What's my number

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A silent-teacher game, best from 2nd grade up.

Students try to figure out the number the teacher is thinking of by asking no more than four questions. If they do, they win; otherwise the teacher wins! After explaining the game once, the teacher does not speak at all: not to answer, not to repeat a student's question, not to clarify.


Setup of the activity

Teacher draws this figure on the board (odd numbers in the circle, “higher” numbers above the horizontal line). Students raise hands to ask questions. The teacher nods (not speaks) “yes” or “no” or shrugs if the question can’t be answered that way. The teacher also shows with fingers how many questions have been asked. After four questions, if students can name the teacher’s number, they win that round; otherwise the teacher wins that round. (Even in calling on a child whose hand is raised, teacher cannot call by name, but can only look and, if necessary, gesture to help identify which child.)


Purpose: focus and attention and memory. Because the teacher is silent, and because students win by asking no more than four questions, they quickly learn that they must:
  • speak up when you’re the child who is asking;
  • listen to that question;
  • watch teacher’s nod to get the response;
  • remember what has been asked and what the answers were;
  • interpret what they have learned, to narrow the remaining possibilities; and
  • think up a new question.
Play two or three rounds in a day. Even in 4th grade, many children will still ask questions like “Is it 4? Is it 7?” Second graders may do that for a long time. Don’t push for adult logic (questions like “is it in the circle” or “is it greater than 4” or “is it an even number”). In time, they’ll get that anyway. The first aim is to let them develop their focus and attention.

On their own

Children can certainly play this with each other. Or they may want to choose a number and have you figure out what it is. Then, of course, you can talk, but they cannot! While you step just outside the room, they'll need to agree (silently, of course, so that you don't hear) what number they choose. Then you come back and ask your questions. If children have not yet come to "adult logic" questions like "is it in the circle" or "is it greater than 4," feel free to ask one of that type.

More ideas

See Think Math! website for ideas about making the game more challenging as students begin to win all the time.


Another class

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