The Great Plus-Minus War





by Andrea Joyce

Andrea's current job is as a courseware quality assurance analyst for Jostens Learning Corporation.

Instructional Objective The learners will practice simple addition and subtraction to collect as many cards as possible.


Learners/Context The learners are first or second graders who are ready to practice simple calculations in cooperative groups of two to three students.

This card game would be used by students after the class has been taught the concepts of addition and subtraction and individuals have explored them to a minimum proficiency as determined by the teacher.


Rationale This content is usually presented in formal, written formats on work sheets or on a board to a whole class or large group. It is sometimes initially taught with manipulatives or practiced with flash cards. Occasionally, it is used as a mental drill.

Once the students have been exposed to the content, a card game becomes helpful and effective for several reasons. First, it counterbalances serious, formal presentations. It also provides an appropriate amount of peer cooperation. In addition, the game format reinforces mental calculation. Finally, the simplicity of the rules and the opportunity to see the numbers to use allows the students to concentrate exclusively on the calculation.


Rules Number of players: 2-3

1. Determine the first dealer. Any player shuffles the playing cards. Each student selects one card. The student drawing the lowest number is the dealer. To break a tie, they draw again.

2. Deal the playing cards. The dealer shuffles the cards face down. Starting to the left, the dealer gives each student one playing card on each pass until all the cards are distributed. The students keep their playing cards face down.

3. Select two number cards.

* When played as a whole-class, teacher-directed activity, the teacher shuffles a deck of number cards and draws the top two. The first is written to the left of the second on the board, leaving a space between.

* When played as individual cooperative groups, the dealer shuffles the number cards and draws the top two. As shown below, the first is placed face up in the start card frame in the number sentence holder. The second is placed face up in the target card frame in the number sentence holder.

4. Play. Turns proceed clockwise starting with the player to the dealer's left. The first student turns over his top card and mentally adds or subtracts the amount with that on the start card. If the result does not match, the next student plays his top card, combining the amount with the previous running tally. The plays continue until a student matches the target or cards run out. In the first case, the student making the match is the winner. In the second case, no one is the winner.

5. Then, the student to the dealer's left becomes the new dealer. Leaving the number cards as they were, s/he draws the next start and target cards from the deck and places them on top of the others in the holder. S/he collects all of the playing cards, then shuffles and deals them.

6. The players monitor each other for accuracy, with challenges settled by the teacher or aid or through the use of a calculator.

Card Design

sample playing cards sample number cards


Deck Design One deck of 40 playing cards of standard size

1. Groups. There are two groups: Addition (+)

Subtraction (-)

2. Sequences- Each group consists of 2 sequences of 1 through 10.

3. Face up, the cards show a small operation sign in each corner and a large operation sign with a number in the center; face down the cards show the name of the game, the playing card label, and a design.

One deck of 21 number cards of standard size

1. Face up, the cards show a number, negative 10 through positive 10; face down the cards show the name of the game and a design, in a contrasting color to the playing cards.

2. This deck has a number sentence holder with locations appropriately labeled, as shown in rule 3.

Design Process The snap, or war, model is used in this game because its structure and rules are age-appropriate for the target group. Also, the simplicity of the game allows students to concentrate on calculations and following the running tally.

The instructional side of the activity is enhanced by having the students check each other. An additional element of team work can be encouraged by having students work in pairs, sharing the same hand. Later, when the students are familiar with the game, the element of speed can be added by using a timer. The winning individual or team amasses the most cards before time runs out.