Playing NMBR9 in Class

NMBR9 is a puzzle type game where you strategically place numbered tiles in foundations and layers. Higher layers score higher points. Since each player plays the same tile on their own stack, your whole class can be playing the exact same game at the same time. Fitting the numbered tiles is similar to Tetris, where the tighter you can fit tiles together, the better. You don’t want to leave holes which make it difficult to build layers up. This game strongly engages spatial skills like fitting, rotating, locating, and shifting between 2D and 3D. This game is appropriate for Grades 3 and up. This page provides our tips and ideas for playing this game in your classroom.

Here are a few descriptions of what some Grade 6 liked about NMBR9:

Building numbers that fit on top of each other to gain more points – Arta

I really liked how some pieces would fit together really well and could make a good base – Dana

You need to strategize and try to think about what comes next so you can plan the base and height of your tower – Jon

It was very enjoyable and fun. It uses a lot of brain power though. – Sharath

Considerations for getting started

This game takes approximately 15 minutes for game play. It works perfect in a 40-minute class with set up, two game plays, wrap up and reflection.

  • Number of games: Each game has enough tiles for 4 students. Make sure you get a game for yourself, so you can play with your friends and family too. It really helps to know the game. For a class of 28 students, you’ll need 8 games. You might want to consider having a spare game that can be signed out when a student is absent. This is a game they can play on their own, if they don’t have a sibling or parent who will play with them.
  • We labelled and numbered the lid and box base of each game. Each group was responsible for their numbered game. We found these labels really helped with accountability for keeping the game complete.
  • Print out of one page instruction sheet for each game and a score sheet and a reflection sheet for each student.
  • Optional: We gave students ½” grid paper on 8.5 x 11 paper to help with their base.

Co-operative play

Sometimes students would prefer to play co-operatively rather than competitively. Below are a few suggestions to change to more cooperative play.

  • Students could play in pairs to play as a team (two players for each set of tiles), 
  • Students could play in pairs by combining the tiles (two players for each set of two tiles)
  • Provide a challenge to see which team can get the highest score

Variations in game play

  • Teacher draws the numbers so everyone is working on the same tiles. 
Week 1: Introduction of the Game


  • Mathematical & Logical Reasoning: Testing and evaluating the possibilities for fitting tiles together.
  • Spatial Reasoning: Fitting the tiles together by rotating pieces to find the tightest connections and/or to build up layers.
  • Noticings: When students place a tile on an upper level, does the tile cover at least two lower tiles? Are the spaces (holes) under the placed tile? Does the tile overhang the lower level?

Here is a useful video for introducing the game:

We liked to start by playing a game against one student, with the rest of the class gathered around. We deliberately made a couple of mistakes to clarify rules. For example, place tiles that are touching kiddy corners, not with an entire edge. Or place a tile on top of just one tile. Or cover a hole on the lower level with a tile. Or make a tile stick over a lower tile with nothing underneath.

Maybe ask:

  • Can I make this move? Our students referred to this as legal and illegal moves.
  • How much will this tile score?
  • Is there a better move?
  • Which pieces fit together well with no gaps? Which tiles are difficult to place?
  • How do you decide when to go to the next level?

Divide students into their groups and have them play. You could call out the cards to the whole class. This way the whole class is playing the exact same game. We also liked having the students in pairs for this first game play. Then they can discuss their play and help each other. Pam’s class like playing on the floor. Heather’s class liked playing on the desks. Both worked. Expect lots of questions on the first day.

End of Game Play

Give each student Reflection sheet 1. Reflection sheet 1 enables assessment of students’ strategies and understanding of the game. It is useful to have the tiles available for completing the reflections sheets. We found that colouring helped us see what the students were thinking. We also liked when the students drew both layers as steps. Once the sheets are complete, assess them as a class. You could have them assess their own as you complete it on a whiteboard or screen. REMEMBER: The assessments are not to assign a mark, they are just to assess and further understandings of the games and strategies.

