Connect 4 in the Classroom

Connect 4 Drop
Photo Credit: jeff_golden via Compfight cc

Connect 4 is such a simple idea that it is a world-wide hit as a table top game. As a youngster, it was one of my games of choice along with Buckaroo and Coppit.

The concept of the game is deceptively simple. Line four counters in a row horizontally, vertically or diagonally. But the strategy behind it has children thinking logically in 2, 3, 4 and more steps once they get past the ‘just drop a counter in the hole’ stage. Designers Howard Wexler and Ned Strongin made this a strongly solved game meaning that the first player can always win by playing the right moves. I have played for 37 years and have still not worked out how to do this successfully every time yet!

Knowing that this excellent game was a simple one to teach, I came up with the idea of using it in conjunction with maths facts. I had seen ‘blockbusters’ (a UK 80s/90s TV game show) (Blockbuster’s Theme Tune) being used and decided that Connect 4 could be used as a better game with two parts: using logic and strategic thinking to outwit your partner and also using basic maths facts in a fun way.

As it turns out, the children focus on the strategy part of the game more and the maths facts become more and more internalised the more they play. This is a great example of ‘camouflaged learning’ that Lee Parkinson explores on his blog.

How to Play in the Classroom

The way to use the game boards in the PDF below is to imagine that they are a Connect 4 board. The physics in the real world apply to this game so, below, if you ‘dropped a counter’ at the top of the third column, it would fall all the way down to the bottom and the child would land on the 6 square in the bottom row. The next counter in this column would land on 33 and so on. You could not choose 27 on the top row unless all the other squares beneath it had been filled.

Connect4-Arrow You could use counters to cover each number, but if they get knocked, the counters scatter everywhere so colouring in the square is more practical.

If a child wanted to choose the number, they have to say the multiplication where that number is the answer, for example, 3 x 2 = 6. If they say the correct multiplication, they can colour the square. If they do not say the correct multiplication, their partner needs to correct them.

In the past, I have played it where if the child does not say the correct multiplication, they miss a go, but when you have a stand-off where a child is forced to use a square that will result in their opponent winning, they have purposely said the wrong answer so the turn passes to their partner, who purposely said the wrong answer so the turn passes to their partner, who purposely said the wrong answer so the turn passes to their partner…

So stalemate was given, not because the square was full, but because the opponents didn’t want to lose.

The real beauty of this game though is that they have a chance at some thinking time in between turns. If child A wants to colour 36 but doesn’t know the fact immediately, they have some thinking time, while their opponent is taking their turn, to work out the correct calculation. If they don’t need the thinking time to work out the calculation, they use it to plan out their next move and what their opponents subsequent move might be.

The Game Boards

In the PDF below I have included a set of game sheets for each multiplication table from 2 to 12. The first game boards have squared 1cm x 1cm grids beneath so the players can record their calculations. This stops the children from just colouring. The second set of game cards are 6 of the same grid for each times table without the calculation recording grid underneath. These can be used when the children have the facts internalised and/or can play without just colouring in! These can be cut into 6 small game cards and used as extension games.

Also included are: a sheet for practicing halving numbers to 20; a sheet for doubling numbers to 10; a sheet for number bonds to 10 and a sheet for 3D shapes.

The number bonds to 10 sheet is very versatile and can be used for a range of mathematical facts such as multiplication and division as well as number bonds.

Connect4-Green SquareFor example, if the teacher gave the pair this grid and told them they were using their 4 times tables and a child wanted to colour the 5 square, they would have to say what 4 x 5 equals to colour the square. This flexible grid can be used for other mathematical concepts, for example, the teacher tells the pair they have to say the square number or multiply it by 0.5 or … this list goes on!

This is meant as a recap activity, a mental starter (I never let the kids win. If they win it is on their own merit!) and an interesting, enjoyable way of practicing the skills the children already have while trying to develop their strategic thinking skills. Have a go and let me know how you get on.


Download the Game Boards here: Connect 4-Booklet


Starter For 10…

So… here we are.  I have decided to take the plunge into blogging.  I hope this goes well!

