you use games to encourage deeper thinking and problem solving, whether at home or in the classroom?!