Zero! Game for Integer Operations and Absolute Value

I got this amazing game from Denise at Let’s Play Math.  It is played like Blackjack because the kids are dealt 2 cards, and can say “Hit Me!” to get up to 4 cards.  They love, love, love it.

Supplies Needed:

  • Zero Game Sheet (below) for each player
  • 1 deck of cards per group of students (3 to 4 students per group).  It doesn’t matter if the decks are missing cards or mixed up.

Object of the Game – Getting the total absolute value score closest to Zero!

Object of each HAND – Getting each hand closest to Zero!

How to Play:

  1. Red cards are negative, black are positive. Jacks – 11, Queens – 12, Kings -13 Aces 1 or 14 (depending what you need).
  2. Deal each player 2 cards.  One facing up and a hidden one facing down.
  3. Each player adds up their cards to see if they are close to zero.  They can say “Hit Me” and get another card.  They can get up to FOUR cards but must use all of their cards in their final total.  They can also HOLD at two cards.
  4. Once everyone is finished being “Hit” all cards are turned over.  Each player writes all of their cards down and then adds up their total in the total box.  The person with the smallest total wins the hand and gets to be the dealer!
  5. Each player finds the absolute value of their total in the absolute value column.
  6. When time is up, each player adds up the absolute value column.  The person closest to zero wins the game!

I usually have a winner for each group of people playing, and then a winner for the entire room!  This really gets them excited when we see kids who have very low total scores.  It is great fun and the kids BEG to play it for many days after we play it the first time.  It is also great practice!  Just be sure that they are writing down their numbers so you can check their sums if needed.

Zero Game Sheet

Instructions via ppt presentation (prepared for Global Math Dept presentation):


  • If your students don’t know absolute value yet, you can just leave the last column blank.  Just add up the sum of the Totals column to determine the game winner.
  • I used to let them do multiplication and division but it gets very complicated.  They have more fun (and get to practice combining integers more) by just doing addition.
  • You could also use a + , – dice and have the dealer roll it each round to see if everyone at the table should do addition or subtraction of negative numbers (to make it more difficult).

13 thoughts on “Zero! Game for Integer Operations and Absolute Value

  1. I’m glad your students enjoy the game. It has always been a favorite at our house and in math club. Easy to learn and fun to play — a great combination!

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  7. I am looking for the recordi!ng sheet you mentioned in th post. The link is no longer live, and I would really like to have a way for students to record their work.
    Thank you

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