The concept of a ‘prime’ number seems like an elite member of the number system. The word prime suggests that there is something special and unique about these numbers, something different from the non-prime or so-called regular numbers.
In a way, that actually is the case with prime numbers. They might just be considered and called the elite few among the numbers because they do not get factorized by anything other than 1 and themselves.
Learning about prime numbers can sometimes be as hard as it is important. But math activities and games can always help make the class much more approachable and much less daunting. This blog lists various activities that an individual can do to master the art of identifying the elites or the prime numbers.
Priming prime numbers with activities
The concept of prime and composite numbers, the difference between them, and various methods to identify them can easily be taught by adopting activities in complement with the regular old lectures and drill and practice method of teaching and training.
1. Lead the Butterfly home
For this activity, the educator will have to prepare a worksheet with boxes filled with either prime or composite numbers. The task of the students will be to color the prime numbers in such a way that they highlight the path the butterfly needs to fly to safely reach home.
The students can be given two colors, one for composite numbers and one for prime numbers. Additionally, they can also use a rough sheet to factorize and find out which ones are prime numbers and which are composite. This activity will introduce a fun element to learning about the concept of prime numbers. Color coding will aid students’ memory and recall whenever they have to use the concept next.
2. Tile sorting
For this activity, the educator will have to get a bag full of number tiles from 1 to 100. The class can be divided into teams of 4 to 5 students each. Each team can send one student at a time, who will randomly pick a tile and then, after seeing the number, will discuss with their team in under 30 seconds if it should go in the prime numbers pile, composite numbers pile, or neither of them.
The team to correctly places the largest number of tiles will win the game. This game will introduce an element of competition, where the team will have to make a quick decision in under 30 seconds. This will require the students to remember all the prime numbers between 1 to 100 and will also help refresh and strengthen their memories.
3. Calculate it
For this activity, the educator needs to arrange two calculators and a set of sheets for rough work. The class will be divided into two teams with an equal number of students in each. One team will give another team 3 numbers and a set of operations to perform between them. It could be multiplication, division, addition, or subtraction.
The task of the other team would be to find the resulting number and, in under 1-minute, place it in the prime or composite pile. The team can use the division or factorization method. The team with the highest number of correctly placed numbers will be declared the winner. This activity will teach the students how to find out if a number is prime or not using various methods like the factorization or division method.
4. Odd one out
For this activity, the educator will have to prepare a set of slides with 4 numbers on each slide. The students will be divided into teams of 4 to 5 students each. Each team will get a chance to look at a slide and mention which one is the odd one out of the four numbers displayed on the screen.
There could be that there is one prime number among the three composite numbers, one composite number among the three prime numbers, or nothing is odd, and all of them are either prime or composite. The team has to answer in under 30 seconds, or the question gets passed to the next team. The team that correctly points out the highest number of oddities will win the game.
This game will again teach the students to quickly calculate and figure out which number is prime and which is not. It will also help them remember these facts whenever they might need them in the future.
5. Light the Christmas Tree
For this activity, the educator will have to prepare a worksheet with various composite numbers written on top of the Christmas tree. The task of the students will be to factorize the composite numbers and write the factors in the Christmas tree ornaments.
They will then have to color the prime factors with a golden color and composite factors with silver colors. This activity will help students learn the important concept of factorization in finding and differentiating between prime and composite numbers.
6. Spin for it
For this activity, the educator will have to prepare a spinner with either prime or composite landing options. The educator will also have to bring a chart with numbers 1 to 100 written on it. The students will be divided into two teams with an equal number of students in each. Each team will, one by one, send one student from their team who will spin the spinner and see what it lands on.
If it lands on composite, then the student will have to circle the highest composite number on the chart, and that’s how many points the student will land for their team. The same drill continues if the spinner lands on prime. The student circles the highest prime number and gets the same number of points. Once all the numbers are circled, the points will be totaled and the team with the highest points will win.
This game will introduce an element of competition in the identification of the highest composite or prime number. Since students will get no points if they select the wrong number, they will have to be extra careful. This will help them learn and remember the prime numbers better.
7. Prime dice
For this activity, the educator will have to bring an 8-faced dice with numbers 2 to 9 written on it. The educator will also have to bring several Ludo or Snakes and Ladders board game sets. The students will be divided into groups of 4 and given a board game along with the 8-faced dice.
The catch is that they can only move if their dice land on a prime number. So students can roll, and if they get a composite number, their turn automatically gets passed over to the next student. This Ludo and Snakes and Ladders with a twist will help students completely solidify the prime numbers between 1 to 10 in their minds. Plus, it will also be a nice change of pace from the regular lecture mode of teaching.
8. Prime Uno
For this game, the educator will have to bring several decks of Uno cards. The rules of the game will be the same. Each player will be given seven cards in the beginning. Their objective will be to reduce their own cards and increase the cards of their opponents.
The catch here is that the player can only declare Uno if the total of their cards is a prime number. Even then, if they declare Uno and someone else has a total that is a smaller prime number, then that person will be declared the winner. This twist on everyone’s beloved game of Uno will add an interesting component of combining learning and math with games and fun.
9. Run, Run, Run!
For this activity, the educator will have to put different numbers on various desks and walls of the classroom. Once the students enter, the educators will give them the instructions that when the educator says a number or a characteristic of the number that is prime or composite, the students have to run and touch that number.
Any student who runs in the wrong direction or is not touching the number after 10 seconds of the instruction will be considered out. The educator can say things like “go towards the smallest prime number,” “touch the highest composite number in the class,” “go towards the prime number that comes after 13”, etc. This game will help students physically connect with the topic and introduce components of motor activity and multisensory learning in the classroom. Both of these approaches are highly beneficial and result in long-term educational benefits.
10. Catch the ball
For this game, the educator will have to bring a ball to the classroom. The students will be asked to sit in a circle. A student can then randomly be passed the ball and be asked to mention either a prime or a composite number by the educator. The game will heat up when the students start passing each other the ball and remember the rule that no number should be mentioned twice, or they will be considered out.
The student who passed the ball will also get to decide what number the catcher needs to state, prime, or composite. The educator can keep taking notes of all the numbers that have been covered to avoid any overlap. This game will also introduce the physical and motor activity in a mathematical classroom, getting students to actively engage with the topic in a fun and playful manner.
When first introduced, the concept of prime numbers can seem overwhelming. Even more so for students with learning concerns like dyscalculia. In such cases, a regular classroom lecture mode of teaching might not be sufficient.
It could be a great advantage to both the learners and the educators to pair fun and interactive activities with other methods of teaching and learning math. This thorough and rigorous practice of the subject can enhance understanding of prime numbers as well as their retention.
An engineer, Maths expert, Online Tutor and animal rights activist. In more than 5+ years of my online teaching experience, I closely worked with many students struggling with dyscalculia and dyslexia. With the years passing, I learned that not much effort being put into the awareness of this learning disorder. Students with dyscalculia often misunderstood for having just a simple math fear. This is still an underresearched and understudied subject. I am also the founder of Smartynote -‘The notepad app for dyslexia’,