Math Hot Potato
Primary Market
Education, Secondary Ed
Character Focus
Cooperation, Teamwork, Respecting Others, Trust
Items Needed
1 Toobeez set per group, 1 package of index cards, 1 stopwatch, 1 notebook per student, 1 pen/pencil per student
The Activity Time
50 - 60 minutes


  • Provide a structured, interactive game to review learned materials
  • Challenge students to answer potential test questions under time-sensitive conditions
  • Foster interactive cooperation in a competitive environment
  • Promote student-to-student instruction in more complex problem solving
  • Work cooperatively with others in a teambuilding style
Character Focus
Teamwork, Cooperative Learning, Respect & Trust
The Challenge

The student groups should attempt to answer all the sample problems in a timely manner. Likewise, they should seek to learn from other groups by challenging them to answer problems their group finds too challenging.


Setup Time: 20 minutes


  • 1 Toobeez set per group
  • 1 package of index cards
  • 1 stopwatch
  • 1 notebook per student
  • 1 pen/pencil per student
Activity Plan

Time: 50 – 60 minutes

Instruction: Whole class, pairs and Individual

Space: Medium

Activity Setup

1. Connect four 36” Toobeez tubes into a square formation so that the multi-holed equator of each sphere is in a horizontal position.math-hot-potato1
2. Insert a 24” Toobeez tube into the interior of the square using the vacant hole between each 36” Toobeez tube from Step 2.  This should form a square with four 24” Toobeez tubes converging in the center


3. Connect the four converging 24” tubes in the center with a sphere. This will serve as the base for the Toobeez hot potato apparatus.math-hot-potato3

4. Insert a 16” Toobeez tube in the top hole of the center sphere from Step 4 so that it is vertical. Attach another sphere to the top of this tube. Insert a 16” Toobeez tube into the top sphere so that it is parallel to the ground.


5. Attach a sphere to the end of the 16” Toobeez tube from Step 6. This will serve as the hot potato to be passed during game play.

6. Depending on the number of index cards available, teachers should prepare the game cards in advance according to the following guidelines:

  • A majority of cards should have a sample test question based on the current learning topic (with only one problem per card)
  • A few cards should be marked with the word “Skip” or “Reverse”

7. This playing deck should be placed face down in the center of the Toobeez hot potato apparatus so that it is accessible from all four sides.

Helpful Hints

  • Be sure to review these tips prior to beginning the activity, and if necessary, share reminders with the group during the activity.
  • As this is a test prep activity, students should not be allowed to refer to notes
  • If a group finds a problem too difficult, they can pass (see “Activity Instructions”). However, they should be encouraged to use this opportunity to learn from other groups that are able to solve the problem
  • Teachers should encourage students to work within their group in a teambuilding manner to solve problems

Here are available Training Options!

Activity Instructions

1. Divide the class into four groups. Teacher Note: Each group should include students of varying mathematical skill levels.

2. Read aloud the following Activity Challenge Box to the group.

Challenge: The student groups should attempt to answer all the sample problems in a timely manner. Likewise, they should seek to learn by challenging other groups to answer problems their group finds difficult.

3. Teachers should begin by outlining the following procedure for play and rules. Teachers are responsible for timing the rounds.

4. Each round will last four minutes. Teacher Note: This can be changed depending on the skill level or the topic under review.

5. A group should be chosen to go first, and the game proceeds to the left.

6. On their turn, one member from the group must always be holding the end sphere extending from the center Toobeez tube. This is the hot potato.

7. While the student is holding the hot potato, another student should draw one card from the top of the playing deck and read the problem or directions listed on the card for the whole group to hear.

8. Depending on the card type drawn, one of the following should be done:

  • Sample problem card: The group must solve the problem to pass the hot potato to the next group
  • Skip: The hot potato should be passed to skip the next group
  • Reverse: The hot potato should be passed in the direction opposite to current game play

9. “Skip” or “Reverse” cards should be set aside after use.

10. If a team answers a problem card correctly, they should keep that card and pass the hot potato to the next group.

11. If the team provides an incorrect answer, that problem card should be returned to the bottom of the center deck and the hot potato should be passed to the next group.

12. Challenging: If a team decides a problem card is too difficult, they can choose to challenge any other group.

  • If the challenged group is correct, they keep that card and go again. The hot potato is passed off to the challenged team and game play continues in the same direction
  • If the challenged group is incorrect, the problem card is returned to the challenging team. They keep that card and can draw again from the game deck

13. This game play proceeds for four minutes.

14. Scoring:

  • Add one point for each correctly answered problem card collected
  • Take away two points for the group holding the hot potato at the end of the round
  • The team with the most points wins!

15. After the activity, gather the class and pose the following questions:
“How did this exercise help you to review the test material?” and
“What problems in the review were the most difficult?”

16. Finally, move to the “Activity Discussion and Processing” section of the activity.


  • Play a round of hot potato immediately before a test/quiz to review. Give bonus test/quiz points to the winning team
  • Conduct a whole class review of any problem cards that were unanswered during a challenge
  • If a difficult problem is answered by a group during a challenge, have the group that solved the problem present the problem to the class

Activity Discussion and Processing

To close the lesson, end with a group discussion about what was learned during the activity. Circle up the group and work through the following questions. If possible, record the group’s responses on flip chart paper so all comments are displayed.

  • How is competing to solve problems in a time-sensitive manner helpful in test preparation?
  • Did any problems answered correctly by other groups seem difficult? If so, review these problems
  • Why is it useful to observe how others solve problems that you did not understand?
  • Why are communication and trust crucial in group problem solving?

Here are some additional topics for discussion:

  • Highlight and conduct a review of the current topic being studied
  • The ability to learn by observing others solve problems
  • The team effort used in decision making and problem solving

Activity Variations

1. Challenging each other.

Allow students to design the problem deck using homework problems which they found difficult.

2. Skill level assessment.

While designing the game deck, assign differing point values to problem cards based upon the skill level required.

Albert J. Reyes, MA and B. Michael McCarver, JD are the principals of Lingua Medica LLC, a partnership of writers, researchers and analysts specializing in science, mathematics and medical education. The goal of Lingua Medica is to create successful educational materials by fusing quality writing with effective presentation formats.
All Activities of Albert J. and B. Michael

Add a Comments

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.