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Using Playing Cards in the Classroom: 9 Clever Ideas for Teachers

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Photo of Holly (Teach Starter)
Updated | 7 min read

Most of us have a deck of cards laying around somewhere, whether we use them for family game night or just like shuffling them (hey, it’s its own form of a fidget toy!). But have you thought about using play cards in the classroom? They’re inexpensive, and they’re so, so versatile, especially for playing math games!

From teaching fractions to making 10, here are our favorite ways to use playing cards in math class! Many are perfect for adding to your math centers too.

Using Playing Cards in the Classroom


Make 10 pyramid game

Make Ten Card Game using playing cards

Are you working with your students on making 10? This playing cards activity can be an individual activity, such as solitaire. Alternatively, it can be played by multiple players by keeping score after each round.

Aim – To remove as many cards as possible from the pyramid that add up to 10.

How to play

  1. Remove all face cards except the Ace – this is the number 1.
  2. Create a pyramid shape with 6 rows (like the photo above). Each row should slightly overlap the previous row.
  3. The remaining cards become the draw pile.
  4. The object of the game is to remove cards that ‘make 10’. Students can remove one card (being a 10) or remove two cards that add up to 10.
  5. The cards that are removed must be completely uncovered. Therefore, at the start of the game you can only remove cards that are in the bottom row.
  6. The cards that add up to 10 are placed in a discard pile off to the side.
  7. If a player can not make 10 with any of the uncovered cards in the pyramid, they need to draw a card from the draw pile and can use this card to ‘make 10’. If they still can’t make 10 they continue to draw until they can make 10.
  8. If the draw pile runs out, a player can shuffle the discard pile and draw from there.
  9. The game is over when a player can no longer remove cards from the pyramid.
  10. If playing against each other, the player’s score is the total of all the cards left in their pyramid. The person with the smallest number wins that round.

Differentiation – Provide younger students a visual reminder of the numbers that ‘make 10’ such as our rainbow facts poster.

Number sentence activity

Number Sentence Activity with playing cards

Work on number sentences with playing cards for a fun visual and hands-on math game!

Aim – To create number sentences when provided with two numbers.


  • blank whiteboard
  • whiteboard marker
  • whiteboard eraser
  • 1 pack of cards

How to play

  1. Remove the face cards, and place the pack of cards face down.
  2. Students select two cards.
  3. Students then create a correct number sentence using the two cards they have picked.
  4. They write the additional number and symbols on their whiteboard.
  5. To create an element of fun, time the students. See who can create their number sentence the fastest.

Differentiation – Have students use a harder operation or add in the face cards and give them numbers such as: Jack – 11, Queen – 12 and King – 13.

Addition or subtraction battle

addition and subtraction game using playing cards

Have your students practice their fast recall with this playing card game.

Aim – To add or subtract simple sums to win as many cards as possible.


  • 1 pack of cards
  • 1 dice

How to play

  1. Take out the face cards except for the ace – this will be number 1.
  2. Shuffle the cards and deal the cards evenly among the players.
  3. One player throws the dice.
  4. Each player then flips up one card from their pile of cards.
  5. If playing addition battle, each player adds the number of their card with the number rolled on the dice, the highest total wins the cards that have been flipped over.
  6. If playing subtraction battle, the lowest value wins.
  7. The player that is left with cards wins!

Differentiation – Have students multiply the numbers.

Multiplication spiral game

multiplication spiral game using playing cards

The is a fun playing card game to be played by 2-4 players to review multiplication facts.

Aim – to use multiplication facts to get to the finish of the spiral board first.


  • 1 dice
  • 1 pack of cards
  • 4 game pieces

How to play

  1. Take out the face cards except for the ace – this will be number 1.
  2. Shuffle the cards and create a spiral shape.
  3. Stick the word start on the middle card and finish on the last card.
  4. Students place game pieces (like any other board game) at the start.
  5. The students then take turns to roll the dice.
  6. Once they have a number showing on the dice they multiply this number by the number on the card their game piece is on.
  7. If they are correct, they can move the number of spaces on the dice. If they are incorrect, they miss a turn.
  8. The player that gets to the ‘finish’ first is the winner!

