Pattern Bridge

Add and remove shape pieces to complete the pattern on a game board.

Moderate teacher engagement


  • Pattern blocks (at least 15-20), square color tiles, or counters
  • Cards with plus and minus signs (Tip: Instead of cards, you can create a spinner or a die with tape on it that has plus and minus signs marked on it, but you will need more + signs than – signs for the game to work.)
  • Game board
  • Optional: One pattern unit card

Setup — 5-10 minutes

  • Set up the game board.
  • Determine what pattern core unit you want students to replicate. The pattern core unit is the part that repeats (for example, for the pattern “hexagon hexagon triangle hexagon hexagon triangle hexagon hexagon triangle …,” the pattern core unit is “hexagon hexagon triangle”). You can use one of the pattern cards provided or create a pattern card of your own. We suggest starting with pattern units of 2-3 blocks.
  • Display the pattern card. Alternatively, or in addition, you may want to replicate the chosen pattern core unit on the first few spaces of the game board.
  • Place the plus and minus cards face down by the game board.
  • Distribute enough pattern blocks, square color tiles, or counters to extend the pattern on the game board.


  1. Explain that students will work together to extend a pattern that forms a bridge from one side of the game board to the other side.
  2. Before beginning, have students identify the pattern core unit on the pattern card or on the game board.
  3. On each turn, the student draws a card.
    1. If a plus sign is drawn, they add one pattern core unit to the board (in our example, they would add three tiles to the board in this order: hexagon hexagon triangle).
    2. If a minus sign is drawn, they remove one pattern core unit from the board (in our example, they would remove the last three tiles from the board: hexagon hexagon triangle).
  4. The game ends when they fill the board with completed pattern units.

Checks for Understanding

To deepen children’s learning about early math concepts, talk and ask questions while doing this activity together. Here are some examples to get you started.

Pattern Recognition
  • “What pattern are you making? Let’s say it together!”
  • “What shapes are in the pattern? What will you need to repeat to continue the pattern?”
  • “I see you drew a plus/minus sign. What do you need to add to/take away from the board to make the pattern again?”
  • “What should you add to the next space?”
  • “How do you know what to add/take away each time?”
  • “How many more blue red reds (or whatever the chosen pattern unit is) do you need to add to get to the end?”

Activity Modifications

Once you have tried out the activity, here are some other things you can do. Try these modifications to keep the activity interesting and challenging for students all year.

Make It Easier
  • Instead of adding and subtracting core pattern units, have children add or subtract individual blocks while maintaining the pattern.
  • Change the difficulty by using different pattern core units. For example, an AB or ABC pattern is easier to recognize and extend than an ABA pattern.
  • Have students create their own core units to use when playing the game. Make sure they can identify the pattern’s core unit before they start playing.
  • Make the board longer by making as many copies of the middle page of the game board as needed.
  • Design cards to add or subtract more than one pattern core unit at a time (for example, +1, +2, -1, -2).
  • Put each student in charge of a certain type of pattern block so they must work together to build the pattern core unit.
  • Have one student draw the card, one student add/subtract the core unit, and one student check the pattern.
  • River Story: Tell students they need to work to complete the pattern to create a bridge across the river before the river washes away parts of the bridge.