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Can Big Kids Love Color by Number Math Activities?

Use these fun and engaging color by number math activities to engage all learners in your classroom this year.

As teachers, I think we all have a common goal: make learning fun so that our students are engaged in the work and enjoy the learning process. So there’s nothing more frustrating than spending precious time crafting the “perfect” lesson just to have it met with some groans. Sometimes our big kids think they’re too cool for “little kid” things like coloring. So, here are a few ways that I encourage buy-in on the coloring aspect of color by number math activities.

Maybe coloring is becoming a thing of the past with shortened attention spans, but coloring still has many benefits for our students (big and little) and their learning. Color by number math activities allow students to be creative, encourage taking one’s time, and it helps with remembering the focused math skill. I go into more detail with research about how coloring is highly beneficial when it comes to remembering math skills in my post How Does Coloring Help Improve Math Skills?

Make Coloring Cool!

When it comes to math, we always look for ways to engage students. We know that when students are engaged in the classroom, their learning and mastery increases. That’s why we as teachers work so hard to create engaging lessons and activities.

One of those activities is Color by Number math activities. And. . . I’m not talking about the kindergarten kind. Think adult coloring pages with a math twist! My upper elementary and middle school students love it when I can incorporate our math practice into a color by number activity! Same great skills practice, but doesn’t feel like the boring textbook questions or traditional worksheet.

But occasionally, I’ll have a student or two that groan at the coloring aspect. Sometimes they just want to hurry and be done, and other times coloring just isn’t cool.

So what do I do to create buy-in on these activities? Glad you asked. I’m excited to share a few ways I make coloring cool in my classroom!

1. Have a Coloring Contest

Did you hear the word contest? I don’t know about your students, but once I mention the word contest, ALL my middle schoolers’ ears perk up! They love any opportunity to step up for the top spot. If you give this a try, learn from my experience and lay the ground rules, because these kids are competitive in the best kind of way!

As soon as I say “contest” some of my students hear the word “race.” So the very first thing I make very clear is that this is NOT a race to see who can finish first. In fact, working quickly often means mistakes and rushed coloring. The exact opposite of what a coloring contest needs. This one ground rule helps to clear up any misconceptions that this is a race AND it helps to ease any anxiety from students who don’t want to work quickly.

Here are a few of the parameters I use in my classroom. This will help you get started with a coloring contest in your classroom.

  1. First, I decide if everyone will participate in the contest individually, as partners, or in a small group. This depends on the type of practice I need my students to have. If it is a fairly new skill and each person needs independent practice, then we likely complete it individually. If it is a review activity where students can remind each other of the skill, we likely work in partners or small groups.
  2. I review the rules with them before we begin and ensure everyone knows the expectations.
  3. Work must be shown for each problem when appropriate to the math skill. Some students are super quick with mental math, while others need that pencil to paper. I have my students show all their work because a mistake can be seen easier when written out. And. . . since it isn’t a race there’s no need to take shortcuts.
  4. Students decide to color as they go or after they have solved each of the math problems. Coloring as they go might help them catch a mistake sooner, but I let them decide the order they want to complete the activity.

I’ve done the scoring and judging in a couple of different ways. One option is to give one point for every correct math problem and bonus points for the coloring. Another option is to display all the coloring sheets and bring in a third-party judge to choose winners based on coloring only. However, points are deducted when the colors are not correct since this is a math activity.

The winners get a small token. It might just be bragging rights, but you can also include things like a pencil, a sticker for their notebook or water bottle, or even a “Do Only Half Your Homework” pass.

When you gamify an activity, students are more interested and care more about the outcome.

2. Partner or Small Group Work

Whenever I do partner work in my classroom, my students think it’s the best thing ever! They love working with one another and I love how invested they are in the activity. However, they know it’s a privilege. Each time we do partner work, they know that their behavior and work will impact their future ability for more partner work time.

Sometimes we might get nervous about pairing students up because we think about things like chatting, distractions, and wasting time. But giving students opportunities to learn from one another is a game-changer in the classroom.

Students love working and collaborating together.

Allowing students to work with a partner or in a small group is another way to get them engaged and excited about the lesson.

Each student receives their own problem page. They are each responsible for solving each of the problems on the page. They do NOT divide and conquer. The true beauty of this method comes as students check in with each other to review the problems they have completed.

You can set the requirement for how many problems they do before they check in with each other. I do it differently depending on how much we have reviewed the math skill. Sometimes I have them check in after each question and other times after every 2 or 3 questions. There is nothing sweeter as a teacher than to walk through the room and hear students defending their answers to one another or explaining how to do the process to a partner.

