Tod und Leben (Life and Death)

In this lesson, children will play a card game and try to accumulate as many cards as possible by identifying the higher-ranking cards.

Lesson for:

(See Step 5: Adapt lesson for toddlers or preschoolers.)

Content Area:

Numbers and Operations

Learning Goals:

This lesson will help toddlers and preschoolers meet the following educational standards:

  • 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

Learning Targets:

After this lesson, toddlers and preschoolers should be more proficient at:

  • Developing understanding of the relative position and magnitude of whole numbers and of ordinal and cardinal numbers and their connections
  • Sorting, classifying and ordering objects by size, number and other properties
  • Modeling situations that involve the addition and subtraction of whole numbers using objects, pictures and symbols

Tod und Leben (Life and Death)

Lesson plan for toddlers/preschoolers

Step 1: Gather materials.

  • A regular deck of playing cards  (Jokers removed)

Note: Small parts pose a choking hazard and are not appropriate for children age five or under. Be sure to choose lesson materials that meet safety requirements.

Step 2: Introduce activity.

  1. Explain that today the children are going to learn a card game. Explain that there are many different ways to play this game and many different variations of the game and that today they are going to learn the German version called Tod und Leben, which means “Life and Death.”
  2. Ask for a volunteer to demonstrate 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. Players should not be able to see their own cards or their opponent’s cards. Place the cards face down on the table.
  • Count to three and then flip the top cards on the stacks. Each player must flip the card at the same time. Only the top cards on the stacks should be flipped.
  • Whoever has the highest card takes both cards and sets them aside. Then both players turn up their next cards 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 cards in their stacks. Whoever has the highest card on the next draw takes all four 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.

Step 3: Engage children in lesson activities.

  1. Give each pair of players a deck of cards to begin playing. Dealing the cards is, in itself, a great exercise in counting and equal shares. Have the children count out loud and remind them that each player gets 26 cards. Remind the children that there are 52 cards in every standard deck, and 52 divided into two equal shares is 26.
  2. Circulate and monitor the children’s play. It might be helpful to put up a poster of the cards’ rankings as a reference 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 ask: “What was easy about the game? What was hard about the game?” Use their feedback 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 like to tell the children that this is a learning game and that the main goal is to better learn our sequential numbers, more than and less than—and to have fun. Many times, I keep a tally of the children’s names and the number of cards that they accumulated after each game. After a period of playing this game, the children tally up their scores. This defuses the immediate games and makes “winning” more of a longterm goal.

Additional Extensions

  • Instead of ending the game when the deck is out of cards, have the children put the accumulated cards face down on the bottoms of their decks. 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 Ace=14.

Step 4: 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 two 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 five card.”)
  • Less than: A value that is smaller in number (e.g.,”A two card is less than an eight card.”)

Early Math Glossary

Step 5: Adapt lesson for toddlers or preschoolers.

Adapt Lesson for Toddlers
Toddlers may:
  • Not yet count beyond 10
Child care providers may:
  • Take the face cards out of the deck and only use the numbers 2-10
Adapt Lesson for Preschoolers
Preschoolers may:
  • Have a grasp of the game and the rankings of the face cards
  • Have emerging number sense and an emerging ability to add single-digit numbers
Child care providers may:
  • Have the children put the accumulated cards face down on the bottoms of their decks
  • Have children who have completed a game tally up their cards: Jack=11, Queen=12, King=13 and Ace=14.

Suggested 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

Outdoor Connections

Play Red Rover using numbersRed Rover rules: At least six people are divided into two equal teams, which 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) over!” Give each child a number to remember and tell the child to respond if their number is called. 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 (whether your team gains or loses a player), you will need to recount and give the players new numbers after every turn. The objective is to finish the game with the most players on your team by maintaining the integrity of your chain. The game ends when all of 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!

Web Resources

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