Woolworths and Dominoes: How parents can turn marketing ploys into mathematical learning opportunities

At the moment across Australia Woolworths stores are giving away one ‘free’ Disney Pixar Domino with every $20 spent. This is not the first of this kind of promotion, however this particular one took my interest because of my love of dominoes. Last weekend I couldn’t wait to do my weekly shopping at Woolworths so I could check out this domino deal. The child in me wanted to collect as many dominoes as I could, while the adult in me realised what a clever marketing ploy this was. Surprise, surprise, I had the option of purchasing a whole range of accessories to go with my dominoes – a total of 35 different items (which I resisted).

The dominoes have the usual dot arrangement on one side, while on the other side, they have a picture of a Disney Pixar character. The interesting thing is that although there are 28 dominoes in a complete set (double six dot), there are a total of 44 characters to collect….anyone who knows me will know that this doesn’t sit well with me! How can this work? My guess is that young children collecting the dominoes will probably be more focused on the character side rather than the domino side, which is a real shame.

When I got home from shopping last week I sat down to open the individually wrapped dominoes to find out which ones I had collected (I was still wondering how this would work with 44 characters). Out of the 11 dominoes I had collected, three had the same domino arrangement (5 and 3), yet each had a different character on the back. Now, hopefully you’ll know where this is leading….I started to think about the mathematical potential of these dominoes and how perhaps families could take advantage of this marketing ploy to encourage children to ‘play’ with mathematics.

So, what kind of cool ‘mathy’ things could you do with the dominoes? Here are a few things that have popped into my mind, but I’m sure there are many more:

  • Order the dominoes from the smallest total to the highest total (or back to front)
  • How many combinations of dominoes add to….(pick a total – being aware that some totals have more combinations than others)
  • How many dominoes will you get if you spend……
  • Are there any strategies you can use to increase the number of dominoes you get?
  • Play a game of dominoes (great for young children practicing matching and subitising)
  • How many different ways can you make a total of 15 out of two dominoes? What about a total of 20?
  • Estimate how long it will take to collect a full set of 28 dominoes
  • Turn your dominoes face down (picture face up), choose three dominoes and arrange them so that when you add them, the total is as close to 100 as possible. How close did you get?
  • Make the longest possible domino train that adds up to a total of 15/20/25
  • Predict which dominoes you will get the next time you go shopping. How did you make your prediction?
  • Work out which dominoes you need to have a complete set
  • Sort your dominoes (any way you like) and ask someone if your family to work out how you sorted them

Those are just a few suggestions – there are many mathematically based ideas for dominoes. If you are a teacher and looking for ideas, Paul Swan has a great book called Domino Deductions, and there are also some ideas in my book Engaging Maths: Exploring Number. Don’t forget there are also mathematical opportunities relating to the other side of the dominoes as well.

If you are a parent, I encourage you to take this great opportunity and make the most if it – store promotions are meant to encourage spending, but if you are going to spend the money anyway, you might as well make the experience educational!


11 thoughts

  1. My daughter who is in kindergarten plays domino car park. Which is = a A4 piece of paper with 13 boxes each box having a number from 0 to 12, the children then get a heap of dominos and count the dot on each domino and the placing them into the correct box. Example domino with a 5&3 will equal 8 so it’s placed in the 8 box. All the children in her class love this game.


  2. I’ve used dominoes when teaching Year 8 ‘Numeracy’ students especially when working with the Scaffolding Numeracy in the Middle Years resources. I’ve been collecting the Pixar dominoes and thank you for a number of ideas that I can use with them. I don’t believe, though, that they have a double blank domino in the set!


      1. You could use the double blanks to draw any missing combinations if you are trying to collect a set.


  3. There is up to 6 different number combinations per character. I’ve also heard they are bringing out a second lot starting from 45. They quite possibly are going to 56 so those collecting the number combinations will have 2 sets of 28 dominos.


  4. I actually sat down with my class and talked to them about how we know we have a complete set of dominoes without worrying about the pictures. I was very upset to discover that the dot patterns on the back did not make a complete double six set. Nonetheless, a good teachable moment with the class!
    I might have to keep trading to get the complete double six set!


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