Games that can help pupils with Dyscalculia

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Dyscalculia refers to difficulty in learning or comprehending arithmetic, such as difficulty in understanding numbers, learning how to manipulate numbers, performing mathematical calculations and learning facts in mathematics. How do you identify a dyscalculic pupil? This article seeks to discuss a number of games that can help pupils with dyscalculia.

Up to 7% of elementary school students have dyscalculia. Research suggests it’s as common as dyslexia — a reading disorder — but not as well understood. In fact, kids and parents sometimes call it “math dyslexia,” but this can be confusing because dyscalculia is a completely different condition. Your school or doctor may call it a “mathematics learning disability” or a “math disorder.”


Kids with dyscalculia may lose track when counting. They may count on their fingers long after kids the same age have stopped doing it. They may find it hard to know at a glance how many things are in a group — a skill called “subitizing” that helps you see a 5 and a 3 after you roll the dice, without really counting.

Even their basic understanding of numbers, or “number sense,” may not work well. This can make it hard to quickly tell, for example, if the number 8 is a bigger number than 6. A child with dyscalculia also may have a lot of anxiety about numbers. For example, they may panic at the thought of math homework.

School-aged kids with dyscalculia may find it hard to:

  • Estimate things, like how long something takes or the ceiling height
  • Understand math word problems
  • Learn basic math, like addition, subtraction, and multiplication
  • Link a number (1) to its corresponding word (one)
  • Understand fractions
  • Understand graphs and charts (visual-spatial concepts)
  • Count money or make change
  • Remember phone numbers or ZIP codes
  • Tell time or read clocks

Any number-based or math-based activity — even outside school — can frustrate kids with dyscalculia. For example, a child with this learning disability may get upset with games that require constant counting or score keeping.

Games to help dyscalculic pupils

1 | Clear the Deck


To develop instant recall of number bonds to ten. This game is useful at the beginning of a lesson as a warm-up activity, or at the end for revision or consolidation.

You will need

Four sets of digit cards from 1 to 9.

How to play
  • Shuffle the cards and place them face up on the table in three rows of four.
  • Players take it in turns to pick up pairs of cards that add up to 10.
  • The gaps that are left are then filled with cards from the remaining pack.
  • The idea is to take it in turns and spot the pairs that make 10 as quickly as possible.

2 | Estimation Game


Dyscalculic learners find it hard to appreciate and compare magnitude in number and this is a motivating and multi-sensory way to help them do it. It requires visualisation, too; another key skill for them to develop.

You will need

10 dried beans/buttons/ glass nuggets; a box to use as a shaker.

How to play
  • Without letting the pupil see, place a small number of the beans/buttons/glass nuggets in an opaque box with a lid.
  • Shake the box and ask the pupil to guess how many items are in it.
  • Then empty the contents onto the table and count the items to see how close the guess was.
  • Encourage the child to place the items in a line.
  • Repeat with smaller and larger numbers of items.

3 | Ten-frame Game


To develop conservation of number through reorganising number formation on a ten-frame. The game builds a strong visual image of numbers and helps visualise bonds to ten by showing both spaces and filled squares in each arrangement of dots.

You will need

Ten ten-frames with each dot arrangement from 1-10; a blank ten-frame; counters to place on the ten-frame.

How to play
  • Pick a ten-frame card at random and show it to the pupil for five seconds.
  • Then remove it and ask them to reproduce the image on their blank ten-frame using the counters.
  • Can they tell you how many counters there are? Can they tell you how many spaces there are? Can they make a number story linking the two?

4 | The Nasty Game


To develop an understanding of place value. To make the largest four-digit number from rolling a 0-9 dice four times.

You will need

A thousands/hundreds/tens/units grid for each player, and a 0-9 die.

How to play
  • This game is for two players. They take it in turns to roll the die and write the number in their opponent’s grid until each player has generated a four-digit number.
  • The ‘nasty’ element is that because you are completing your opponent’s grid and not your own, the focus is on getting your opponent to lose.
  • So, if you throw a 1 you would place it in your opponent’s thousands column, whereas a 9 would go in their units column.

5 | Trains


To develop estimation and mental arithmetic skills. This makes a good starter activity, requiring visualisation, prediction, estimation and mental calculation.

You will need

One Cuisenaire rod of each length between 1 and 10.

How to play
  • This is a game for two players. Decide who goes first and choose a ‘distance’ between 11 and 55.
  • Let’s use 25 as an example. The aim is to make a ‘train’ that is exactly 25 long.
  • Each player in turn puts down a Cuisenaire rod, laying them end to end to create a single train.
  • The person who puts down the last rod to make 25 exactly, wins.
  • If a player puts down a rod that makes the train longer than 25, the opponent wins.


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Michael Osei-Owusu

Michael Osei-Owusu

Michael Osei-Owusu is a Ghanaian EduTech blogger and a teacher.

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