Strategy board games are great for 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade teachers to have on hand for things like "Fun Friday," indoor recess, class parties, or board game days.
My 5th grade teacher taught every student in our classroom how to play chess. Whenever we had any extra time, we got a chance to play this strategy game with a partner. It was so much fun that we didn't realize all of the problem solving and logical thinking skills we were developing at the time!
When I got my first teaching job, I had high hopes for integrating a strategy game like chess into my 4th grade classroom. However, I soon became overwhelmed with the daily demands of classroom management, standards based teaching, helping students understand difficult skills like main idea, and paperwork. Taking the time out of my regular classroom day to teach a complicated game like chess was just wishful thinking.
Unfortunately, teachers nowadays don't really have any freedom in their schedule to teach things like chess. But students are missing out - strategy games are a fun way for students to learn skills like problem solving, strategic thinking, patience, kindness, delayed gratification, concentration, making predictions, and more.
Below, find some tips for finding strategy games for your classroom, as well as a list of some of the best strategy board games for your upper elementary classroom!
Sometimes I recommend products using affiliate links. If you click through and buy, I may be compensated at no cost to you.
What Makes a Good Strategy Game for Indoor Recess, Fun Fridays, and Class Parties
Not all strategy games are created equal. Some of the more popular strategy games are just too complicated or take too long to play for a classroom setting. (I'm looking at you, Catan and Ticket to Ride...)
An ideal strategy game for the classroom will have quick and easy to understand rules. This is essential. If there are too many rules, or the rules are too complicated, then students will spend more time arguing over the rules and less time playing.
The best strategy games will also not too take long to play. Long games will never be finished, and that's just sad.
While strategy games aren't an absolute must have for 3rd, 4th, or 5th grade teachers, they can make things like Fun Fridays, indoor recess, class parties, or end of year parties both fun and educational.
The Best Easy to Learn Strategy Games for 3rd, 4th, and 5th Grade
3d 4 in a Row
Take a game your students already know how to play, and then add an extra layer of complexity to it with 3d 4 in a Row.
Since 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade students are most likely already familiar with Connect 4, explaining the rules of this game will take virtually no class time at all!
Note: This is a smaller, travel version.
This is very similar to 3d 4 in a Row, but with some fun (but easy to understand) twists! The game pieces of Quarto are different - some are round, some are tall, some are square, etc.
The goal is still to get 4 pieces in a row, where all the pieces have something in common. But your opponent gets to choose which piece to play!
The rules are simple, and it's a fast moving game that upper elementary students are bound to love!
Qwirkle is a popular game that is easy enough for young kids to understand, but involves strategy that will keep upper elementary students engaged.
Each player has tiles. To play, you build lines out based on matching colors or matching shapes, and you score points by doing so.
The most complicated part of this game is the scoring - but it also will give students a real world opportunity to practice addition! Playing out a sample game like this for your students is probably the quickest way to help them understand how to play and keep score.
The creators of Blokus claim that this game takes less than a minute to learn - a big advantage for 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade classrooms!
Blokus is for 2-4 players. Each player gets 21 pieces, all of the same color. On your turn, you place one of your pieces on the game board - but your piece has to touch another one of your pieces only at a corner!
The goal is to get as many of your pieces down, while blocking others from laying their pieces.
This game can take a little longer than some of the other games mentioned here, but it is still quick for a strategy game!
This game is deceptively simple. Players stack wooden balls on a grid and on top of each other to form a pyramid. The player who places their ball on the top of the pyramid is the winner!
It's quick to learn and quick to play, and your 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade students will want to play over and over again!
This is a more complex version of tic-tac-toe that can be played with 2-4 people! To win at Otrio, players must line up 3 of their pieces in a row either by similar size, in order from smallest to biggest (or vice versa), or take up all 3 pieces in a similar space.
If that sounds confusing - don't worry, it's not. A quick look at the game board will help clear up any confusion.
Traditional Strategy Games From Different Cultures
The games in this section go way, way back and have origins in a variety of cultures. The best thing about using traditional games is that the game board and the rules are usually very simple, yet still require strategy. This makes it great for the classroom!
Since these games are old, they haven't really been mass produced (with the exception of Mancala). Some of the games I found online were handmade and expensive. Luckily several of these games are simple and can be played with a free printable!
When possible, I've linked to a place where you can buy this game if you want a sturdier version, as well as to place where you can download a free printable for your students.
This game is also known as Reversi, although the more modern version of Othello has distinct rules. It's described as taking a minute to learn, but a lifetime to master.
Othello is a two player game with 2 sided game pieces. One player plays the light side, while the other player plays the dark side. Players try to capture their opponents pieces by "sandwiching" them on the game board. Each piece that is "sandwiched" gets flipped to your color!
The player with the most game pieces at the end of the game wins.
There are some nuances to this game that would be most easily understood by modeling to students.
This game originated in Ghana. It is a slightly more complicated version of Tic-Tac-Toe that doesn't always end in a tie.
This two player game requires a game board and 4 counters for each person. The object is to get 3 in a row. It's played just like Tic-Tac-Toe, except players only have 4 counters. After all the counters have been played, each player can move one of their counters to an adjacent empty spot on the game board. This continues until somebody gets 3 in a row!
This game is a little more complicated then the other games on this list, but since it was my absolutely favorite strategy game growing up I had to include it! This game is easier to learn by playing it. Students can learn the rules and play for free online here.
Nine Men's Morris
This is another, more fun version of Tic-Tac-Toe. It requires a board game and 9 counters for each player.
Like in Tic-Tac-Toe, players are trying to get 3 of their counters in a row - this is called a 'mill.' When a player gets 3 counters in a row, they get to remove one of their opponents counters from the game board.
Once all the counters have been played, players continue to play by taking turns sliding one of their counters to an empty, adjacent spot. To win, a player must remove all but 2 of their opponent's counters.
Fox and Geese
This is one version of a game in the "Tafl" branch of board games. These games are all have opponents of unequal sizes, so the players will have completely different strategies.
In Fox and Geese, 1 player has 17 "geese" pieces and the other player has only 1 "fox" piece. The geese all start on one side of the game board, while the fox starts in the middle.
The geese are trying to trap the fox so that he can no longer move. The fox is trying to remove as many geese from the game board (by jumping them like in checkers) so that he cannot be trapped. Geese cannot jump.
This game does not always have a clear ending. It might be hard for upper elementary students to concede victory to their opponent, especially if they are the geese. However, if the game continues with very little chance of the fox being trapped, then the fox has won.
This game is similar to Fox and Geese, but it can be played by yourself. You start with counters in every spot except for the middle spot. Then, you "jump" counters and removed the jumped counter from the game board. The object is to have only one counter left on the game board.
The challenge comes in that you can not move any of the counters unless you are jumping another counter.
Never Stress Over Sub Plans Again!
Make copies, find a fiction book, and you'll be ready for any emergency that comes your way!