What Are the Chances? Probability Games & Activities for First Graders.

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Real World Probabilty

Introduce the concept of probability to your first grade class by exploring a variety of real life questions. For instance, they could be encouraged to discuss the chances of it raining the next day, or whether the girl’s team will win their basketball game by ten points.

Gather the students together and share the story Alexander, Who Used to Be Rich Last Sunday by Judith Viorst. After the story discuss with the students the idea of: What are the chances of Alexander saving enough for a walkie-talkie?

Ask the students if any of them have seen shows on television that rely on chance e.g. Wheel of Fortune

Discuss with students the opposite of probability. Provide some examples. For instance: if they are outside in a torrential rainstorm without an umbrella, they will definitely get wet: if there are three red blocks on the table and they pick one, it will definitely be red. Ask the students for suggestions.

What Are the Chances?

Explain to your students that they are going to play some games and take part in simple experiments to demonstrate probability situations.

Rolling the Dice

Provide pairs of students with two dice. (To make inexpensive, light weight dice, buy cubes of foam rubber, which is available in craft stores, and paint numbers on each side with nail polish).

Invite the students to take turns throwing the dice. After each turn, ask them to record the two numbers that are on top. After ten turns each, ask them to compare the numbers. Were any the same? How often did the six show up? Is this a reliable method of predicting what numbers the dice will roll?

What’s in the Bag?

Provide pairs of students with a bag containing an equal number of red, blue and green blocks. Invite the students to predict what color block they will pull out of the bag, and then ask them to take turns reaching into the bag and pulling out a block.

After each turn, ask them to record their prediction and the color of the block they pulled out. After five turns each, discuss how many times their prediction was correct. Is this a sure way to predict what color will come out of the bag every time? When working with first grade students, it is important in this experiment that they understand that there is no right or wrong prediction; the results are entirely by chance.

Race to the Finish

Gather the students around a ramp made by a large wooden block from the block center balanced on another smaller block. Show the students two small toy cars and ask them which one they think will win the race down the ramp. Mark a finishing line with masking tape and set the two cars racing at the same time. After each race, record the result on a chart. After ten races, discuss the results with the students. Did the same car win each race? Why or why not?

Spin and Guess

Provide small groups with spinners (These are readily available in discount or “dollar” stores or as parts of games). Invite the students to predict where the spinner will stop and take turns experimenting. Ask them to record the results. Discuss the randomness of the results.

Bean Bag Toss

Make a scoreboard (similar to a dartboard) from a large sheet of cardboard. Provide bean bags and ask students to throw the bean bags onto the board. Record the number that the bean bag lands on each time. Was there any consistency?

Coin Toss

Set up the scenario that at the beginning of certain games - especially sports games - there is often a coin toss. Each pair of children will consist of a referee and a player. The referee tosses the coin and the player calls heads or tails. After each coin toss, students change roles. Does the player always choose the right call? Why or why not? Is this purely by chance?

Boy or Girl?

Gather the students together and tell them that you are going to write a name of one of the students on a piece of paper. Invite them to write on their piece of paper “boy” or “girl”. Reveal the name and see how many guessed correctly. Repeat with more names. Discuss how there is no pattern or reason to this method of choosing.

Teaching Tips

These experiments and games introduce simple probability to first graders and specifically address the notion that not all events are of equal probability

After each experience it is very important to discuss and investigate the results so that the students can see and understand that the results differ each time. Mathematical language should be used in all of the discussions e.g. never, sometimes, always, likely, unlikely.


Mathematical Problem Solving for Primary Grades by Loewen,A. Graig.Published by Exclusive Educational Products.1992

Author’s own classroom experiences.