A Trading Game

I thought I'd share with you one of my FAVORITE
math games to have my students
play at the beginning of the year.

This game is very simple, but does
a whole lot to prepare them for regrouping or
"borrowing", which can be a huge
challenge for some kiddos.

I learned this game at a workshop a few years
ago and I've had my students play it ever since.
They absolutely LOVE it and
I LOVE it because it is sooooo meaningful.

I'm sure this game is not anything new and it may have different names that it 
goes by out in bloggy world.
The presenter I heard about it from called the
game "3 Town" or "5 Town" depending
on the way you decide to have your kiddos play.

Since the game is focusing on "trading",
you can tell the kids that this game is all
about a land where "3" is the number for 
You really play it up.
I use examples like, "Everyone is '3 Town' eats
3 meals a day, have 3 kids, 3 pets, 3 cars, 3 houses, etc.."
They think its quite fun and like to come up with their own
examples too!

Here are the supplies you will need:
Gameboards- When I moved to second a few years ago, I found a handful of these in a closet.
When I attended the workshop, I realized what they were. I had to make the rest which was not difficult at all. Just construction paper, ruler, glue, sharpie, and then laminated.

Colored poker chips- I bought a bag of 1000 from Teacher Direct a few years ago.
The colors are yellow, green, blue, red. You could use any colors as long as they
match the boards you use.


Chip holders- I really like using these chip/dip trays I found in Target's dollar spot to keep the chips organized.


  • I like to put 4 kids in a group so 1 will be the "banker" (in charge of the chips) and the other 3 will be playing and each need a gameboard. 
  • The "banker" (I choose the banker for each group) is the only person allowed to touch the chip tray and take chips in and out.
  •  1 player rolls the dice. They ask the banker for that many YELLOW chips.
  • Since the game is "3 Town", every time a player gets 3 YELLOW chips they can trade in for the next color, so on my gameboards that is BLUE.

  • If they can trade in their chips, they need to do it before the end of their turn, or before they pass the dice to the next player. 
Example: Player rolls a '5'. Player says to the banker, "Can I please have 5 YELLOW chips?"
(We practice our please and thank you's a lot during this game!)
The "banker" then gives them 5 YELLOW and the player puts them on their gameboard in the YELLOW column.
The player will then take 3 of the newly acquired chips and ask the banker, "Can I please trade these 3 YELLOW in for 1 BLUE?"
The "banker" takes the chips and gives the player 1 BLUE, who then places it on their gameboard.
If the player decides they can not trade in anything else, they pass the dice on to the next player.

  • Every time they roll they get YELLOW chips. That is always the "starting point" on their gamboard and they have to trade in to get the next color.  Some will forget and think they should get BLUE chips on their 2nd turn, but usually other players will remind them:)

  • When a player gets 3 BLUE, they can trade in for 1 GREEN.

  • If they get 3 GREEN, they can trade in for 1 RED. The first player to get 1 RED chip is the winner!
I told you it was simple:)
But, seriously, the kids get addicted to this game.

So, the 2nd or 3rd time we play, I'll switch it up and we will play
"5 Town" and so then they must get 5 YELLOW chips to be able
to trade for 1 BLUE, etc...

  • Model, model, model. The first day I introduce the game, students are watching me play and I usually have 1 or 2 other kids "play" with me as we go through an entire game for everyone to watch.
  • I am picky about the "banker" handing the chips to the player. Sometimes, they want to just put it on the player's board for them. We talk about how each player needs to be in charge of their board and its their job to PAY ATTENTION and realize when they can make a trade! Some kiddos like to run everyone's board so we talk about this a lot.
  • During a player's turn, they can make as many trades as they need too, but they only roll 1 time each turn. If they pass the dice and the next player starts to roll, they can't make a trade until their next turn.
  • If a group finishes, they can start over and the winner will become then new "banker".
When we start regrouping in early October,
its great to be able to use phrases like "Now we're going to trade in 10 ones for 1 ten"
with the kids and they know exactly what that means
because they've been playing the trading game!



  1. YOU ROCK!! I am going to start this Tuesday! I am beginning the Math Stations then...four of them plus individual pull-out with me for extra help. This will be one of my stations for a while. God bless you!!


    Stapler’s Strategies for Sizzlin' Second Graders!

    The Yellow Rocking Chair

  2. This sounds amazing!! I know students I've had definitely struggled with borrowing. Thanks for sharing

  3. This looks awesome - just found your cute blog and am a follower :)


  4. Hi! Just found your blog and love your great ideas. Thanks for sharing!! I'll definitely come back for more.


  5. Just found your blog via The First Grade Parade, I'm a new follower. Thanks so much for this great idea... so simple and engaging. Students love games... and don't realize how much they are learning during it :)


    First Grade Exploration

  6. This is BRILLIANT! I am making the game boards ASAP:) Thank you!!!

  7. What a great idea! I am going to try this soon.


  8. So awesome! I found you on Pinterest :) <--totally addicted!!
    Now I'm on the hunt for the dip tray and poker chips!

    Thanks for sharing!
    Sunny Days In Second Grade

  9. I LOVE this! I teach regrouping late in the year (first grade) so it is not new to them in 2nd grade. This is one of the best games to get them ready for this tough concept that I have seen! I can't wait to try this!


  10. Brilliant! My kiddos are struggling with subtracting two-digit numbers with regrouping... I bet starting the year off with this game will help! I may introduce this game next week just to try and get some bells and whistles to go off for my few that still haven't gotten it! Thanks so much for sharing!

    Teaching Fun in the Sun

  11. OMG...I am determined to make this game...good thing I have an intern to help me out!

  12. This helps students to explore and understand different based number systems other than our own base ten system. That understanding will help tremendously with time (base 60) and measurement (feet = Base 12; yard = Base 3; etc). I use it in sixth grade to help students still struggling in these concepts and it works wonderfully!

  13. Thank you! My daughter is struggling with counting money so I am going to try this game with coins like you suggested. So excited to try this!

  14. Going to try this with my students for my TWS (I am a block II student)! Thanks so much. :)

  15. I was trying to come up with a way to practice subtracting as well. In other games, I have put a sticker over the one before as a 'chance' type option. Maybe this can be used as a re-roll and whatever is rolled is how many they subtract. I will have to test it out. Thanks for the wonderful game :)

  16. I tried looking for the Play Chips on Teacher direct but couldn't find them! Do you know what the name of the product was? Or how much you spent on them?

    This is such a cool activity and exactly what my students need practice with!

  17. So glad you discovered this game! I found your site by googling chip trading game. 25 years ago this was a packaged game, expensive, and every primary classroom in our district had a full set. I've tutored since retiring, and have found NOTHING to beat this game for regrouping, base ten, money, time, etc. My daughter will begin teaching in the fall, and my materials are tattered. Was looking to buy her a new set, but guess we'll do it your way and make the materials. And I remember during my last few years of teaching seeing these sturdy, valuable, ample and barely used kits out in the hall for the trash because the new teachers said "It doesn't fit the new academic standards..."

  18. What age would you say this is good for?

    1. I would say this is good for preschoolers to 2nd graders. However, I know that even my older grandchildren will want to play too.

  19. Just found this game and LOVE it. My grandchildren will love the play and I know it will help a couple of them ....though I know all of them will want to play it, even the much older ones!

  20. We called it "3's country" or "4's country" Same thing. Great game.

  21. Congratulations explanation

    I had heard of this game. I think that not only children, but older also have fun with this game.

  22. I made your boards this summer, and started my 2nd graders with 3 town right away. This has been the best thing I've ever used to support understanding place value! Thank you very much!

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