Gaming in the Classroom: Board Games and Card Games

I am a huge gamer.  From my Portal lunchbox to my Legend of Zelda wallet, it is evident that I game.  I’m not alone in this either.  Most teenagers today game in some capacity, and it is an avenue that the educational world is slowly picking up on.

Whether video games, board games, or card games, gaming can provide multiple benefits to players.  Board games in particular can promote quick thinking, long-term planning, teamwork, goal-setting, critical thinking, self-control, and confidence.   So on a day when there is a sub in the classroom or students have earned a free day, which is better?  A class chatting and wasting its time for 50-80 minutes of their day or using those 50-80 minutes to develop necessary interpersonal and intrapersonal skills?  Though I haven’t had the opportunity to introduce them yet, board games and card games would be an excellent way to keep kids engaged even on free days or days with a substitute teacher.

Not every board game is going to work for the same classes though.  Forbidden Island would not be a good choice for a preschool class, but Candy Land would be.  Chutes and Ladders might be fun for high schoolers for the nostalgia, but to get them really thinking about what they’re doing, it would be more appropriate to play Dixit or to challenge them with historical facts and inventions, it is better to play Timeline.  Whether collaborative or competitive, board games and card games can challenge students to engage in higher-level cognitive functions while improving social skills and having fun.

So how do you introduce board games into a classroom without getting pieces all over the classroom and students into fighting matches?  Take one day to set up stations with different games to play.  Explain each game and the general idea behind them.  Make sure they know that “Forbidden Island only has two to four players” or “Zombie Dice can have as many players as you want.”  Set clear expectations early on.  Students can help with this.  Ask them to think about what rules should be established (Make sure all pieces go back in the box, put the game away, listen to each other, be respectful, etc.).  If your students have trouble coming up with guidelines, ask them to think about how they would want someone to treat their things.  Another way to make it easier in groups is to have roles the students can take on.  When students pick a game, have them designate one person to read the rules, one person to keep score, and one or two people to take charge of passing out money or tokens or other game pieces as needed.  Designated roles can cut down on arguments and help students instead focus on enjoying the game.  After introducing the games and having a day where you can troubleshoot, you should be able to incorporate board games on sub days and any other time you want your students to have some free time or down time.

So what games should you get for your class?  Here are a few suggestions depending on what you want to accomplish.  Follow the links to learn more about each game!


Castle Panic 

Forbidden Island (If you like Forbidden Island, they also made Forbidden Desert)



Shadows Over Camelot




Once Upon a Time

Unspeakable Words


The Resistance


The Settlers of Catan

Zombie Dice

Get Bit!

Lords of Vegas

Quick Thinking

Star Fluxx (or any of the Fluxx series)


Timeline (They have multiple versions, some might be better for history classes while others are better for science ones.  I personally own the Diversity version, because it has a little bit of everything.)



Ticket to Ride

ImageWesley Crusher knows how to game.  Check out Wil Wheaton’s YouTube series “Tabletop” for more games that inspire communication, teamwork, and all kinds of fun!


Don’t Forget the Top: Challenging Higher Performing Students

So I found I’ve run into a predicament that occurs in every classroom: how to challenge higher level students while providing enough support for students that need extra help.  I am student teaching in classes of both regular level English 9 and honors English 9.  We have quite a few students who need extra accommodations and teachers are often there to help as soon as they need it.  It’s wonderful to see what we do to help students reach higher levels, but sometimes there is such a disconnect in the classroom between the higher performing students and the material or activities.

During projects when choice can be offered, these students are challenged and have a chance to do well.  But what about days when we aren’t working on projects?  Days when I’m teaching parts of speech and can see the bored looks on the higher-level students’ faces?  How can we challenge them daily, not just during projects?  In normal instruction time, how can we both help lower level students, challenge middle-level students, and push higher level students?

