SET: Extensions

Players: 2 or more
Ages: 5 and up
Cost: ~$13 (Buy on Amazon)
Math Ideas: Classification, pattern recognition, justification
Questions to Ask
    How can we tell if we are missing a card?
    Can you make a 3x3 array of cards where every row, column, and diagonal is a set?

    How many sets are there in this deck of cards?

One of my very first recommendations was the card game SET. As I shared, I love this game because it plays well with almost any age and almost any amount of people.

SET Box.png

In my original newsletter, I shared the basic mechanics of the game, as well as some basic questions you could ask while playing. I was pretty happy with the ideas I had recommended

Then I met Amie Albrecht.

Last summer, Amie led me on a journey through the world of SET that totally transformed how I see the game. These days, I spend two full weeks analyzing and playing the game with my middle school elective students. All the ideas below are either stole from Amie outright or inspired by her suggestions.

SET board.jpg

But don't worry; most of these variations and activities are completely approachable by any elementary student. If you haven't already, check out the original post to see the basics of how SET is played. Then read on for a few of my favorite variations.

Variation 1: Are We Missing Any?

My favorite variation of SET is also the most open ended. Whenever I get the cards out with kids, I tell them "I'm not sure if I have a full set for everyone. Can you go through the cards just to make sure I'm not missing any?"

The thing is, SET cards just beg to be organized. Maybe your kids will start separating them by color or by shape, but as they begin to lay the cards out, they'll start to subdivide the cards into different shades and numbers. Eventually they'll probably end up with a huge array of cards that looks something like this:


Feel free to help if you're inclined, but in my opinion the best ideas are the ones that come from your child as they work, unassisted, to check and see if all the cards are there. They'll certainly get a feeling of accomplishment when they step back and see the perfectly arranged group of 81 cards.

Variation 2: Tic-Tac-Toe

For this activity, I like to deal out nine cards face-down in a 3x3 array. Then I flip over the three cards shown. 

The goal of the game is simple: Fill in the remaining cards so that every row, every column, and every diagonal contains a set.

An easy way to think of the game is as a tic-tac-toe board, where any winning line should contain a valid set. This variation is really fun and gets your kids to sharpen their set-identifying skills. 


Not only that, but there are actually more sets contained in these nine cards! If you look carefully, you should be able to see 12 sets: three rows, three columns, two diagonals, and four more sets. Can you see them?

By the way, there's no reason to stop at nine cards. Using poster board and transparent cups, you can extend upward and outward until you've used all 81 cards and have created a multidimensional tic-tac-toe board full of sets. 

This is the culminating project of my unit on SET at school, and the kids invariably love it. Check out this image below from Amie: Every row, column and diagonal creates a set, even if you compare multiple layers of the tower!


Look at the rightmost corner of the tower: Three empty red ovals on the top layer, then three empty green ovals on the middle layer, and finally three empty purple ovals on the bottom layer. Can you look diagonally between layers and find even more sets?

Variation 3: The Mathy Questions

I you're fortunate enough to have a really nerdy kiddo, you can give them a few more mathematical prompts that they might enjoy exploring on their own. 

  • If I draw two cards, how many cards in the deck would complete a set?

  • What are the odds of drawing three cards that make a set?

  • Pick a card from the deck. How many unique sets can you create with that card?

  • How many total unique sets are in the deck?

Regardless of how young or old your child is, no matter how deeply you dig for patterns in the game, SET will never disappoint. I was sold on the game years ago, before I had even seen any of these variations.

Click here to buy SET on Amazon