Review Time = Game Time

One of the easiest ways to implement game mechanics into your classroom is when reviewing material for a test. Many educators have their go-to review games that they use with their students before a test, but did you ever think to theme the review to meet the unit’s topic or learning targets? You could even make the review part of your overall gamified classroom. Earlier this school year, I allowed my students (that were playing the role of European Explorers) to play the “boss level: bonus round.” By facing the boss, students could play a review game where if they were able to “defeat the boss” (AKA: win the game), they were EXEMPT from the unit test! That’s right, I didn’t make those students that defeated the boss take the end of unit test. Here’s why: What is the point of a test? I consider my assessments to determine a student’s level of mastery of a particular set of content. I made this “boss” level in such a way that every learning target from the unit would be assessed through the review game. Students that could actually beat the “boss” couldn’t have done so without first mastering all of the content– they literally wouldn’t have known all of the answers to be able to compete in the review activity. Therefore, if they could beat the boss, they would have been successful on the test anyways. Why would I make those particular students prove their knowledge and skills to me again? I know what you’re thinking: “But you HAVE to give your students a test! That’s what teachers do, and that’s what administrators want!” To you I say, “No, I HAVE to teach my students a particular set of learning targets and I HAVE to make sure each student is not only meeting those targets, but showing overall growth in social studies. And I do!

I love theming my review to match my unit. For this past unit about Westward Expansion, I gave my students 2 class periods and literally a dozen review games to choose from as they prepared for their unit test. Here are some of the review activities students could choose from:

Here is a PDF version of the review stations to inspire you: Westward Expansion Extra Activities

I also had kids play other review games (at their own choosing) during this review time. I set up one game where they could throw a suction-cup ball to my board to hit a portion of a map that showed U.S. Territorial Expansion. Students were given clues about a particular area that the U.S. acquired during this time period, and were challenged to “hit” that area of the map with the ball in order to score points! Students were really able to practice their map skills and overall understanding of all learning targets through this game!

Here are some other review games I offered during this review time:

(Crocodile Dentist made a game of “Heads Up” a lot more interesting! Students had to place a card on their heads and have their teammates give them clues to what the word was without actually saying any part of the word. If they didn’t guess the word in time, they had to push down one of the crocodile’s teeth… hopefully it wasn’t the sensitive tooth that caused him to CHOMP down on your precious little fingers! My 8th graders ATE this game up! LOL, I love puns.)

IMG_5244.JPG(Review 4-U Tubs are great ways for students to ask each other review questions! Simple, cheap and a class favorite! I write down review questions on a note card, place them in the tub and if students answer any questions incorrectly, they must complete some sort of punishment–push ups, jumping jacks, etc.)

img_5245.jpg(Pictionary is a fun way for students to really have to think through content as they review.)

Listen, none of these review games in and of themselves are MIND-BLOWING ideas. I get that. I have found success in having students diversify their methods of review. This yields positive results! Plus, offering many different types of review can allow me to differentiate my review to custom fit each student’s individual needs (even though students are choosing which games they play, I can give them a gentle nudge in the right direction). Plus, students have multiple ways to have fun, they never get bored, and they are completely engaged in the review because they have a choice in how they review.

All for now,



Bringing Gamification to Your Classroom

Gamification has changed how I teach.  It’s a game-changer so to speak. There are many ways to bring gamification to your classroom.  Deciding to start small is often a good choice but don’t be afraid to throw yourself into a game whole heartedly.

After presenting to a group of teachers recently, the overwhelming feeling involved a sense of reluctancy.  “I’m not a gamer.  There’s no way I can bring games to my classroom.” Being a professional gamer is not a prerequisite to bringing gamification to your classroom. I had played a few video games in my time.  I’m not sure however, that my high score on Galaga in the late 80s would be helpful in this situation. Regardless, the idea is to create a meaningful learning experience for your students.  Classroom learning need not always be text book/worksheet driven.  Personally, if my room never sees a worksheet again it will be too soon. Gamification allows for creativity, problem solving, critical thinking, collaboration, and most importantly, if done right, powerful situations that will allow the students to acquire the content and have it stick with them.

When my journey began a few things needed to change about my classroom.  I needed to give some of the control over to the students, and why not?  This is their education.  They needed to be in the driver seat, making choices and interacting with the game.  Once I let this go, my students became fully engaged. An engaged classroom is messy and loud.  It is full of collaboration and discovery.  It is a powerful environment to experience.  The clock moves swiftly and the days pass quickly.

How to begin?  Start small with a well known game.  I started with a garden sized Jenga game. Be forewarned, it is quite large and makes quite a sound when it comes crashing down.  The sound the kids will make however, is much louder.  Taking time to color the end of the pieces makes the game much more versatile.  We were working on a unit review.  Using a set of twenty multiple choice questions the students pulled pieces.  The color on the end of the piece was matched with a set of questions.  The students then decided which question they wanted to complete.  If we completed the entire question set without the tower tumbling, the entire class received extra credit on the unit test. The reaction of the students was nothing short of amazing.  Their level of engagement was incredible.  It was all I needed to start adding more.

As a teacher of ancient history, it is often difficult for students to understand the concepts related to the ancient world. Sid Meier’s Civilization immediately came to mind.  After purchasing the game on a rainy weekend and essentially playing for hours on end, I knew there was something to pulling my students into a simulation.  Monday morning I put the students into pre-history hunting and gathering groups and asked them to choose where they would settle on an oversized game board I created.  The discussions in their groups were phenomenal.  The geography skills they had just learned were resurfacing in their engaging conversations.  The class period flew by and the energy was contagious.

This began the process of my first game.  Each week I would outline the ideas I wanted my students to master by the end of the week.  After this, I would look at the game mechanics that would allow them to acquire that information.  Students need to move and interact with the curriculum.  They need to experience it instead of observe it from afar.  Week by week I added more to the game.  The students are an essential and incredibly valuable resource.  They feel very powerful when they add to the game.  They were often called my beta testers and carried this title with pride.

Bringing gamification to my classroom is a no-brainer.  Is it easy?  No.  Is it worth it? Yes. Kids deserve the best we can give them.  Their engagement is the payoff.  There is nothing like it.