Ten Pennies

Time 15 minutes
Age 5 & up
Group Size 4 or more
Tags Add, Arithmetic, Game,   more...
Logic Subtract

Can you nab the last penny?

Math is a natural subject to fit into your everyday work with your students.  The Mixing in Math curriculum, created by TERC (click here to visit the website), contains lots of great math activities that require little or no materials, and are easy to fit into what you are already doing.  This activity, which is adapted from the Mixing in Math curriculum, helps children practice counting forwards and backwards, and practice adding and subtracting.  It is also a great logic game for older children.

Ten Pennies

Suggested Materials

  • Pennies, paperclips or other small markers (10 per team of 2 children)

Make it Matter

Opening Discussion

Ask your students if they ever have to count how many there are of a group of objects. Have they ever had to count a large number of things? Tell them that you are going to teach them a game that requires counting, subtracting and some smarts too.

The Challenge

Play this game and try to take the last penny!


Make it Happen

Doing the Activity

  1. Have kids get together in teams of two for this activity.
  2. Tell them the rules of the game:
    • Each team will get 10 pennies (or paper clips) that they should place on the table or ground between them, spread out.
    • Each child takes turns taking 1, 2 or 3 pennies from the group of pennies.
    • Keep taking turns—the child who takes the last penny wins.
  3. Have teams play 2 or 3 times, then bring the group together to talk about the game.

Make it Click

Let’s Talk About It

After playing a few times, bring everyone together to discuss. Ask them how they decided how many pennies to take each turn. How can you figure out if you can win on your turn? Is it possible to choose a starting number of pennies that guarantees you will win the game? Does anyone have any other tips or strategies to share?


Make it Better

Build On What They Talked About

Send teams back to play again. If they would like, children can play against different players.


  • For younger children, you can start with fewer pennies, and you might start with more for older children.
  • For another variation that is a little harder, use 12 pennies placed in 3 rows, one with 3 pennies, one with 4, and one with 5. Players may remove 1, 2 or 3 pennies each turn but only from one row.
  • For some more excellent math activities designed just for afterschool programs, visit http://mixinginmath.terc.edu/.
  • For a literacy extension, check out these books:
    • How High Can a Dinosaur Count. Fisher, Valerie. (Schwartz & Wade, 2006).
    • Counting Ovejas. Weeks, Sarah. (Atheneum, 2006).
Print Friendly