Number Club: A Game of Place Value

by Linda Paulson

Linda is a former elementary school teacher and is currently employed by The Lightspan Partnership, Inc. as a content designer.

Instructional Objective The learners will use the positional property of our numeration system in order to build the largest (or smallest number as a variation) three-digit number.

Learners/Context The learners are primarily second or early-third grade students who are learning the concept of place value and part-whole relationships.

This game is designed to be played after a classroom teacher has provided a conceptual introduction to place value using manipulatives. It is important that students have some concrete understanding of the base ten convention of our numeration system before playing this game. After students have practiced representing numbers using manipulatives and place value mats, only then are they ready to move to a symbolic representation of numbers using this game.

Rationale Understanding that a digit has both a face and place value, that is determined by its position within the whole numeral, is a fairly simple relationship. Utilizing a "war"-type card game structure is appropriate for this content since students need only focus on the numeral face value and its place value within a 3-digit numeral.

The card-game format provides increased motivation to strategize and learn in order to win. In addition, the simplicity of the rules make the game appropriate for almost any student at this grade level. The repetitive nature of the game also offers students multiple opportunities to 'catch on'. Although the game is competitive, I can envision students helping each other after the hand (e.g. "You should have put the two in the one's place...") in order to make for a more competitive and challenging overall game.

Number of Players: 2-4 players

Object of the Game: Build the largest 3-digit number and win all the cards (A variation could be to build the smallest 3-digit number).

Set Up: From a regular deck of playing cards, remove all the Jokers,Tens, Aces, Jacks, and Kings. Leave the Queens in the deck. They will count as zeros (0). You should now have 36 cards.

Players: Sit next to each other (not across like in regular war) and place the Number Club Mat (see card design) in front of you. Pick a card from the deck. The player with the highest card deals.

Start: Dealer: Shuffle the cards and deal them all out, one at a time and face down. Each player should have the same number of cards. If they don't, check to make sure all the Jokers, Tens, Aces, Jacks, and Kings have been removed from the deck. Players: Stack your cards in a pile face down. Do not look at them.


  1. Player on the dealer's left: You go first. Flip over the top card on your deck and place it in either the Hundreds, Tens, or Ones place on the Number Club Mat. Remember, you are trying to build the largest number.

  2. Play goes around to the left with each player placing a card in their Hundreds, Tens, or Ones place on the Number Club Mat.

  3. After all players have made a 3-digit number, the player with the largest number wins the round. Winner: In order to collect all the cards on the mat, you must correctly read the value of your number and all other losing numbers in this manner: If your winning number was 523 and the losing numbers were 321 and 212, you would say: "Five hundred forty three is larger than three hundred twenty one and two hundred twelve.

  4. Players: Check to make sure the winner says the numbers correctly. If s/he makes a mistake, the player with the second largest number wins the round and collects all the cards on the mat. Place the winning cards face down at the bottom of your deck.

  5. Person on the winner's left: You start the next round by placing a card on the Number Club Mat. Play continues to the left so the winner goes last. This will give her/him an advantage.

  6. Club War: At the end of a round (all players have made a 3-digit number), any player may shout "Clubs" if all the cards in a row or column are clubs. If there is a Club War, all players must turn their cards over on the Number Club Mat and play the round again. If a pattern of clubs occurs again, repeat the Club War. The winner of the war round will win all the cards facing up and down.

  7. Winning: The player who collects all the cards is the winner. In a 3 or 4 player game, players who run out of cards must sit out. Play continues with the winning players until there is an ultimate winner.

Number Club Mat Design

Since this game deals with numbers, a standard deck of playing cards works well. Just remember to remove the Tens, Jacks, Aces, Kings, and Jokers. Queens are used to represent the number zero (0).

The Number Club Mat is included here to assist in understanding the game play. Although students could play the game without it, I recommended using it with beginner players so they understand both the game play and the place value labels (hundreds, tens, ones).

Deck Design This standard playing card deck has a total of 36 cards after you remove the Tens, Jacks, Aces, Kings, and Jokers. The Queens are used to represent the number zero.

Design Process I knew I wanted to create a game that developed number sense and place value. As a former classroom teacher, it was important that I create a game that was easy to use, readily available and economical. Creating a game that used a standard deck of playing cards facilitated all of these requirements.

I started out trying to develop a card game that was similar to some of the base-ten manipulative trading games where students traded in ten ones for a ten. This became very complicated and I soon realized that the symbolic nature of cards did not lend itself to this concrete process. As a result, I simplified my objective to meet the format of a "war"-type card game.

Building the largest (or smallest as a variation) 3-digit number fit nicely into the "war" format. The most difficult part of the game design, however, was deciding how to create a "war" situation since the chance of several 3-digit numbers matching exactly was rare. I tried various approaches including matching hundreds, tens or ones place values but felt these compromised the content game goal. For instance, I didn't want to suggest that numbers with the same tens value were equivalent. I finally decided to make "war" a pattern situation which had nothing to do with the numerical value. By handling it this way, "war" is considered a fun, chance event that does not compromise the place value content.

Last updated by Linda Paulson on September 28, 1995.

Return to the Card Game Table of Contents.

Educational Technology 670, Fall 1995.