Tic tac toe math? Oh yeah, it’s a thing. And this particular thing is a tried-and-true way to get your “non-math kid” to keep coming back for more.
More games. More connection. More (sneaky) math learning!
Games are one of the best ways to help kids learn–and remember what they’ve learned. They’re naturally motivating, give lots of repetition (which is the best way to get better at a skill), and give kids a warm fuzzy feeling they can start to associate with math.
A good math game can completely change a child’s relationship with math, reducing anxiety and making her feel more confident and relaxed so she believes she’s GOOD at math.
(Note: not all math games are good for the struggling or insecure math learner. Parents should avoid highly-competitive or speed-based math games that reward the child who is best at math, and instead find games that promote learning and can be won by anyone, regardless of skill level.)
These are some of the good ones, and even so-called “non-math” kids will ask for these tic tac toe math games over and over again:
- Tic Tac Ten – mentally add to ten
- Lucky Numbers – multiplication facts
- Clippy – multiplication facts
- Round Four – rounding decimals
Why should tic tac toe math be part of your parent toolbox?
Tic tac toe is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to four-in-a-row games, and kids are drawn to them like ants to chocolate.
The rules are simple. The game is familiar–and kids almost always prefer something they recognize over something brand new. And it’s just plain FUN!
What this means for you is that you don’t have to cajole and convince your child to practice math. It’s the difference between pushing a car uphill vs letting it coast down the other side.
Instead of spending tons energy to try make your kid do something she doesn’t want to do, you’ll simply let her do something she already likes (in this case, playing a fun, four-in-a-row game) and channel her natural energy and enthusiasm to help her learn math.
Tic Tac Ten
SKILL: Quick mental addition & finding tens
BEST THING ABOUT IT: Easy to learn, kids see quick improvement
- One 6-sided die (or dice app)
- Grid paper with large 1/2″ squares
- A different colored marker for each player
HOW TO PLAY
1. Print a page of grid paper to be your game board. Give each player a colored marker. Youngest player goes first.
2. The first player rolls the die and writes the number in any square on the page.
3. On your turn, roll the die and write the number anywhere on the page. Look for numbers that add to ten. (Numbers must be touching and in the same row, column, or diagonal.)
4. Draw a circle around sets of numbers that add up to 10.
- Set a timer for 20 minutes. How many tens can you make before the timer goes off?
SKILL: Learn multiplication facts
BEST THING ABOUT IT: Lots of opportunities for small wins
HOW TO PLAY
- Roll two dice. Multiply them together and make an X on the answer in your color.
2. Take turns rolling and marking off the answers.
3. At some point, you’ll roll and get an answer that is already crossed off. When this happens, you can mark an X anywhere on the board. (This is where things get fun!)
4. Try to get three in a row.
5. The winner is the first to get three in a row, three times.
The players below each have two three-in-a-rows and are trying for a third.
NOTE: Regular, 6-sided dice give multiplication practice up to 6×6. You can also use a dice rolling app and choose D10 in the settings for 10-sided dice that give practice up to 9×9.
If you don’t have a printer, you can still play using this online, interactive 100 chart.
SKILL: Learn multiplication facts
BEST THING ABOUT IT: The ability to choose which problem you want to solve
- Printed Clippy Game Board
- Two paper clips
- Marker for each player
PREP: Print the game board. Cut or fold along the bold line beneath the numbers 1-9 at the bottom.
HOW TO PLAY
1. Decide who is X’s and who is O’s.
2. Player X starts things off by clipping a paperclip to any number 1-9 at the bottom of the page. She doesn’t mark off any number.
3. Player O clips the other paperclip to any number 1-9 at the bottom of the page. She multiplies the numbers of both paper clips, and marks the answer on the game board with an O.
4. On each turn from now on, the player will move ONE paper clip to any number 1-9, multiply those numbers together, then mark the answer on the board with an X or an O.
(It’s ok if both paper clips are moved to the same number.)
5. The winner is the first to get four in a row–horizontally, vertically, or diagonally. Who do you think will win this game?
6. If you manage to fill most of the board without anyone winning, you may reach a point where there are no more moves you can make that have an answer. If both players agree there are no more moves, the game ends in a tie, or “draw”.
SKILL: Rounding decimals
BEST THING ABOUT IT: Lots of choices on every turn; really need to think
- 100 chart or this Round Four Game board
- Three dice
- Small object to act as the decimal (bead, dime, pencil eraser, etc)
- Different colored marker for each player
HOW TO PLAY
1. Roll three dice.
2. Make a decimal number using the three dice and the decimal. With a 1, 3, and 5, we could make the numbers 1.35, 13.5, 3.51, 35.1, 15.3, 53.1, and so on.
3. Round to the nearest whole number. Cross off that number on the board. Here, we made the number 35.1 and rounded to 35.
On our next roll, we made the number 56.6 and crossed off 57.
Don’t forget the small numbers! Here we made 5.31 and rounded to 5.
4. Play until one player gets four in a row.
NOTE: If you don’t have access to a printer, you can still play online using this interactive 100 chart.
Ultimate Tic Tac Toe
SKILL: Logical thinking
BEST THING ABOUT IT: Unusual and brilliant twist; feels EPIC
- Pencil and paper (or this printable game board)
HOW TO PLAY
- You start by drawing a huge tic tac toe board, with a smaller tic tac toe board inside each square.
2. The basic idea is you play the small boards, and when you win a small game you write a big X or O on top of that board. The goal is to get three of these in a row on the large board.
…But hold on, there’s just one rule that adds a verrrrrry interesting twist…!
3. Say your opponent makes an X in the LOWER RIGHT-HAND square of a SMALL GRID. On your next turn, you must mark your O in the LOWER RIGHT-HAND section of the LARGE GRID.
4. Now if you, in turn, put an O in the MIDDLE BOX of the small grid, your opponent must make her next move in the MIDDLE BOX of the large grid.
5. The first player to get three in a row on the large grid wins.
NOTE: It might take a little bit of spatial thinking for this rule to make sense, and it helps to see some different examples. Game Gal does a great job explaining how this works, as does Math With Bad Drawings. Your child can also play an online version here.
Final Thoughts About Tic Tac Toe Math
These tic tac toe math games help your child get better at a specific skill, like addition or multiplication, as well as building broader mathematical thinking in things like logic and problem solving.
The games above are set up in such a way that kids and adults of mixed math levels can play together. Younger players have an equal chance at winning, so those more advanced at math don’t have an unfair advantage.
There is no time pressure for answering quickly, so kids can take all the time they need to do their best work. (This is important for anxious kids.)
Younger kids can use whatever tools they need–drawing pictures, counting on fingers, consulting a multiplication chart–to find the answer. In time, she’ll use these less and less.
Like all the Miss Brain’s Cool Math Games, these tic tac toe math games are undercover teachers, helping your child learn as she plays. The more she plays, the more she learns. ❤️
What are your thoughts about these games? Did these work for your child? Tell the other readers your experience in the comments below!