Colouring responses to Reflection W1

Here is our marking guide for the first questions. It really helps if you orient the 4. There are likely more possibilities, but this is what we found after assessing 54 completions. We shared this with our Grade 5’s and they quickly found an error (which is now corrected). If you find any more errors or want to share more solutions, send me an email.

From the answers, you can see a few students were struggling with the rules of not covering spaces or having overhangs.

Reflections are an excellent pedagogic choice for assessment and metacognitive contemplations.  Pam and Heather created a google form for their students to answer reflection questions (a journal might be another idea). Here are the questions that our teachers, Pam and Heather, gave their students:

  • What aspect of the game did you find the most enjoyable? 
    • It was really satisfying when two pieces fit perfectly together. – Mat
    • I liked NMBR 9 because the number designs were cool. – Lucas
    • It is kinda like Tetris – Michael
  • What would you try differently next time?
    •  Maybe I could like literally go straight up – Finn
  • What strategies did you use?
    • The strategy I used for number 9 was to put all the less scoring blocks near the bottom so I could score the most amount of points. This strategy surprisingly worked well and I was able to score a large amount of points – Anjuli
  • What did you find the most challenging about this experience?
    • I found that placing the zeros very hard in this game. They are worth nothing and have a hole in the middle. I also found placing the piles adjacent to each other hard to do because sometimes when there is a perfect space for a piece, you can’t put it there because it is not adjacent and is very annoying. – Sophia
  • What did you find the most challenging about this experience? 
    • I am very upset with the number 3 because it was way too hard to place and I swore revenge on the number. The game however wasn’t to bad, but the 5’s and 0’s were also really hard to place (My sympathy goes out to those who got 5 and 0). – Michael  
  • How does the game use mathematical reasoning, spatial reasoning, or logical reasoning?
    • [By] imagining possibilities and how it helps the mind visualize the next move or where the piece should go to get the most amount of points. – Anjuli
    • You need to be logical and I like this game because of that. You need to think about where you place your tiles. – Jerry
Week 2: Clarification of the rules and scoring


  • Mathematical & Logical Reasoning: Analyzing how pieces fit together to create a useful base (table) layer.
  • Spatial Reasoning: Visualizing where an upcoming tile might go.
  • Noticings: Are students placing tiles without any gaps? Are they covering holes when they place a tile on the next level? When they place a tile on the next level, is there an overhanging gap?

Suggestions for Game Play

Start to play a game against one student. Review the common mistakes listed in Week 1. Scoring the layers is a bit of an issue. Like in Europe where the ground floor is considered ‘0’, the first layer is the ‘0’ layer. Clarifying this can help with scoring.

Organize the students to play the game. Give each Group the same numbered game and a ‘how to play’ guide. Give each student a scoresheet and a pen or pencil.

Organize the students to clean up their games.

Give each student Reflection sheet 2Reflection sheet 2 enables assessment of students’ strategies and understanding of the game.

Here are our students’ answers to the first question of Reflection 2. This guide could be a useful part of a class discussion about strategies.

Week 3: Strategizing


  • Mathematical & Logical Reasoning: Predicting which pieces are coming, and planning for placement (pathfinding).
  • Spatial Reasoning: Constructing base layers for upcoming tiles.
  • Noticings: Are students able to place tiles and larger on higher levels?

Suggestions for Game Play

For this week, you might want to begin by sharing strategies as a class. What strategies do your students attempt? Perhaps you might want to share some ideas borrowed from Eric:

  • Paying attention to which cards have been played
  • Saving space for 9
  • Minimizing holes on the base layer
  • Don’t put a 0 on an upper level.

End with Reflection Sheet 3

Week 4: More game experiences

Keep playing this game as many times as your students enjoy this game. We have one more Reflection Sheet 4 to assess your students learning


Gratitude and credits to the students of Westmount Charter, Heather Lai, Pam Mah, Mischa Simpson, Munesah Rahman, & Dr. Janelle McFeetors at the University of Alberta for the creation of this resource.

This website draws on research supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.

Please cite this page as:

Francis, K., Rothschuh, S., Gierus, B., Mah, P., Lai, H., Rahman, M., & Simpson, M. (2023). Playing NMBR9 in class. In Inspiring STEM Education