Place value activity or game

place value mat with playing cards on it

Place value is a building block of math, and this fun game puts playing cards in prime place for practice!

Aim – To create the largest number possible with 3 or 4 numbers.


How to play

  1. Take out the face cards, shuffle and place the cards face down.
  2. Students then pick three or four cards depending on their skill level.
  3. They must then create the largest number they can using the numbers.
  4. To turn it into a game, provide each student with a place value mat and deal out the cards.
  5. At the same time, each student picks three or four cards from their pile of cards.
  6. The student that can make the largest number wins!

Differentiation – Students can use place value mats with just tens and ones or for a harder activity use thousands, hundreds, and ones.

Make 40 game

make 40 game using playing cards

Use playing cards in your math centers to help your students with those fast addition skills.

Aim – To add numbers until the total gets to 40.

How to play

  1. Take out the face cards and shuffle the cards.
  2. Deal out the cards to the players.
  3. The first player turns over their top card and places it in the middle.
  4. The next player turns over their top card and places it on the first card. This player adds the value of the two cards and tells everyone the total.
  5. The next player does the same, adding the value of their card to the previous total.
  6. Play continues until the total reaches 40 or over. The player who puts down the card that takes the total to 40 or over takes all of the cards and shuffles them in with their remaining cards.
  7. Play continues until set time or when one player has no cards left.
  8. The winner is the person with the most cards.

Differentiation – Have students add to 20 or for a harder activity you may like to get them to add till they get to 100.

20 questions number hat activity

20 questions number hat activity

Kids love this! Create a hat with a space that will fit a card. I just used a strip of yellow card and glued a rectangle shape to the front. You will need a blob of mounting putty so that the card can easily be changed.

Aim – To work out the number by asking 20 or fewer questions.

How to play

  1. Take out the face cards except for the ace – this will be number 1.
  2. The student picks a card without looking and places it on their ‘guessing hat’ using the blue tack.
  3. The student then has 20 questions to work out what number they have.
  4. The questions they ask can only be answered by the rest of the group or class with a ‘yes’ or ‘no’.

Differentiation – Have students pick two cards to create a 2 digit number.

Fraction and addition draw game

fractions math game using playing cards and popsicle sticks

Grab the popsicle sticks and playing cards. It’s time for a fractions game that can help make the concepts more concrete!

Aim – to create and compare fractions, ultimately being lucky enough to pick and create the largest fraction.

How to play

  1. Take out the face cards except for ace – this will be number 1.
  2. Shuffle the cards and place them face down in the middle of the players
  3. Each player draws two cards from the pile and creates their own fraction.
  4. The smallest value must be placed at the top of their fraction.
  5. The fractions are then compared and the player with the largest fraction wins that round and gets to keep their cards.
  6. The other players must return their cards to the bottom of the pile of cards.
  7. Each player keeps adding the value of the cards they have won until one player reaches 50 – they are the winner!

Train carriage card game

train carriage math game with playing cards

A great number game for 2-4 players to consolidate the knowledge of simple sequencing of numbers.

Aim – To sequence numbers from smallest to largest along the train carriages. The winner is the last person to place a card on the train.


How to play

  1. Using our train carriage template and a deck of cards.
  2. Take out the face cards except for the ace – this will be number 1.
  3. Shuffle and place the deck of cards face down next to the train.
  4. The first player picks up a card from the top of the pile and decides where it would best fit on the train carriages. For example, if they picked up a number 9 card, it is one of the largest numbers so the player may choose to put this on the last carriage in the train.
  5. The next player then picks up a card and decides the best carriage for their card, if they pick up a 10, and the last carriage has been taken by another card, they miss a turn and place their card at the bottom of the deck of cards.
  6. Play continues until all of the train carriages are full. The winner is the last person to place a card on the train.

Differentiation – Add more carriages or change the number sequence pattern or include factors of a number order.

We hope these activities and games have inspired you to go out and buy a few decks of cards! Have you got any other ideas or activities to use in the classroom with a deck of cards? Let us know in the comments below…

See more fun math center activities!


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