Math scavenger hunt: Cracking the code

Adam Ezard, Waseda University Junior and Senior High School


Quick guide

  • Key words: Math, numbers, group work, scavenger hunt
  • Learner English level: Beginner to intermediate
  • Learner maturity: Junior/senior high school
  • Preparation time: 2-3 hours
  • Activity time: 30-40 minutes
  • Materials: Handout, printed strips, envelopes


Students in junior and senior high school relish the chance to be rewarded for achieving goals through well coordinated group work in task-based lessons. This activity enables students to use their skills of logic and deduction, combined with cultural and intercultural knowledge, in a setting that encourages cooperation, organization and teamwork.



Step 1: Prepare twenty-six problems, to which the answers are numbers from one to twenty-six (one problem for each number). The problems can have a basis in culture, general knowledge, logic, or a combination of these. They will need to be jumbled up and typed out on a worksheet, each problem numbered using Roman numerals to avoid confusion with the answer, giving a list similar to the following:

  • How many meters high is Tokyo Tower? Divide this by nine, then minus the number of wards in Tokyo. (=_______)
  • Christmas Day is on this day in December. (= _______)
  • I have a box of fifteen candies. I want to share these equally with five friends. How many candies do we each get? (= ________)

*Tokyo Tower = 333m, Tokyo wards = 23

Each answer corresponds to a letter in the Roman alphabet, based on the order of the letters from A to Z. “One” would correspond to “A”, “two” to “B”, and so on. (I, II and III above correspond to the letters “N”, “Y” and “C” respectively). A list of questions can be found in Appendix A.

Step 2: Locate nine suitable “hiding spots” around the school. These need to be safely accessible to the students, but far enough from each other to introduce the “scavenger hunt” aspect to the activity. Ten clues need to be composed. Nine of these give directions to the hiding places (e.g. “Look on top of the 2C lockers”), while the final one should say “bring all the clues to the teacher”. The ten clues need to be translated into a Roman numeral code, with letters replaced by Roman numerals determined by the numerals used to number the problems in step 1. To follow the examples above, all “N’s” would be replaced by I’s, “Y’s” by II’s and “C’s” by III’s, etc. (See example in Appendix B).

Copies of clue one (which indicates the location of the first hiding place) should be placed in an envelope to be kept by the teacher, with enough copies to give one to each group. Copies of other clues should be placed in their respective envelopes at each hiding spot, with the clues in the envelope found at the first hiding spot giving the location of the second hiding spot, and so on. The envelope in the final hiding spot should contain the “bring all clues to the teacher” clue.



Step 1: Introduce the following mathematical terms to the students: +, -, x, ÷. This can be done by writing simple sums, such as 5+2=7, or 12÷2=6, etc. Go through the vocabulary with the students before asking some simple questions such as, “What is ten minus four?”

Step 2: Arrange the students into small groups. Distribute copies of the prepared problem sheet, containing the Roman numeral ordered problems, to each student. Explain the idea behind the Roman numeral code to the students, as mentioned above (covering the first couple as an example is recommended).

Step 3: Instruct the students that they will crack the code more quickly and economically if they divide the work between them.

Step 4: Groups can obtain the first clue from the teacher when they feel they have answered all the problems correctly (and can gain an edge by starting earlier). Once the group receives the first clue, the scavenger hunt begins.

Step 5: The winning team is the one that returns to the teacher first with all clues in their possession. A prize or reward can be given at this stage.



Teachers will need to choose hiding spots wisely to make sure that other classes are not disturbed. This task should lead to a high level of both energy and participation by all students and is especially useful in promoting teamwork and bonding within groups of students that are not so familiar with each other.



The appendices are available below.