Teacher and Classcraft Ambassador Cara Rowe shares her ideas for homemade classroom games, plus three steps for improving your class exam reviews and seeing better student engagement and academic performance as a result.
Review games help students of all levels do better on tests, and there are many well-known games and several sites available to help you throw together a quick and fun review. The only problem with these traditional games and websites, especially in upper grades (where students have eight or more classes a year), is that almost every teacher they have uses the same ones: Jeopardy, Around the World, Trashketball, or platforms like Quizlet Live or Kahoot.
I’ve used these and other tools to review for years, but recently I’ve noticed that my students are not responding with the enthusiasm they used to. I always had several who were disengaged or working on other things. In order to change that and re-engage my students, I created several imagination-inspiring Dungeons and Dragons-style RPG review games.
This style of game is not for every teacher, but to achieve success with it, you have to understand how role-playing games (RPGs) work and how to be an engaging Gamemaster (GM). This takes considerable legwork on the teacher’s part, but it is so worth it! The response in my classroom has been amazing! At the heart of a RPG is the ability to create a story together. The teacher creates a scenario and allows the students to move through the game in any way they can while steering them toward the learning outcome you want. (Learn how you can use Quests to transform your lesson plans into self-paced, personalized learning adventures.)
Imagining students as adventurers in learning
I teach history to high school students. For the first RPG I created, I used PowerPoint and hyperlinks to simulate a journey through space and introduce the age of exploration. In this group activity, using only our imaginations and some NASA space pictures, the class boarded spaceships and met hostile aliens, space pirates, crashed into asteroid belts, and more. Not all of the groups survived the game, but not all explorers survived, either.
Following the game, I have students write a two-page essay entitled “The Risks and Rewards of Exploration from 1492-1600.” Of all of the essays I read, this one is always by far the best. Students aren’t writing about something they studied; they’re writing about something they lived! They understand the perils of getting out of sight of the shore because they tried in the game and got lost and shipwrecked. They know why someone would risk it because they conquered a wealthy alien civilization and were thought to be gods.
Rethinking your class exam review
The most recent game I made was for my AP government class. Over the summer, I have them read the Constitution and answer 100 questions about it. For the first week of school, we will play “Constitutional Monkey Paw.”
For this, I print the Constitution and cut chunks out. The story is that, in a moment of political dissatisfaction, someone wished the current political situation away and, in doing so, wished away parts of the Constitution! Based on their summer work, the students have to team up to figure out what is wrong and then use a time machine go back and fix it. This school year will be my first time trying this one, and I’m eager to see how it goes.
If this is something you’re interested in doing for your class, I recommend using the following steps:
1) Decide what you want your kids to get out of it before you start. You want it to be fun, but you also want to teach a concept or skill.
2) Play to your strengths. Pen and paper works as well as a computer if you’re good at storytelling.
3) Be adaptable and keep them focused. Students will come up with the craziest and funniest ideas to get out of the situations you put them in!
My students respond well and get into it, I think in part because I’m into it, too. Have fun playing, and so will they. Remember, make it a story you all create together with your minds!