Once they have checked with each other, discovered any errors, and discussed them, both partners can take turns coloring in the correct spots on the coloring page.

This method has many benefits because it has students actively completing the work, collaborating, and working on communication skills. Plus there’s something about hearing from someone that is not the teacher that just helps students get it.

3. Connect with the Calming Benefits of Coloring

We know that coloring brings many stress-relieving and calming benefits. That’s why adult coloring books have become such a big thing in recent years. One of the main reasons why I’m drawn to color by number math activities is because of how accessible they can be for all of our learners.

Tap into the stress relieving and calming benefits of coloring.

Our students carry a lot on their shoulders. Peer pressure, adult pressure, self-imposed pressure – it can be a lot for our big kids. Coloring relaxes the mind. So why not review math and have a stress-relieving Zen Day all in one?

Creating a peaceful, calming environment doesn’t mean you have to redo your entire classroom. If you have lamps, turn on the lamps and lose the overhead fluorescent lights. Add some calming instrumental music. Let your student choose whether to sit at a desk, lie on the floor, or complete the activity in another seating option you have. With just a few intentional steps, you can easily create an environment where students can relax, slow down, and decompress It’s like a Math Spa Day!

While this Zen Day is perfect any time of the year, it can be a really great activity to do in the days and weeks leading up to end of the year testing. Since this time of year is known for both student and teacher stress, it’s a win-win option for everyone.

4. Coloring Video Game Style

We know that kids and video games go hand in hand.

So instead of a hands-on coloring activity, go digital! Many of my Color by Number math activities include a digital version. While it’s the same great math practice, the digital coloring feels very different.

After solving the problems, students will type in their answers on the digital activity. If the activity is a mystery pixel style activity, the pixels from the image will color in automatically when students add a correct answer. If the answer is incorrect, the colors will not change and students know they need to check their answer.

Digital color by number math activities are a great way to add a video game feel to math practice

There is also digital color by number activities that involve digital coloring done by the student. Students will solve the problem and then use the “fill color” bucket to color in the shapes with the correct answer.

Both of these digital coloring activities feel more like a video game and they are loved by kids of all ages!

For more in-depth information about digital color by number math activities or pixel art, please read my blog post to see how the digital version could best fit in your classroom!

5. Change Up the Coloring

There’s definitely a memory connection between childhood and crayons. I don’t know about you, but the smell of a new box of crayons will carry me right back to childhood in an instant. So change up the mode of coloring when completing a color by number math activity to make it feel more grown-up.

Change up the coloring medium and let students use markers, colored pencils or even paint!

One option is to change what students use to color with. Keep the crayons in the box and instead pull out colored pencils, markers, chalk or even water colors!

Another option is not to allow traditional coloring at all! Instead of coloring in each space, have students choose a pattern that they consistently repeat in the color of the space. For example, all of the purple spaces are filled in with purple diagonal lines. All of the green spaces are filled in with small green polka dots. The finished picture will be a wonderful piece of pattern art! And. . . if you let each student choose the patterns they want to use they will all be different!

Grab a FREE Color By Number Math Activity

Are you ready to give coloring a try in your upper elementary or middle school classroom? Check out this free Mean, Median, Mode, Range Color By Number resource to use with your class! This resource includes a problem page with 20 problems to solve and a corresponding coloring page. It’s the perfect way to try color by number math activities with your big kids!

Free Mean, Median, Mode and Range Color by Number Math Activity

Interested in More Color By Number Math Activities?

Visit me in my store Cognitive Cardio Math! There you will find printable and digital versions of all my color by number math activities. You will find resources for SO many different math skills. Whether you need skill-specific independent practice or a great review activity, you can’t go wrong with color by number. These are just a few of the resources you can find in the Cognitive Cardio Math TPT Store.

Color by Code Math Activities from  Cognitive Cardio Math

Save this Post!

Remember to save these ideas and activities to your favorite math Pinterest board, so you can come back anytime when you are ready to use these ideas! Getting student buy-in on color by number math activities doesn’t have to be difficult!


Welcome to Cognitive Cardio Math! I’m Ellie, a wife, mom, grandma, and dog ‘mom,’ and I’ve spent just about my whole life in school! With nearly 30 years in education, I’ve taught:

  • All subject areas in 4th and 5th grades
  • Math, ELA, and science in 6th grade (middle school)

I’ve been creating resources for teachers since 2012 and have worked in the elearning industry for about five years as well!

If you’re looking for ideas and resources to help you teach math (and a little ELA), I can help you out!



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