Get 20 Virtual Instructions

Source:  Adapted from an activity in the book, Playing with a Full Deck, 52 Team Activities Using a Deck of Playing Cards by Michelle Cummings.



  • Ask each participant to bring a deck of playing cards to the virtual meeting, or provide images of playing cards.
  • Tell the group you are going to send them into virtual breakrooms to work on a math challenge. Demonstrate what you are asking them to do with five playing cards.
  • The challenge will be to use five playing cards of different values and come up with an equation where your final answer is the number twenty. They may use any math function they want (addition, subtraction, multiplication and division).  For example, if one group had this cluster of cards pictured: a King (10), 3, 2, 5 and an Ace (1 or 11), the group would work with these numbers to find their equation.  Demonstrate one equation for them.  “For example, if I had these cards I could take the King(10) times 3, which would give me 30, divide by 2 to get 15, add 5 to get 20, times the Ace (1) and I still have 20. Voila!”
  • Critical point: It’s important that there are no duplicate values of cards in each card set.  Meaning, you shouldn’t have two number 5’s, or a King and a 10 card.  The five cards should all be different numeral values.  Face cards and the number 10 card are all values of 10.  Aces could be a number one or a number eleven.
  • It’s also important that all participants in each breakroom are working with the same cards. Send them into breakout rooms with 4-5 other participants and have them all find the same five cards in their own deck.  Set the rest of the deck to the side so you are only working with five cards. 
  • See how many different equations they can come up with using the same 5 cards. Have one participant take notes and write down all of the equations they come up with.
  • There has never been an instance where a set of 5 cards has not been able to find an equation that equaled the number 20. Some card combinations are harder than others to find an equation.  If a group is really challenged, you can exchange a card or two out so they have new numbers to work with.
  • Give them 7 minutes in the breakroom to see how many different equations they can come up with. Pop into each room to assist with groups who might be struggling. When they return, ask them to choose their favorite equation to present to the large group.


Also, there has never been an instance where a combination of five cards cannot find a winning equation, however sometimes it may take a little while to find a successful equation.  Sometimes we get dealt a hard hand.  On the contrary, some groups may be dealt an easy hand and they add up the numbers on their cards and they equal twenty. 


Debriefing Topics


  • How did your group work together to come up with 20?
  • Were you able to come up with more than one solution?
  • How did you involve everyone in your group?
  • Who was the leader in your group? What leadership qualities did they portray?
  • How did you decide on your ‘favorite’ equation?
  • Who orchestrated the equation presentation?
  • How did you leverage the strengths of different members of the group?
  • How does this process relate back to the real world?