The sun glistened in the sky on a bright Sunday morning during the summer holidays and while I was getting dressed to take my lad to rugby I had an inescapable urge to find some interesting things for my class to do when they bounce through the door of my classroom.  I already have a bank of activities that work well for me, but I wanted to see what others do, partly so I could compare and think ‘Oh, I do that too!” and feel happy in the fact that others do the same, but more to see what I can do to improve my own practice.  I took to twitter.  All year I have been developing my PLN (Personal Learning Network to those – like me – who didn’t know!) and this was really the first time I had thrown a question into the twitter abyss.  I expected to get perhaps a couple of responses, but I was delighted when my phone wouldn’t stop buzzing in my pocket at the rugby… for more than one reason!

I retweeted the responses I got so that my followers saw the ideas that people were coming up with, but, for the first time, I felt like I had actually something worthwhile to blog about as well!

So here it is.  My first post.  A bank of activities that we came up with for quick activities to give to children when they come through your door in the morning!

My initial tweet asked for 5 minute independent activities for KS1 children to come into class and settle to in the morning.  These were the activities I got in response:

Read a book.

Number of the day:

Choose a number and write it on the board.  The children have to:
add 1;
take 1;
half it;
quarter it;
double it;
divide by 10;
x 10;
+ 100;
– 10;
+ 10;
+ 99;
– 99;
state how many tens in the number;
state how many units are in the number;
state if the numb is odd or even;
state which multiplication table it is in;
write some problems where today’s number is the answer;

Register games linked to SPaG, e.g. name as many nouns beginning with the letter of your first name.

Have sets of magnetic letters where children have to make words with a given criteria, .e.g. words with a certain phoneme.

Reading detectives:

Give a text and children have to find a specific phoneme/word.

Hundred square jigsaws.

Thunks which are similar to…

Thinking keys:

I have not come across these before but a quick search came up with this TES link which has an explanation of the keys and example questions to get you started.

Guess the number: Give children clues to a number using mathematical terms.

Nrich site with a countdown game

Look at the same book but different covers – how are the different.

Maths drills from

Look at books in a series and find the similarities and differences.

Put a joke on the board without a punchline and discuss.

Handwriting practice – names, spellings, etc.

Look, cover, write, check for spelling practice.

A variety of phonics games.

Draw a… (spaceship, bridge, lighthouse, coastal scene, etc.)

Find the other calculations: Put a calculation on the board and children have to write what other calculations they can work out from it, e.g. write 2+4=6 and the children have to find 4+2=6, 6-4=2 and 6-2=4

Find the word in dictionary game: children have a dictionary in partners.  Teacher says a word and the class race to find the definition. Alternatively, words are written on the board and children write the definitions on their own white board.

Speed tables:
Print a 5×5 grid with a selected times table written in the top of each cell (leave enough room for the answers).  Children have a minute to complete as many as they can.  They then complete the activity again overleaf with the same selected times tables written in a fresh 5×5 grid trying to beat their own score.  Alternatively, give the children a blank times table grid and see how many answers they can write in a selected time.  Can do with different sized tables for younger children just sequencing numbers to 20/50/100.  Tests love to throw in a number square where the last number on each line isn’t 10!

Put 3 numbers on the board and see what the children can make using only these and the four operations.

Write a selection of letters on the board.  What words (real and pseudo) can they write.  Pseudo words have to be given a definition!

How many number bonds for numbers up to 10/15/20 can they write in 5 minutes?  Keep a personal best.

A-Z lists: names, places, food, brands, nouns, adjectives…

A few websites that were tweeted:

Slightly out of date but worth a look for an example – Start Of Day Activities

Daily Writing blog post

Mathematics Shed – Popular Culture Shed

Mathematics Shed – Early Years Shed

And finally…

practice looking at the wall, sitting on the carpet, silent… thanks, Rich!

A Word on Variety
Most importantly of all those is variety.  Doing any of these all the time is deadly both to the kids and to your career!  Variety is the spice of life and having a range of 5 minute educational starters will help my children come and be ready to learn in the morning.

A million thanks to all who joined in the chat and gave their ideas:

@grahamandre @Bennett31 @bryngoodman @MissKingsley85 @FarrowMr @Year2lowerplace @HylandMcCabe @Jenga76 @Janine2014UK @DWar @MeadusE @emmacoyle83 @johndcotter @WatsEd @MrsSNeedle