I'm a huge fan of using games in the classroom! Kids naturally love to play and I truly believe that learning through play is the best way to grow those little minds. Board games should be a part of every classroom from preschool through high school. Not only are they great for rainy day inside recess, board games can be a great supplement to your academic curriculum.
Here are some of the best boards games for the elementary classroom that help build reading, math, science, and social studies skills (includes affiliate links).
READING BOARD GAME IDEAS
Students who struggle in reading often don’t like to read, so getting them to pick up a book and practice is difficult. But board games don’t feel like work to these kids. Here are some games my students enjoy that help build decoding, spelling, vocabulary, and word recognition skills:
Wordplay for Kids is a great game for kids that adults can also enjoy. Players spin the spinner to get two letters. Then they must think of words containing those letters that also fit it a certain category like foods or animals or something found in the house. This game is easy to learn and play. I would recommend it for 2nd grade and up.
If your students like Bingo, they will love Zingo Word Builder! This game is for younger students, kindergarten and first grade mostly. Players must use letter tiles to build real words on their word mat. The first player to complete all six words on their board is the winner. I have also used this game with 2nd grade special education students who are below grade level in reading.
Bananagrams is sort of similar to Scrabble but instead of building off of each other’s words, players build off of their own. It’s great for kids 8 and up. There is actually a junior version for younger kids (4-8). In this version, some of the letters (like digraphs, blends, and vowel teams) are connected so students are building words by phonemes instead of letter-by-letter. Great for phonemic awareness and phonics skills.
MATH BOARD GAME IDEAS
I have a whole separate blog post on why you should use games to teach math because it's that important. Math is one of those things that seems meaningless to many kids until they get out in the real world. Games help them make the connection even sooner.
CrossMath by MindWare is an excellent game for building mental math skills. It's best for 3rd grade and up because it involves all four operations. I think of it as a cross between Scrabble and Sudoku. Players must place their number tiles on the grid to build equations. My fourth graders really like this one and it helps them memorize their math facts. I've used this game with 3rd graders too, but it tends to be a little slow paced because they don't know their math facts as fluently and have to spend time figuring them out.
For younger students, I highly recommend Clumsy Thief in the Candy Shop. Not only do kids think it's funny, they get tons of practice adding and subtracting (up to 20). This was one my first graders LOVED! They could play independently which was a bonus for me. Now this is really a card game rather than a board game, but I still think it's great. If you teach kindergarten or have students needing remediation, there's a Clumsy Thief Jr. game that only goes up to10.
Also for the lower grades, Race to Planet X is fantastic for building number sense and fluency in addition and subtraction. In this game, players try to collect sets of three cards that create a number bond or fact family and be the first to reach Planet X. I think the rules of the game are a little hard for kindergarten, but it's a great game for first through third grades (because most third graders still need to memorize those basic facts).
A large majority of math-based board games focus on counting or addition and subtraction. But Blobby's Pizza Math Game is a fractions and decimals game making it perfect for 4th and 5th graders. I'm currently an intervention teacher, so I work with struggling students who generally don't like math. But wow, do they love this game! I mean the main character's name is Blobby! I like the fact that each card shows a fraction and its equivalent reduced fraction plus the decimal notation.
Science Board Game Ideas
I haven’t found a whole lot of quality games in this category. It’s definitely a neglected niche in the board game industry. Here are a few that my students actually enjoy that promote scientific thinking.
For a well-rounded mix of science trivia questions, give MindWare Science Trivia Challenge a try. The game features three types of questions -
“Know It” cards are multiple choice and true/false questions.
“Name It” cards require students to identify the object in the picture.
“Rank It” cards have a list of scientific items that must be put in order based on specific criteria like size, distance, or speed.
This is a really simple game to learn and play for even younger students. However, it does require the ability to read the cards. I sometimes pull out the cards myself as a time-filler. I read a question aloud and the kids try to guess the answer. It’s a good end-of-the-day transition activity while we’re waiting for the bell to ring.
Another one that is super simple but very fun is Guess in 10 Animal Planet. There are other versions of the game but this one focuses on animal facts. It's packed full of information about the animal world including animal classification and various adaptations. This is really a card game, but I'm including it because science-based games are so hard to find. Each card has clues and players must try to guess the animal in as few clues as possible. You may notice on Amazon that some reviews mention factual mistakes in this game. I believe these have all been corrected. I bought the most recent version and none of those mistakes are in the deck I got.
Not really a game, but a FANTASTIC science activity that students will be quietly engaged in for a long time is Snap Circuits Jr. I bought this for my son when he was about 8 and ended up getting one for my classroom too because we loved it so much! Students explore how electricity works by connecting the right pieces in the right order to build a complete circuit. There’s a book of projects to follow and the pieces easily snap into place on the board (hence the name Snap Circuits). They can make a working fan, turn on a light bulb on, make a bell ring, and more. It’s really very exciting when your completed circuit works! If your students really take to this one, there are larger, more difficult sets.
History Board Game Ideas
It’s super hard to find games that involve history topics. A lot of games in this category deal with geography, so I should really call them social studies games.
One game that upper elementary and even middle schoolers enjoy is Professor Noggin's History of the United States. This is a card game that has various question types in two difficulty levels. The format is similar to War in that players get to keep the cards they win (by getting the question correct) and the player with the most cards at the end is the winner. This is another game that also makes a good time-filler activity. You can pull out a few cards to ask the class. If they get it right, give them a point. Wrong and the teacher gets a point! There is also a science version of this game.
Way Back When in History is great for learning about the early years of United States history. The board is divided into four sections or time periods: Explorers, the American Revolution, the Constitution years, and the Civil War. Players must answer questions about one time period before moving on to the next and working their way through history. This game is best for upper elementary aged students.
Learning about elections and our political system can be kind of boring, to be honest. But not with Election Night! This board game is actually an award winner. Players are in a race to win the White House and will learn all about how the electoral college works. The game also involves addition, multiplication, and U.S. geography, so it's a cross-curricular activity. This is an excellent activity for almost any grade level but especially great for 4th to 6th grades.
The game Icons is a great way for students to learn about the important contributions women have made throughout history. It is similar to other role-playing card games in which players try to build the strongest team. Students collect an icon (famous female) card for each category: leadership, human rights, science & innovation, the arts, and adventure. There are also action cards that can be used to strengthen your team.
JUST FOR FUN
Not all board games in the elementary classroom need to be academic. Just playing for fun still promotes critical thinking and teaches students how to take turns, cooperate, play fairly, and lose gracefully. These are super important social-emotional learning skills that will serve them throughout life.
Here are some of my favorite “just for fun” board games for elementary students. These are the ones I pull out during inside recess, class parties, or Fun Friday:
Apples to Apples Jr
PRINTABLE BOARD GAMES
We teachers spend so much money on our students already and board games can be really expensive - especially if you’re trying to build up a classroom supply of them! So if your budget is tight, you can certainly find lots of printable board games online for free or at very minimal cost. To make it easy, I’ve added a few to my online shop and a couple to my free resource library.
Do you have other boards games that you love to use in your classroom? Share them in the comments below!