Practicing addition/subtraction fluency with the Silly Monkeys

SillyMonkeysThis week, as a graduate student in math elementary education, I had to design a game for 1st graders to “Add and subtract within 20, demonstrating fluency for addition and subtraction within 10 ” (Common Core Standards in Math 1.OA.6.).

I started from a game that my children love to play called “premier verger”, or “First Orchard”, a cooperative game where players have to harvest fruits before the raven reaches the orchard. I thought a cooperative game may be a good option so that  children practice their math skills rather than coping with losing a game :-)

Game – Here come the Silly Monkeys !

Goal : The players, working as a team, must gather all cards before the Silly Monkeys reach them.

Material :

  • A set of cards, numbered from 0 to 20
  • a “Silly Monkeys” card (a “monster” card, or anything that may keep the children motivated!)
  • two 12-side dice and one +/- dice (can be easily, and cheaply, found on, or any alternative that allows children to generate 2 numbers
  • a folder with a template to put 6 cards on the right, and 3 steps on the left that the Silly Monkeys are going to climb on (I find it convenient to make games out of folders as it is easy for the children to put the material away once they are done in a plastic bag attached to the folder, but of course, it is not required). SillyMonkeysGame1
  • Counters, if needed, to solve equations
  • Math journals to record equations

How to play:

  • The players ( 2 or 3) withdraw 6 cards out of the set of cards, and displayed them on the template. The Silly Monkeys card is placed on the first step (see picture below).SillyMonkeysGame3
  • One of the players rolls the dice, and solve the equation, an addition or a subtraction depending on the dice (e.g. 11 + 5 = 16, or 12 – 6 = 6).
    • If the solution is one of the numerals on the cards, the player records the equation on his/her journal and takes the card to the team.
    • If the solution is > 20, the player moves the Silly Monkeys up one step.
    • If the solution is none of the above, the player just records the equation.SillyMonkeysGame4
  • Another player rolls the dice and proceeds as previously.
  • The team players take turn, until they get all 6 cards, or the Silly Monkeys reach the last step… and get the cards left.



  • The game can be used to practice addition only or subtraction only (remove the +/1 die, and use only 2 dice that provide the numbers to add/subtract). I like the idea of practicing both at the same time, though, as it, gives a chance to children to see the relationship between the 2 operations.
  • The game can be adapted to practice adding 3 one-digit numbers with using 3 traditional dice.
  • The game as presented lasts 10-15 min, but can be shorter if  it is focused on only one operation (e.g. addition). Also, the more cards with a number that could be generated by several sums or differences are displayed, the faster the game will go (e.g. 1 can only be reached with the combination of dice 1 / – / 1, while 10 can be reached by 9 /+ /1 , 12 / – / 2, 11 / – / 1, etc).
  • I used different colors to make the set of cards (light green for 0-9, dark green for 10 to 19, yellow for 20), in case children need to use a smaller set of numbers first.
  • I designed a game that could go a little over 20 (12 + 12 = 24). However, children only have to solve equations within 20 and move the Silly Monkeys up when the sum is over 20.
  • Recording all equations give a chance to discuss combinations of addends or minuends that may lead to the same sum or difference. And of course, it also give a chance to check the accuracy of all equations.
  • My daughter (a first grader, herself) got CRAZY with that game, being so into getting all the cards before the Silly Monkeys, that she did not mind adding, subtracting, again and again, for 10-15 min.
  • On a side note, I had to select for my Masters a game that would develop fluency for multiplication or division for upper grade. There are hundreds on Pinterest, but I like this idea (Here). It can easily be implemented at school, but also at home, with all members of the family changing facts regularly !  Actually, all operations can be practiced daily, either at school or at home, with this idea ! And of course, the Silly Monkeys game can be adapted to practice multiplication facts as well !

Have fun and let me know if you have questions !

Would love to hear from you !

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