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Tod und Leben (Life & Death)

Based on the card game, War, children will try and accumulate as many cards as possible
by recognizing which of the 2 cards is higher in rank.

Content Area Standard Target
  • Numbers and Operations
  • Algebra
  • Understand numbers, ways of representing numbers, relationships among numbers, and number systems

  • Understand patterns, relations, and functions
  • Understand meanings of operations and how they relate to one another
  • Use mathematical models to represent and understand quantitative relationships
  • Develop understanding of the relative position and magnitude of whole numbers and of ordinal and cardinal numbers and their connections
  • Sort, classify, and order objects by size, number, and other properties
  • Model situations that involve the addition and subtraction of whole numbers, using objects, pictures and symbols
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Obtain materials Obtain the Materials
  • A regular deck of playing cards.  Jokers removed.


Note: Small parts create a choking hazard for children. Make sure that all materials you choose to use for an activity or lesson with children meet safety requirements. Small parts are not appropriate for children who are 5 years of age or younger.

Introduce the activity Introduce the Activity
  1. Explain that today they are going to learn a card game.  I always like to include the personal anecdote that I used to play this as a young girl and my brother and I would get into epic battles that sometimes lasted for hours.  Explain that there are many different ways to play this game and many different variations of the game and that today, we re going to learn the German version, called Tod und Leben which means “Life and Death”
  2. Ask for a volunteer to play the game with you and stop throughout the demonstration to answer questions or provide additional information. 

The Rules of Tod und Leben

  • Tod und Leben  is a two-player game.
  • The ranking for the cards from highest to lowest is Ace, King, Queen, Jack, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2.  Nothing beats an Ace and a 2 beats nothing.
  • Divide the deck in half.  Each player gets 26 cards.  Players are not allowed to look at their cards.  You should not be able to see your cards or your opponent’s cards.  Place the cards face down on the table.
  • Count to 3 and then flip the top card of the stack.  Each player must flip the card at the same time.  Only the top card of the stack should be flipped.
  • Whoever has the higher in rank of the turned over cards takes them and put them aside.  Then both players turn up their next card and so on.
  • If the turned up cards are equal there is Tod und Loben.  The tied cards stay on the table and both players play the next card in their stack.  Whoever has the highest card on the next draw, takes all 4 cards.
  • When the players have moved through the entire deck, the game is over.  Each player counts how many cards they’ve accumulated and the player with the most cards wins.
Engage the children Engage the Children
  1. Give each pairing a deck of cards to begin playing.  Just the dealing out of the cards is a great exercise in counting and equal shares.  Have the children count aloud and remind them that each player gets 26 cards.  Remind the children that there are 52 cards in every standard deck of cards and 52 divided into 2 equal shares is 26.
  2. Circulate and monitor the children’s play.  It might be helpful to put up a poster of the cars rankings to be used a reference point for the children.  The number cards are easy but the face cards can be a little difficult to understand.
  3. Once the children have played a game, survey them and find out “What was easy about the game?”  and “What was hard about the game?”  Take this information to adapt the game for certain players or to create better pairings for the next game. 
  4. This is clearly a “winning” game and while fostering a sense of healthy competition is good and motivating, I also like to tell the children that this is also a learning game and that the main goal of this game is to better learn our sequential numbers, more than, less than, and to have fun.  Many times, I keep a tally of the children’s names and the amount of cards they accumulated after each game and after a period of playing this game, the children tally up their score.  This defuses the immediate games and makes the “winning” more of a long-term goal.

Additional Extensions

  • Instead of having the game end when the desk is out of cards, have the children put the accumulated cards, face down on the bottom of their deck.  This extends the game, sometimes for too long of a time.
  • When the children have completed a game, have them tally up their cards.  Jack = 11, Queen = 12, King = 13 and an Ace = 14. 
Encourage vocabulary Encourage Vocabulary
  • Equal shares – To divide a whole fairly and equally; fair distribution (e.g., "I divided the cards into equal shares among the children.")
  • Divide –  Group a number into equal parts (e.g., "Divide the cards into 2 equal piles.")
  • Sequential numbers – Numbers that follow a fixed order (e.g., "1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 are a group of sequential numbers that start with smallest and work their way up to biggest")
  • More than – A value that is higher or greater in number (e.g., "A 10 card is more than  a 5 card.")
  • Less than A value that is smaller in number (e.g., "A 2 card is less than an 8 card.")

Glossary of MATH vocabulary

Make adaptations Make Adaptations

Supporting Children at Different Levels

Toddlers   Pre-K

Toddlers may:

  • Not yet count beyond ten.
Vertical line

Pre-K Children may:

  • Have a grasp of the game and the ranking of the face cards.
  • Have emerging number sense and are starting to add one-digit numbers.

Home child care providers may:

  • Take the face cards out of the deck and only have the numbers 2 – 10


Home child care providers may:

  • Have the children put the accumulated cards, face down on the bottom of their deck.
  • Have the children who have completed a game tally up their cards.  Jack = 11, Queen = 12, King = 13 and an Ace = 14. 


Books Books
  • Card Games for Little Kids by Gail MacColl (New York: Workman Publishing, 2000)

  • More or Less (MathStart 2) by Stuart J. Murphy (New York: HarperCollins, 2005)

  • Alfie the Alligator: A Teaching Rhyme About Comparing Numbers by Sandy Turley (New York: Helps4Teachers, 2008)

Music and movement Music and Movement
Outdoor connections Outdoor Connections
  • Play Red Rover using numbers

    Red Rover rules: At least 6 people, divided into two equal teams

    Two teams line up opposite each other, no more than 30 feet apart. The first team agrees to call one player from the opposite team, and chants, "Red Rover, Red Rover, send (a number. Give each child a number and they need to remember and respond to that number) on over!" The person/number called runs to the other line and attempts to break the chain (formed by the linking of hands). If the person called fails to break the chain, this player joins the team that called Red Rover. But, if the player successfully breaks the chain, he may capture either of the two players whose link was broken by the dash, and bring them back to his original team. Teams take turns calling out Red Rover and challenging a player on the opposing team.  Depending on the outcome of the turn, you will need to recount and give the players new numbers after every turn depending on whether you gain or lose a player.

    The objective of the game is to end with the most players on your team by maintaining the integrity of your chain. The game ends when all the players end up on one side.
    While the game's objective is keeping the chain intact, players holding on too tightly might cause injury to players in the chain-links or to the runner. Remember, it's just a game!


Explore links Web Resources
  • Videos, stories and songs to help Grade 1 kids learn about how to use the greater than and less than symbol                                                                                                                       



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