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Using Cribbage to Teach Number Sense

Crib is one of my favourite games and, sadly, it seems like many children do not know how to play it!  Here in FSJ we have many inside days during the winter.  I have often stayed in my classroom with children teaching them how to play cribbage.  It's really got a few rules and minimal cleanup - perfect for a short play time.  (Kids can also save their game and continue at lunch, which I know is a a complaint about many board games in my room.)

The game of cribbage is all about adding numbers from 1 - 10 and combining numbers to make 15.  Being able to see the relationship between numbers is crucial for kids in developing number sense.  Looking for 15s is a great way to strengthen the fact that numbers are made up of smaller numbers (or, the Whole-Part-Part relationship.) John Van de Walle says this about Whole-Part-Part relationships: “To conceptualize a number as being made up of two or more parts is the most important relationship that can be developed about numbers” (Van de Walle & Folk, Elementary and Middle School Mathematics, Can. Ed., 2005, p.98).

Practicing this skill can change the way that student's look at numbers.  When they are given an addition or subtraction problem with larger numbers, they will be more likely to look for strategies to problem solve if they've spent time pulling apart smaller numbers.  Not to mention that the ability to quickly add basic numbers will help greatly as they progress through larger problems.

I believe you can teach cribbage to children as young as grade two.  For them, you might want to simplify the rules or introduce them bit by bit:
1st game: look for 15's only
2nd game: look for 15's & pairs
3rd game: 15's, pairs, runs
4th game: 15's, pair, runs, nobs
5th game: demo entire game and let them play independently!

Crib boards are often sold at the thrift store for a dollar or two.  You can also buy little, travel size ones at the Dollar Store.  I'm sure if you made a request parents would donate a few boards as well.

Have you used cribbage in your classroom?  Tell me how it works for you!

If you want more ideas for strengthening basic math basics, check out my Pinterest board.
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  1. I love cribbage. However, outside of my family, I don't know anyone who plays it. You're right, it would be great to teach for practicing number sense. Too bad I don't teach math this year...

    4th Works

  2. Can you share your lesson plans to teach 4th graders how to play cribbage?

  3. I've taught my class for two years now and they love it. If you had a simplified outline of the rules and scoring though, that would be a great addition!

  4. I started using Cribbage in my 4th grade classroom and LOVE the benefits it has had. Number sense, relationship building (math and socially), using it for downtime or inside time, and sending it home for kids to teach their families.