Math Card Game

Math Card Game
Playing cards can be a lot of fun. Some card games can be used for pure pleasure, while others can be used for learning math facts. There are so many students who don’t learn by memorizing. They learn by doing. This card game has them doing counting and strategizing to get a higher score. Appropriate for students from elementary school to high school, this game is student tested and approved!

The game is called “Tens and Fifteens.” Students can use the symbols on the playing cards to count until they learn the addition facts. Since the symbols are there as a natural part of the card, it is not embarrassing to count them. Playing cards are easier for the older kids to work with. They associate learning facts with flash cards as something done in elementary school. Younger kids like the sophistication of learning math by using playing cards. Kids love it when adults play this game with them. It’s a good way to spend positive time with a child. Plus, the child is learning addition facts.

Materials needed for each group of two or more players: two decks of playing cards. A pencil and paper is used for keeping score. Make spaces for each player. Write each person’s name or initials.

Beginner’s version-for two players or more. A score keeper can be added, or one of the players can keep score. Provide a calculator to total the scores.

Shuffle the two decks together. Use all of the cards. Face cards count as 10. Jokers are wild. They can be used for any card value from 1-10. The object of the game is to use the cards to make “books” where the value on the cards totals either 10 or 15. There are many ways to combine cards to total up to 10- 9+1=10 8+2=10 7+3=10 6+4=10 6+2+2=10 3+4+2+1=10. A single face card or 10 card equals ten. Players may also try to make a 15-- 10+5=15 8+7=15 3+4+8=15, or a queen +2+3=15. Players may use as many cards as necessary to a total value of 10 or 15.

Decide who will go first. Deal cards to each player. Beginning players usually start with twelve cards. After they become experienced, players may use as many as twenty. Beginning players are usually not timed on each hand. A time limit may be imposed when they become more experienced players. After players have mastered “Tens and Fifteens,” they may use the same rules to play “Tens, Fifteens, and Twenty-ones.” This is a harder version of the same game. Players should have no fewer than twenty cards per hand for this version.

After a player has his cards, he turns them face up. Then, he starts combining them into books with a value of 10 or 15. The strategy comes when each player tries to make the maximum number of books possible. Books are placed face up in a row at the top of each player’s area on the table. It is perfectly permissible to help another player figure out how to combine cards to make his books.

Scoring: Each book is worth ten points for scoring purposes. It does not matter if the value count for the book is a 10 or 15; each book is worth ten points. After all cards are used to make books, any cards that are left over are set aside. Each book is counted. This is an excellent time to practice counting by 10. Each card that is left over subtracts 5 points from the score. Example: There are eight books for a score of 80. There are three cards that are left over for a total of 15. 80-15=65 means that the total score is 65.

You may either choose an arbitrary number to achieve in scoring, or you may choose a time, like half an hour to play. Whichever works best for you is what you should do.

If winning is not enough of a reward by itself, then reward your player based on scores, not on who wins or loses. The winner/loser game becomes one more way that the student can fail at math. It is far better to reward the student for the points earned. Negotiate this before the game. I usually have a grab bag with Jolly Ranchers, peppermints, bubblegum, erasers, pencils, and bookmarks. The best way to make up the grab bag is to ask the student what he wants.

Another important point is to have the players say the problem and answer as they count their books. This helps the student see the problem and hear the problem, as he works the problem out. This is crucial, since the game's goal is to teach the student math facts, so that he can add with greater facility. This can help kids do better in class and in testing situations. Use “Tens and Fifteens” with anybody who has trouble with addition facts to empower them to do better in math!

Permission to copy these instructions and use them in a non-commercial private home or classroom setting is granted by Connie Mistler Davidson. Commercial use of this game or reprinting these instructions for publication without written permission is expressly forbidden. Send your request to

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