Puzzles, games, friendly competition, and collaboration… get your students to dive right in with these hands-on activities. It’s one of our favourite ways to engage and have fun with math!

RELATED: 5 Reasons Puzzles are Great Educational Resources

Math is often a subject that is maligned by older grades (and adults!).  In these early years, you have a great opportunity to help your students develop positive attitudes towards math. Activities like these are a great way for your students to experience math in a really fun way, where there is a low cost to failure and a really low barrier to entry.

When you play these activities in class, you’ll find your students collaborating and competing, practicing their spatial reasoning and communication skills, engaging with problem solving, and reflecting all at once!  Keep an ear out for the conversations your students are having with each other – if students are arguing about their solutions to a problem, you know they’ve got to be engaged!

RELATED: Math Learning Difficulties: How to Keep Your Children on Track

Need more convincing on why math activities are a great addition to your classroom? Check out our blog post about making your classroom more fun!

So without further adieu, here are five of our favorite math activities for your grade 1 class:

1. Pick Up Stacks


To play Pick Up Stacks, you first need to build five unifix towers of different heights. Once this is complete, you can challenge your students to see how they can combine the towers to make a new tower of a specific height.  For example, how can they make a tower that is 7 cubes tall by using combinations of 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5?

Doing addition with unifix cubes has a fantastic added bonus – students can begin to think of numbers as a length, and can think of addition as combining two lengths together. This is called the Bar Model for addition, and is one of the math strategies that Singapore Math is famous for.

This activity is really great when working with small groups; each student may come up with an entirely different answer than the other!  Be sure to probe your students for what strategies they used to determine their answer.

You may find that some students combined 3 and 4 to make 7, and others combined 4 and 3.  This is a great chance to talk about the commutative property of addition with your students, too.

 RELATED: 5 Kindergarten Math Activities You Need to Try in Your Classroom

As an extension of this problem, you could ask your students “find all of the possible combinations of towers you could use to make 7.”  This will get your group of students working together, and if you’re lucky, having a great conversation about problem solving and math!

2. Who Has One More?

The goal of Who Has One More is for each student to get rid of all of the cards in their hands.  They do this by trying to answer the problems posed by you, the teacher!  The classic question you can ask, of course, is “who has one more than _____ (number)?

So, for example, if you ask “who has one more than 6?” all of the students with a 7 raise their hands!

I like to extend this game even further, asking who has two more, who has one less, or who has two less! If your class is looking for an even greater challenge, well, there is plenty of opportunity for that!

To get your students really thinking, you could have them working to compose sums of 10.  You could call out one number, say a 4, and they need to determine what other value would make a sum to 10.

Be sure to cycle through all of the numbers while you’re playing so no students get left out!

3. Measure It

The premise of Measure It is simple – students choose their own non-standard unit, and then measure various objects in the room with it. Students may choose to use their shoes, pencils, flashcards, toy cars, anything they can get their hands on!

Be sure to watch your students as they try to measure various objects. This is a great opportunity to experience first-hand a number of really useful measuring strategies: line up the non-standard units with no gaps between them, measuring an object from end-to-end. This also estimates fractions of non-standard units. If a student measured the chair as being three and a half pencils tall, how did they get the half?  They probably didn’t break a pencil in half, so how did they know…

Secondly, this is a really great opportunity to engage your class in a discussion about how a desk can be both 3 pieces of paper wide, and 24 paper clips wide!  Understanding that there is a relationship between the size of a non-standard unit and the number of units it takes to measure an object is a great learning objective.

4. Graphing Shoes

Beware: you’re going to have to get your students to take off their shoes for this activity! You may want to consider bringing a set of clothespins to class when you play this activity ;).

Graphing Shoes is a great activity that you can do with your class to spark a discussion about sorting and charts. In this activity, each student will take off a shoe and bring it to the front. Then, as a class, you will work out several sorting categories, and try to categorize all of the shoes by making a concrete graph.

Your categories might be about the colours of the shoes, or the types of laces, or even the materials they’re made out of.

Once you’ve made a graph, it’s time to discuss it!  What category had the most, or least of any column?  How many more does one column have than another?

A great extension to this activity is to get students to take off their other shoe, and then make a second chart using different sorting rules. Your students may be surprised that the exact same set of data can be displayed in two completely different ways! A shoe that was in the largest column on one chart may be in the smallest column on the second chart!

5. Zorbit Barrier Game

In Zorbit Barrier Game your class will have to hone their communication skills as they work together in pairs. In this activity one student will populate their game board with different geometric shapes and keep it hidden from view from their partner.  Next, they will have to try to describe to their partner how to recreate the same board as them.

As your students play you’ll hear them describing their boards to each other:

“Okay, next, the yellow triangle is beside the red hexagon”

This is a great way for students to practice their spatial reasoning, relative positions, and shape names while working towards a common goal.

RELATED: Are You Doing Enough to Support Your Child’s Math Development?

A great extension to this activity, and a challenge to your students, is to not allow them to call the shapes by their names! Instead, say that they can only refer to them by their attributes.  A triangle becomes a ‘shape with 3 corners,’ or a ‘3 sided shape.’


Written By: Conrad Nickels

Written By: Conrad Nickels

Director of Education

Director of Education and Lead Designer at Zorbit’s Math Adventure, using game-based learning and ed-tech to make math your greatest ally.