Beyond Jeopardy: 3 Adaptable Games that Make Students Think

The Two Problems with Jeopardy

I have played many a Jeopardy-style quiz game in class. And with good reason: quiz games adapt to many topics, and they stir up students’ competitive spirit, making for an easy kind of engagement.

1. But if I’m honest about it, I have to admit that with this kind of game, it is most often the strongest students who invest and engage the most. Many games result in winners and losers, but one of the benefits of using games in class is that they can give middling or even poor students a chance to be victorious – something quiz games rarely do.

Llama looking at question mark

2. On top of that, it has to be said that Jeopardy is barely a game at all. Yes, there are game-like elements, but ultimately, Jeopardy is just answering questions. There isn’t any kind of thought process that uses the material in a meaningful way, or that asks students to do something with their brains other than recall information they’ve already learned.

Three Games to Try Instead

Murder Mysteries

Terrific for the language classroom, if your students are beyond the very beginner level. I put together a murder mystery for my French phonetics students in which they had to decipher clues in the phonetic alphabet in order to solve the mystery; a no-writing rule made them look at the phonetic characters over and over again while they referred back to pieces of information they’d already looked at, trying to crack the case. They worked in small teams, with the potential reward of a bonus point if they submitted a plausible theory within a certain time frame. Murder mysteries take some time to prepare, but there are a few online resources with pre-written plots you can borrow. Here are the materials for my French phonetics murder mystery:




Clues (pdf)

What if your students are beginners? Try injecting target vocabulary into clues written mostly in their native language, or giving them a map or other visual requiring them to recognize target words such as directions, place names, or numbers.

What’s meaningful about this game? It’s about problem-solving, not memorization, and it makes the target material a means to an end, rather than an end in itself. As I’ve mentioned before, this is how language functions for us naturally, and I like to see that recreated in a classroom activity.

Time’s Up

Time’s Up is a commercial party game that, because it is physically simple and outrageously fun, quickly spawned DIY versions requiring nothing more than some paper and a metaphorical hat. It’s great for vocabulary and it is so easy to prepare that it feels like cheating. Begin with a big stack of cards, each inscribed with one term (a famous person, in the original game). The game then proceeds through three increasingly difficult, increasingly silly levels as players try to figure out what’s on each card based on a teammate’s clues. In the first round, the card-holder may say any number of words relating to the term (excluding the term itself, obviously). Any cards her teammates guess within a pre-determined length of time, they keep for the next round. In the second round, the card-holder goes through the same cards her team has already guessed, but may say only one word per card. In the third round, she must use no words at all, instead making a gesture or action to convey the term. Rotate card-holders at a pre-determined rate.

What’s meaningful about this game? It makes repetition a challenge rather than a bore, and gives students a chance to make different kinds of associations with target content – a longer verbal explanation, a single keyword, and a physical action which they either observe or perform.

Who am I?

This is that game where everyone has a card taped to his forehead (or a sticker on his back) and has to figure out who he is by asking questions to his classmates. As a language teacher, I’ve used it to get students to practice forming questions, but it would be just as good – if not even better – in a history class. Tell students that once they’ve discovered their identities, they should continue to assist classmates who are having a hard time figuring out theirs.

This game can be difficult in a language classroom if you have students who tend to avoid the target language when you’re not actively staring at them. If that’s the case, you can flip this game around by putting descriptions on students instead of identities. Tell students to find the description that matches themselves, or sort themselves into various groups (musicians, brown-haired men, political leaders, etc.).

What’s meaningful about this game? Like the murder mystery, it gives players heuristic pleasure: figuring things out is fun. But this time, the clues come from the players, and they must layer their powers of reason over their existing knowledge bases to make sense of the answers to their questions.

Do you have other adaptable games that serve your classroom well?

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