How To Play Cross Out Singles — The Best Marilyn Burns Math Game

When your kid needs to work on addition but won’t admit it, play this super-fun Marilyn Burns math game for some sneaky, playful practice!

History of Marilyn Burns Math

Marilyn graduated from Syracuse University in New York, and went on to become the founder of Math Solutions, an organization dedicated to helping math educators improve their teaching in the elementary grades.

In an era when drill-and-kill was the norm for math teaching, Marilyn was creating fun, real-world math programs, children’s books, and activities for mathematics educators.

Her approach to teaching went beyond just getting the correct answer. Her focus in math class was on numerical reasoning and number sense–activities that get kids thinking about math.

Marilyn’s children’s books and professional learning resources are now standard fare on any teacher bookcase. She’s written many great books, including my two favorites: The Greedy Triangle, and Amanda Bean’s Amazing Dream.

In 1997, Marilyn was awarded the Louise Hay Award for Contributions in Mathematics Education.

All that to say, she’s created a LOT of great stuff. And of all her incredible activities and games, this one–the Cross Out Singles game–is my favorite.

That’s saying something!

The Problem with Math Practice

Kids think of math as a checklist of stuff they need to learn.

Counting, addition, subtraction, regrouping, multiplication… Once they’ve spent some time on that skill, they’re ready to check off that box and call it DONE.

The problem (as we grown-ups know from experience) is that those hard-won skills can be lost. When it comes to math, if you don’t use it, you lose it.

So even if your fifth grader is counting on their fingers to add 5+6, they’ll never agree to practice addition because they “did” addition already, years ago.

The solution? Play math games!

A good game is fun way to sneak in some math practice. And a great game, like this Marilyn Burns math game, goes even farther–building logic, strategy, and mental math skills.

About the Cross Out Singles Game

Cross Out Singles is a game that is easy to play, but not so easy to win.

A young child can play this game entirely by luck, simply writing in numbers and getting some good addition practice.

But older kids and adults will realize there’s strategy involved. They’ll start thinking about where in the grid they write their numbers–and doing a lot more mental addition in the process!

There are so many things I love about this game…

  1. It’s a nice mix of strategy and luck
  2. Simple materials: just a die, and print or draw your game board
  3. You can play a whole room of kids, or as few as 2 players
  4. Mixed ages and abilities can play together
  5. Lots of addition practice, but it doesn’t “feel” like math

Here’s how to play.

How To Play Cross Out Singles

YOU WILL NEED: One die, and a Cross Out Singles game board for each player

  1. Draw or print your game board: a 3×3 grid, with seven circles around the outside edge as shown:
Marilyn Burns Cross Out Singles game board

2. Roll one die and say the number out loud. All of the players write that same number on their board in any one of the boxes.

3. Roll the die a total of 9 times to fill in all 9 boxes.

Cross Out Singles addition game first step

4. Add the numbers in the three rows across, the three columns down, and diagonally.

5. Write the answer to each sum in the circles.

How to add numbers in Marilyn Burns math game Cross Out Singles

Finding Your Score

The game up till now is pretty straightforward: just roll a die, write in numbers, and add them up.

The scoring is where things get interesting…

1. Look at the answers you wrote in the circles.

2. Do any of the numbers in circles appear more than once? For example, in the game below, I see two 7s and two 10s.

Cross Out Singles math game by Marilyn Burns, how to score

3. Cross off any number in a circle that ONLY appears once. I’ve crossed off the 15, 11, and 9 because there was only one of these.

4. Add the circled numbers that are not crossed off. In the example above, we would add 10+10+7+7, to get 34 points.

5. Say your score for the round. What scores did other players get?

6. Play at least 3 times. Does your strategy change? Is there anything you can do during a game to get more points?

Tips For Playing Cross Out Singles: A Marilyn Burns Math Game

This is a game that gets better (and more thoughtful) with each playing. There are a few things you can do to as the adult to make it even more fun for your kids.

TIP 1: Don’t explain the scoring until the END of the first round

The first time you play, just take the kids step-by-step through what to do.

Don’t explain the scoring ahead of time–it’s just confusing at this stage.

Once they’ve added all their numbers, tell them to cross off the “singles” (numbers without a twin). Then add up the remaining numbers for their score.

I’ve found it so much easier to play one demo game together than to try to explain it and just confuse the kids.

TIP 2: Play at least 3 games in a row

Each time your child plays, they’ll get a little faster at their adding, and may even start working in some strategy.

The game itself goes pretty quickly–just rolling and filling in nine numbers, then adding things up at the end.

That means you can usually squeeze in at least 3 games. The more you play, the more thoughtful your child will get about where to write the numbers.

At this stage, there’s a lot of mental math going on.

Play this game yourself and you’ll see. You add the numbers in one row, then a column, comparing and deciding what’s the best place to put it.

The more you play, the more strategic your child will get–and that means even more math happening inside your child’s brain.

TIP 3: Let younger kids use a calculator

This game actually has two levels of math.

First, kids need to add three, 1-digit numbers. They need to do this seven times per game.

Even young children in grades 1-2 can do this step pretty easily.

But the second step is more difficult: after crossing out numbers, add all the remaining numbers to get your score.

This often means adding 4 or more 2-digit numbers, like 10+10+12+12. This is quite a bit trickier, especially for young kids.

I’ve found it helps to have calculators available to help kids with this step, and keep things moving so kids don’t get bogged down.

Remember: the more they play, the more they learn!

Marilyn Burns Math: Final thoughts

This game is always one of my top picks for camps and classrooms with large groups.

You literally just need ONE DIE for the whole class, and paper for them to draw their game board.

That means you can be spontaneous, and play this game with no prep on the spur of the moment.

The unique scoring adds a fun plot twist that keeps kids interested and challenged. Often they want to play over and over again!

Want more games and activities like this one? Check out the Marilyn Burns Math Blog, where you’ll find articles, podcasts, books and resources, and more.

(Don’t miss her video clips of one-on-one interviews with kids about math. She asks each child a problem, then without judgment of right or wrong, listens to the students reason about how they got that answer.)

What did you think of the Cross Out Singles game? Drop a note in the comments and let us know!

Kelli Pearson
Author: Kelli Pearson

Kelli Pearson at Artful Math brings creative math experiences to kids who are underwhelmed by worksheets and tired of feeling like they’re bad at math. With a playful spirit and down-to-earth BFF vibe, she helps kids tap into their powerful brilliant selves and learn math with joy.

2 Comments

  1. Love this idea! I am going to try it with some of my students today. Is the goal a high score or a low score?

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