Practical Math Practice: The Grocery Store Game


Practical Math Practice: The Grocery Store Game

Number-sense and the ability to estimate are skills that students will need in their every-day life. Unfortunately, these skills can be some of the most challenging to teach without practical experiences.  One of the best places to cultivate the ability to do quick, mental-math estimation is on a trip to the grocery store.  Here is a simple Grocery Store Game you can have your child or student play on their next trip.


The shopper uses estimation skills to select a combination of products that come as close as possible to a target total.


(per participant)

  • A shopping list
  • A separate shopping basket from the main cart/basket
  • paper
  • pencil
  • calculator (optional)

How to Play

  1. Set a target total price for the student to try and reach. For younger students, keep the total lower. For older students, set the total higher. For a more challenging experience, have the child simply keep a running total of all the items acquired on the trip.
  2. Upon arriving at the store, the adult should have the main shopping cart or basket for the trip and the shopping list. Have the child carry their own shopping basket. Only the items that get carried in the child’s basket will count towards their target total.
  3. While working through the aisles, the adult grabs the items on his or her list. With each item, have the child read the price, and then decide if they want the item in their own basket.
  4. For mental math practice, have the child keep a running estimate in their head of the total value of the items in their basket. For more explicit addition practice, allow the child to keep a running list of the prices on a pad of paper.
  5. Every so often, stop and have the child report out their current total and how much more they think they need to acquire to hit the target set in Step 1.
  6. When checking out, ask to have the two baskets rung up separately so you can have the total from the child’s basket easily. If you are in a rush, snap a quick picture of the items in the child’s basket and have the child total the items from the master receipt once you get home.
  7. Keep track of how close or far the child’s estimate was from the actual total of the items in their basket. The goal should be to improve with each subsequent trip.

The grocery store is one of the main places where people engage with math every day. By encouraging students to focus on the numbers, the weekly trip to the supermarket can become an enriching opportunity to expand mathematics skills.

When I taught elementary school, I offered this game as an opportunity for extra credit. I explained it to the parents at Back-to-School Night and had short forms for the children to submit (their cost estimates, the total of their basket, any demonstrable computational work, and a parent signature) to receive credit.

Have suggestions or modifications for this activity? Have you tried this or something similar with your students? Share your feedback below!

Be sure to check back with The Knowledge Roundtable Blog for more practical practice activities!

About Sheldon S

Sheldon Soper is a ten year veteran of the teaching profession and currently serves as a junior high school teacher in southern New Jersey. His primary focus is building reading, writing, and research skills in his students. He holds two degrees from Rutgers University: a B.A. in History as well as a M.Ed. in Elementary Education. He holds teaching certifications in English Language Arts, Social Studies, and Elementary Education. Sheldon has also worked as a tutor for grades ranging from second through high school in a wide variety of subjects including reading, writing, calculus, chemistry, algebra, and test prep. In addition to his teaching career, Sheldon is also a content writer for a variety of education, technology, and parenting websites.