Five Ways to Involve All Students in Class Games – For the Teachers

Whole_Number_Jeopardy_3I recently finished an updated of a class “Jeopardy”-style game for math, practicing whole number place value. I used games like this a lot in class, particularly as review at the end of a unit. Place value was typically review for my 5th graders anyway, so the game format made it more fun.

This particular lesson has three different levels of the game, which could be used in different grade levels or with small differentiated groups of students.

  • Level 1: Place value to the hundreds, including naming numbers and identifying missing number in series
  • Level 2: Place value to hundred thousands, including naming numbers and one more or one less
  • Level 3: Place value to millions, including naming numbers and exponents

To play, I copied the game board on an overhead transparency and cut little sticky notes to cover each square. On the overhead projector, projected on the wall, the sticky notes made a shadow – a dark square was what the students saw. When I looked at the transparency on the projector though, I could easily read through the paper to the words underneath so I could read the question to the students and/or see the answer. It works really well. Sort of low tech these days, but still effective!

The biggest problem with this kind of game is making sure that a couple of students don’t end up dominating the activity. I want every student to participate so they can all benefit from the practice.

Dividing the class into two teams and having them play against each other seemed to be one of the worst options for getting everyone involved; it was too easy for some students to just sit off to the side and zone out through the entire game while their teammates played around them. So I experimented with ways to make sure every student participated and got a chance to practice the skills and discovered some much better ways to conduct the games, some which worked really well for certain groups of students and others that worked well for others.


1. Individual Reponses with Clickers

If you have them, those student clickers can be a really fun way to get every student to respond to every question while keeping the game moving quickly and feeling like a game. They also help students (and you!) know right away if they got the answer correct or not, so you can adjust or assist as necessary.


2. Individual Responses with Mini White Boards

White boards provide a lot of the same benefits as the clickers – everyone responds and you can see right away who has the answer correct and who doesn’t. They’re maybe not quite a fun or exciting, but for some they are easier to use, and they are certainly cheaper.


3. Students Play in Pairs

Set up the game so that the whole class or group is playing at once, but each student actually plays with one other student – basically a class full of one-on-one games. If possible, pair students with others at a similar level of understanding of the skills being reviewed.

Consider having students switch partners after every 3-4 questions, which can be fun for the students – they get to play with more of their friends – and helps prevent one student from totally beating another.


4. Students Play in Small Groups

This version slows the game down quite a bit, but works well at the beginning of a unit, before much direct instruction of the skill takes place. Students play in groups of 2-3 and submit one answer for their group (using student clickers, white boards or out loud). The students work together to come to a consensus before submitting their answer, so they get a chance to pull from their own prior knowledge and to learn from and discuss and remember with each other.


5. Points for Every Correct Answer, Not Just the First

For all of these options, give a point for every student who gets an answer correct, not just for the student who gets it first. This way every student can be successful. The intent is to have them practice the skills, not to identify the one kid who does it the most quickly.

Don’t take points away for incorrect answers. This tends to be really discouraging, especially for students who end up with negative scores as a result, and it takes time away from the rest of the game. The intent is to practice the skill, so focus as providing as much time and support as possible for actually practicing that skill. (For the same reason, I didn’t count an answer wrong if they forgot to phrase it as a question or something like that. In my class, if they got the answer, they got the point.)



Whole Number Jeopardy Game

with three levels of game boards










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Five Ways to Involve All Students in Class Games
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