Teaching Probability with Playing Cards

Home » Blog » Teaching Probability with Playing Cards

One of my favorite ways to teach probability is with playing cards. In this post, I am going to tell you about a probability lesson that I do with my students and how I use playing cards to make it more fun and engaging.

Kids Don’t Play Cards Anymore

One day, while I was teaching a lesson on probability, my seventh grade students and I came across a question that asked, “What is the probability of pulling a red card from a regular deck of cards?”  I was totally shocked to discover that my students don’t know how many cards are in a regular deck of playing cards. No one had ever asked them, “Hey, do you want to play 52 Card Pick Up?”  Not only that, they didn’t know half the cards were red and half the cards were black. I said, “What? How do you not know this?” They then proceeded to inform me that they are too busy playing video games to play cards.

I was shocked to learn that kids don’t play cards anymore.

So, right there and then, I decided I needed to rectify this situation. They were missing out on so much fun. I immediately went out and bought several decks of cards and created a Google Sheets ™ digital mystery picture that students could use to explore probability. 

A self-checking activity to teach students simple probability with playing cards. Low prep for the teacher and students get instant feedback.

Introducing the Probability Lesson

I began by introducing the students to the vocabulary of playing cards. I have quite a few multilingual students and English Learners as well as special education students so making sure I cover the vocabulary is always an important first step. Some of the base vocabulary terms that we went over were:

  • Playing cards
  • Deck
  • Face cards
  • Number cards
  • Suits
  • Spade
  • Club
  • Heart
  • Diamond
  • Ace
  • Jack
  • King
  • Queen
  • Draw
  • Even number
  • Odd number
It’s important to introduce the vocabulary of playing cards.

Prerequisite Skills for Probability

Before I introduced this particular lesson with the playing cards, I had already introduced the concept of probability as a fraction. We had already talked about words like impossible, likely, unlikely, equally likely, and certain. So, the students should have had a basic understanding of simple probability before we began this lesson.

Probability Likely or Unlikely Digital Mystery Picture Activity

Also, I like to briefly remind students how to simplify fractions. This is an important skill that they need when learning about probability and I find that many of my students need a refresher. In particular, since many of the problems will utilize the number 52, we talk about the factors of this number. Anything with rational numbers is always fair game in seventh grade.

Below is a video that I created for absent students or students who may just need a quick refresher on simple and compound probability before beginning an assignment.

Exploring Probability with Playing Cards

Then it was time for the fun stuff. Students were placed in groups but they each had out their Chromebooks and their whiteboards for scratch work. They had opened their digital copy of the Probability with Playing Cards Digital Mystery Picture and they were told to fill it out as they go. 

There is a picture of a standard deck of playing cards on each digital task card but I also like for them to have a deck of cards. I find this is really important for my tactile or kinesthetic learners. Some students will spread them out in their group and order them. Others find they would rather just look at the pictures on the screen as they work together. I usually let them decide.

The great thing about the digital mystery picture activities is that they are self-checking so students know whether they are getting the questions correct or incorrect. Plus, I can see that red box from across the room and know immediately which groups need my help. I generally find the hardest part of this lesson for the students  is simplifying the fractions. 

I can see that red box form across the room and know immediately which groups need my help.

Honestly, this lesson takes the entire period and sometimes I allot part of the next day as well so that the students have time to explore, complete the assignment, and play some games at the end. Here is a link to some great kid friendly card games I found online at RachelKTutoring.com.

Wrapping Up the Probability Lesson

I never like to end a lesson without reviewing what was learned with the students. First, we review what they learned about playing cards in general and then we review what they learned about probability. When we start the next lesson on compound probability, we will link it back to what we learned in this lesson.

What’s next? Simple and Compound Probability with dice, spinners, and marbles.

Almost always, a few days after this lesson, I will begin to see students walking around with their own decks of cards. Sometimes, I’ll see them playing games at lunch time or when they have finished an assignment. It always makes me smile inside to know that they have discovered the pleasure of playing cards and that they have learned a little something about probability too.

If you read this far, drop a comment below and let me know your thoughts on this post or how you teach probability. Or, if you are interested in learning more about why and how I use these self-checking digital mystery pictures in my classroom check out this blogpost.

And as always, thanks for being a teacher!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *