Math Taboo Game

Pretty sure I lied to my algebra students when I announced abruptly, “Let’s play this game. It’s a lot of fun!”

I had never played the game before as I just thought of it when I spoke the words. (They were doing polynomial factoring and were being so nice and quiet. I can’t stand “nice and quiet” in my math class, so I had to disrupt them and wanted to play a game.)

I thought of playing Taboo using math vocabulary. In case you’re not familiar with it, the object of the game is get your teammate to say a certain word on the card without using the “taboo” words. For example, describe VEAL without using the words CALF, YOUNG, PARMIGIANA, CUTLET, BOX.


My instructions:

  1. Take out a piece of paper, fold it into quarters and tear neatly so you have 4 small pieces of paper.
  2. Open up your math book and look for vocabulary words that we’ve covered already.
  3. At the top of each piece of paper, write a word (or phrase) that you want people to describe, box this word up.
  4. Then underneath this word, write 4 taboo words that the describer may not use.
  5. Don’t share what you’re doing, wouldn’t be fun if others saw what you wrote.
  6. I need each person to complete 4 of these.
  7. When done, fold each piece of paper exactly in half — like this (you have to show them) — and drop them all in this bucket.

A few simple rules:

  1. Class is divided into 2 teams, Team X and Team Y.
  2. Team X goes first: one person from Team X comes up to front, reaches into bucket to get one slip of paper and has 60 seconds to describe as many words as possible to the teammates.
  3. Teacher stands next to the describer to make sure none of the taboo words or the main word itself is said — round is over if this happens.
  4. Skipping a word is not allowed.
  5. Hand gestures are okay (one describer today put his arms out in parallel fashion to get his teammates to say “perpendicular” — who’s his math teacher?
  6. Teacher reserves the right to help out whichever team she likes better.

So, yeah, we had a ton of fun. It was the last period of the day, and they didn’t want to leave when the bell rang!!

The kids came up with great taboo words — well, I’m sure the textbook helped them, but still. There was only one paper that I had to disqualify as it didn’t make much sense. I tweeted this:


This went so well that I’ll make a “real” game out of this. I’ll print the words onto mailing labels. (How I love mailing labels!)


Then I can stick them on the back of playing cards so they are shuffle-able, and you can still use them for poker. I’m brilliant.


I think it’d be fun if we played this at Twitter Math Camp this summer, but we’d have to describe math people instead. For example, try to get your teammates to say “Dan Meyer” without saying TALL, 3-ACT (yes, that’s one word), PERPLEXING, DY, STANFORD. Or try to describe “Sadie Estrella” without saying WAHEDAHBUG, HAWAII, HANA, HASHTAG, HANGOUT. Or try to describe “Sam Shah” without saying VIRTUAL, FILING, CONTINUOUS, LAUNDRY, BROOKLYN.

I can keep going.

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