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!