Place Value Maths Game. Cows and Bulls

Jun 12, 2015

This simple little place value number game is a favourite of Maddie's (aged 6) at school and at home. Use it to practice recognising numbers, writing numbers and place value, along with problem solving. You can play with two or more people and it is great as a whole class game on the whiteboard (with teacher vs students) or just in pairs (parent and child/two children).

You can use this activity for practicing two digit numbers (with tens and ones), three digit numbers (hundreds, tens and ones), four digit numbers (thousands, hundreds, tens and ones) and so on.

For the first example we use a three digit number as that is the level we're currently working on.

How to play:

  • One player secretly chooses a number and writes it on a piece of paper, showing no-one. They then draw lines indicating the amount of digits in their secret number for the other player/s to try and guess.

  • Children then try to guess the number. Each guess is written down on the lines and either a C, B or X is written underneath each digit. "C" (cows) means that that digit is correct but it is in the wrong place. "B" (bulls/bullseye) means the digit is correct and it's in the right place. "X" means the digit is incorrect and not used within the number at all.

  • Children continue to make guesses, using the knowledge they learn of the digits and their position (and therefore value) in the number until they get a Bullseye! (All the digits are in the correct position and the secret number has been revealed!)


Here is an example game played with 3 digits. For our example, I have chosen the secret number, "217"

The 3 lines above represent the 3 digits in the number, 217.

Her first guess was 105 (which I asked her to say as a whole number, One hundred and five). Write the guess down on the lines.

Underneath each digit, write a B, C or X according to the rules above. She got a CXX as the secret number does contain a "1" but not in that place, and there is not a "0" or "5" in the secret number.

They then guess again. (Knowing this time that there has to be a 1 in either the tens or ones column). The next guess was, "Three hundred and nineteen" 

Hooray. The 1 gets a B as it's in the right place. There are no 3's or 9's in the secret number though.

When writing the next line for the next guess, move the known number down.

Next guess.

2 Bulls! So close to a bullseye!

Remember to look at the past numbers you've already guessed and which numbers you're yet to try. The next guess was a lucky one. 217, bullseye!

Here is another example with a 2 digit number. The secret number in this game was "41"

Bullseye! 41!

Don't forget to swap over turns so that each player has a go at writing the numbers as well as getting to lead the game. There is lots of learning on both sides!

Games are fun and when children are having fun, they are more open to learning. As you can see by the pics above, Maddie and I always have a good time playing this game. She was actually sick this day and having a day off school and it was the first time she was happy and excited in the day. She especially loves it when I'm struggling to get the number. She did attempt to get us to play with a 1 digit number (you could only use X and B for that) but discovered it wasn't quite so fun or interesting.

Here are some more ideas for working on two or three (or more) digit numbers:

Happy playing,
Debs :)

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