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Math Taboo

I’ve written before about my plans to play Taboo as a warm-up with my students on Tuesdays.  We’ve had two Tuesdays so far, and it’s gone really well.  I wouldn’t say it’s my students’ favorite day of the week.  That’s probably Witzzle or the Train Game.  But, I like that it gets them thinking about how they use their words.

math taboo

 It’s also a really good way to sneak some math vocab into what they think of as just a cool beginning of class activity.

weekly schedule bellwork posters in high school math classroom.

Here’s the way I’ve been doing it:

Taboo is actually a board game, but you don’t actually need a copy to use this as an activity in class.

I do keep a copy of the board game in my room for kids to play on those days where 80% of the class is gone for some sort of activity.

On Tuesdays, I display Taboo on the board and ask for volunteers.

Math Taboo Game.

Each class plays through 4 taboo cards.  2 cards are random words from the English language. The other 2 cards are math vocabulary words.  I mix the order up, so I ask students to volunteer BEFORE they know if it’s going to be a math word or a random word.

At some point, I may go to randomly selecting students.  I haven’t decided.  It seems like the same few kids want to volunteer each time.  It’s still early in the year, and I know a lot of my freshman students might still feel uncomfortable playing a game like this in front of their peers.  I don’t want to push a student to participate who doesn’t want to.  But, I also want to give the kinda shy kid a chance who is too scared to volunteer but still wants to play.  Maybe I should choose randomly but allow students to pass if they wish???

I have the first volunteer turn around to face away from the SMART Board while I project the first card.  The rest of the class gives clues while trying to avoid the words written at the bottom of the card.  This Tuesday’s first card was DRAGONFLY.  I downloaded a PDF file with a bunch of free taboo style cards here.  They were created for ELL students, but I’ve found they work perfectly for my purposes.  I’ve just been using the snipping tool to cut out the cards I want to use each day.

Taboo card on smartboard screen.

Now that we’ve played twice, my students are getting better at not yelling out clues that contain the words at the bottom.  The first time we played it was rough.  Part of the problem is that they way I’ve structured our Taboo opener is that there isn’t really a punishment for saying the word at the bottom.

The main point of this post is sharing some resources I’ve found for math taboo cards with you all.  I’m trying not to recreate the wheel this year in ALL aspects of my teaching (only some).

Math Taboo Card Resources

James Cleveland offers a set of 163 pre-made math taboo cards ready to print as a PDF!  I’ve been using this set to pull out cards for my classes.

Tina Cardone has posted some geometry taboo cards!

Paul Collins offers a set of 50 taboo cards.

This set is from a UK website, so some of the vocab words may look unfamiliar to US readers.  Before I started dating an Australian maths teacher, I had no idea just how many math terms differed based on country.

Of course, Fawn steps this up a notch and has her kids create their own taboo cards to use.


Monday 7th of September 2015

This is such a great idea. On Fridays I like to have Funday Friday if my students do all their homework throughout the week and have a great week with participating. I like to do different review games and activities such as I Have, Who Has, Bingo, Math 24, etc. This would be a great addition to my Funday Friday games! :)

Thank you! Kimberly Stuck In The Middle

Sarah Carter (@mathequalslove)

Tuesday 8th of September 2015

Sounds awesome! I bet your students love it!

Tina Cardone

Saturday 5th of September 2015

Why not have a few kids guessing at any given time? If you wanted to keep it a whole class activity you could pull three random students to guess together. When I played they were in groups of six - three students could be facing the board and giving clues while the other three could be facing away from the board and guessing. Then trade for the next card!

Sarah Carter (@mathequalslove)

Monday 7th of September 2015

You are brilliant! Why did I not think of this??? This is proof of why I love the #MTBoS!


Thursday 3rd of September 2015

THANK YOU so much for posting this idea! I'm a science teacher & cover 1 block of math each day. I tried this with my 7th grade math students for the first time this year. There was some push-back in the beginning, but now that they understand how it works, the students are excited about the daily activity. I do: Mon- Good Things Tues- Taboo (using the free resources you posted) Wed- Witzzle Thur- Teaser (tangrams or other manipulative puzzle) Fri- Figure it Out (Mensa or other word problem puzzle)

Your blog is a life-saver!

Sarah Carter (@mathequalslove)

Thursday 3rd of September 2015

Glad to hear your students are enjoying the warm-ups! Thanks for reading my blog!

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