I’ve spoken with other teachers and done a bit of research on my own time.  First and foremost, more of a challenge does not mean more work.  All that will do is build resentment toward the teacher and to their own status as an honors student.  Other students might hold back to stop from being given more work.  So, more work is not the answer.  One teacher I asked talked about the importance of choice and how she will have options for her students (e.g. they could write a summary of points or make a poster about it).  Choice allows students functioning on a range of levels to pick the option that best suits them.  Usually, she said, the students will pick the more challenging option.  After all, no one wants to be bored for 50-80 minutes of class.  

Today, as my honors students finished their essays, I recommended peer editing.  They didn’t have to do it, but I suggested that it could help to have a fresh set of eyes.  They agreed and spent the rest of the bell peer-editing as they finished.  It worked very well for the day, but I want to incorporate the extra challenge throughout my teaching.  This is definitely a topic to continue researching.  I will post resources about the issue as I find them for sure.

“Of Mice and Men” – Thug Notes

Thug Notes is a fun series on YouTube that uses humor and slang to promote interest in and understanding of great works of literature. If you can get past some slight issues of foul language, the summaries are always clear and concise and the analyses teach me new things and provide an excellent look at aspects of the novels that make a huge difference in how to interpret the text. Thug Notes is definitely worth watching, and he adds a new video every week, so the library is still growing.

More Than Mad Libs: Parts of Speech Made Fun

Whenever I tell anyone that I am working on a unit about parts of speech, I am met with groans and choruses of, “Ugh.  That has to be so boring.  Learning about nouns and verbs and all those other things?  I bet you can’t wait to actually get to something fun.  Good luck with the kids on that one.”  Every time someone reacted negatively toward parts of speech or the idea of teaching it, it sounded akin to medieval torture.

Why did it have to be that way?

Why did teaching parts of speech or learning about them have to be so painful?  When I had to start planning for teaching parts of speech, I approached it with the goal of having fun and getting the students interested and active.  If students could find something interesting about parts of speech, then learning parts of speech would not only be fun, but it would help them to learn parts of speech better.

So, I decided that each lesson would have a fun student-centered activity.  I used group work, individual work, collaboration, competition, and creativity to really get students interested.  I will probably post the exact lesson plans under the “Teaching Materials” tab, but here is a brief look at what I did for the unit:

Nouns – After a quick survey to see how comfortable they felt with parts of speech, I introduced nouns and tested them by having them go through the lyrics of “What Does the Fox Say?” and circle all nouns in the song.

Pronouns – Using construction paper rectangles with the pronouns on them, create a chart of all the pronouns.  Then take sentences and have students work together to scratch out repeated nouns on their papers.  After they complete it together, a representative from each group takes the pronoun cutouts from our chart and places them over the nouns they want to replace as a physical reminder that pronouns replace nouns.

Prepositions – I brought in a Snoopy plushie and selected a student to place it anywhere he or she wanted in the classroom.  Once Snoopy was in place, I gave students 1-2 minutes to give me as many prepositional phrases as they could about where Snoopy was (or how long he had been there).  I made it a challenge between the two classes to see which class could name more and the winning class became the “Preposition Champs.”  (Both classes actually scored 18 prepositional phrases, so they both became champions).

Adjectives – After reviewing what kinds of adjectives exist, students get in groups and each choose a noun.  (I used Dragon, Superhero, Cat, Villain, Boat, House, Wizard, and Book).  To get them up and moving, the groups then go to a piece of poster paper around the room.  They write the noun they have at the top of their paper then have two minutes to list as many adjectives as they can that describe the noun they were given.  Groups then rotate to the right and have two minutes to draw an image of the noun using the adjectives the last team left.  Groups then share their drawings and provide a sentence about their image using the adjectives on their paper.

After these lessons, the students are taking a quiz, so that ends the first part of their parts of speech unit.  I have been using sentences from The Hunger Games every day to practice identifying parts of speech as well.  A parts of speech unit is not as exciting as a unit about literature or creative writing.  However, it is important that students understand a basic component of how our language functions and how words work in sentences.

Stay tuned for an update on verbs, adverbs, conjunctions, and interjections!