A Roll of the Dice

Derek English & Steven Donald


  • Key Words: Numbers
  • Learner English Level: Beginner
  • Learner Maturity Level: Child to 11 years old
  • Preparation Time: none
  • Activity Time: five to 30 minutes, depending on purpose and number of activities

Learning the numerical system of any language is very useful, so it is important to find a way to teach the system that is fun for students. The following three activities give students the opportunity to review what they have learned as well. They can be used as time-fillers, warm-up exercises, or as introductions to numbers.

These activities require the polyhedral dice used in role-playing games like "Dungeons & Dragons." These dice are sold in most game and hobby shops and can easily be ordered through mail-order catalogues or the Internet. Usually, these dice come in sets of seven: one four-sided, one six-sided, and one eight-sided die, two 10-sided dice, one 12-sided die, and one 20-sided die.

Before starting any of the activities, introduce the dice to the students by letting them handle and roll them for themselves. As most of these dice come in a variety of colours and schemata, getting students to participate in this activity is usually not a problem. The teacher should start the activity by asking the students questions such as "How many sides does this die have?" or "How do you read the dice?" and by answering any questions that the students may have. (As students who are beginning to learn numbers in English will probably have limited second language ability, this question-answer session will probably be in the students' first language.) Once this is done, the following activities can be started.

Activity I

All players, including the teacher, write their names down on pieces of paper, with assistance if necessary. Everyone writes down three points as the starting total. (By keeping written score themselves, the students reinforce their oral learning of the numbers.) Next, everyone takes a turn rolling the four-sided die and reading off the number. Each player has a time limit depending on level and ability. For beginners, I recommend seven seconds, for intermediate three to five seconds, and for advanced players, two seconds. The teacher should determine in advance the time limits, but adjust them to meet the needs of the individual players when necessary.

Players who cannot give the correct answer within the allocated time lose a point. Mistakes are allowed, as well as prompting from the teacher or other students, as long as the correct answer is given within the allocated time limit. A correct answer adds one point. A bonus point can be given if the player rolls the highest number possible. Once everybody has rolled and scored accordingly, the process is repeated until all dice have been used. The player with the highest total wins.

Activity II

Activity II can be done separately or as a continuation of Activity I. Players take turns in rolling all of the dice at once, with seven seconds to read off all the numbers showing on all the dice. Failure results in the loss of one point, success in a gain of two points. As students become more proficient, the time limit can be reduced.

Activity III

This activity uses the two 10-sided dice and gives players the chance to practice the numbers between one and 99. One of the 10-sided dice should be selected as the"tens" die, the other as the "ones" die. Players take turns rolling the dice and reading them within an allocated time limit. If players do this correctly, they receive two points; incorrectly, they lose one point. The first player to ten points wins the game. Again, this can be added to the previous two activities or can be played on its own.