Saturday, May 27, 2017

TV Game Shows + Summer Fun + Education = Epic Review Games

"By playing games you can artificially speed up your learning curve to develop the right kind of thought processes." 
-Nate Silver

It's the end of the year for many of us. It's a time to review old learning, but kids are probably sick of the same old pony tricks. I recently wrote about four of my favorite review games for Kids Discover to play with my students, including Scavenger Hunt, Scoot, Basketball, and BoardRush. This past week, we played two more that I wasn't able to include in that post. Looking for two games that combine physical activity, collaboration, competition, cost-benefit analysis, review and fun? Read on for two ideas to use in your classroom.


I've been playing Survivor with my students for years, in both math and history. It's a favorite for both them and me, but I only bring it out once or twice a year. Why? It's a time-intensive game, with a number of rules, that works best as a culmination of an entire curriculum rather than a unit. It's almost important to note that it's a learning tool - overdoing anything will kill it for kids.

It's partially based on the CBS game show, but this game has many more layers to it and no chances for immunity. Under the rules we've developed, players start with 10 "lives." When we play this in history, I give them printed pieces of paper labeled Charters to reinforce the impact of the charters to the Jamestown settlement. They're also put into different groups, based on influential famous Virginians.

They we delve into the rules:
  • A question will be asked and each team needs to discuss and send their answer to me. (I've used whiteboards for this, but recently I've been using The Answer Pad to have them send me their answers digitally.) 
  • Teams that get the answer correct gets to steal 2 Charters from another team. They can take them both from the same team or split them up and they get to add the charters to their total. 
  • Before they take away Charters, they will get to increase the number by throwing a ball into a small white basket within a larger green basket. (We also have used a cornhole set since it was left in my room from the following game.) 
    • If they land in the green basket, they can take 3 Charters total. 
    • If they make it into the white basket, they can take 4 Charters total.
It's amazing watching them strategize with other teams and form alliances to start knocking out other teams. The most recent time we played, one team was knocked out about four times by the end of the game. (This led to some feelings of sadness from the team that kept getting eliminated, but I reminded them that it was just a game and they could have chance for revenge later.) If a team is knocked out, they have an opportunity to rejoin the game by getting an answer correct and tossing the ball. If they make it into the white basket, they earn 5 Charters back.

Along the way, I throw in different challenges (called Hardships to tie in with our history theme) and bonuses (also called bribes to the King). Some challenges include having to give up charters to a specific team based on the team's namesake (such as all players depositing one Charter into Maggie Walker's bank to reinforce that she was the first African American woman bank president) or losing charters entirely to me (to help show the impact of the King of England taking unfair taxes from the colonists). For some bonuses, I ask additional questions to earn more charters or extra tosses, or have them engage in a bidding war for different sabotages, such as blindfolding other teams or buying all of the other teams chances to shoot. The highest amount of charters offered to me wins.

At the end, we have one final speed round, in which teams can earn two additional points per question. I usually take first correct response for the point, and often award ties. Playing The Final Countdown or Eye of the Tiger isn't required, but highly recommended. 

Cutthroat Cornhole

Cornhole is possibly my favorite summertime game, tailed closely by Kan Jam. The other day when I was pulling my car into the garage after work, I saw my set and began wondering how I could bring it into the classroom. Later that evening, I was discussing Cutthroat Kitchen on Food Network with Katie Kraushaar (since I apparently am obsessed with game shows) and Cutthroat Cornhole was born.

The premise is simple - we play cornhole in class and answer review questions. However, that's too basic. Five questions are given per round. For each correct answer, each team earns a point. The students are grouped in four teams (Black 1/2 and Yellow 1/2, based on the colors of my beanbags). At the end of the round, teams get to choose what they want to do with their points:
  • Bank the points for use in a later round
  • Spend 1 point to throw a bag (per bag)
  • Spend 2 points to make other team throw with non-dominant hand
  • Spend 3 points to block one bag from the other team
  • Spend 4 points to make other team wear blindfold for all their throws
  • Spend 5 points to take two steps forward to throw (per bag)
The points from the question answering do not count for overall scoring. The only points that count are the points scored in cornhole, and we follow the "cancellation" rules of cornhole. Black 1/2 are working together against Yellow 1/2.

Note the blindfold. Heads up!
I was sure that my students would start spending their points immediately. However, for the first three rounds, not a single bag was thrown. Eventually, some teams ventured to spend their points on some standard throws. 

Finally, one team purchased a blindfold and then the real sabotages began. Pro tip: make sure everyone is looking before a blindfolded kid throws a beanbag, and don't be afraid to guide them to the right direction. We had one kid take a beanbag to the face since she wasn't watching the throw, but she was unharmed overall. 

In the final round, one team had saved something ridiculous like forty points. They spent them all in one fell swoop, effectively buying every sabotage and advantage. Unfortunately, the school day ended before we could watch that carnage unfold. 

Final Thoughts

While we know that time is precious and we don’t want to waste a moment of instructional time, it’s also important to infuse learning with physical movement. The investment in activity will surely pay off in heightened engagement and an increase in achievement. Students have an allotted time for Physical Education classes, but 45 minutes once or twice a week isn’t going to cut it, especially with the CDC recommendation that children and adolescents get a minimum of 60 minutes of physical activity every single day.

It's also important to note that these games do not have a prize for the winning team, aside from bragging rights. To me, playing a review game in class is reward alone, and I don't believe that everyone needs a prize for every single little thing. I rather my students be engaged because they want to demonstrate their knowledge and have fun playing a game rather than working towards some sort of extrinsic motivation.

These games may sound a bit complex, but the kids genuinely love them and it's worth it. I'm happy to answer any questions you have about them. Try them out for yourself and let me know in the comments below what modifications you make for your own students. 


  1. thanks for posting - excellent ideas!!

  2. I love your posts! You are a phenomenal teacher and seem like an amazing person as well. I hope you are doing well at your new school! My thoughts are with you in your recovery. What a trooper you are!

  3. Those are some amazing activities. You guys should start teaching custom dissertion writing to them too so they can learn something profession. It will help them for sure.

  4. Nice game show ideas. Enjoyed with my son. Thanks, dear. Will write a review soon. You can read here:

  5. Keep the balls rolling!! Nice posts you have given for us.
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