Written by Sarah Stecher published 4 months ago
We all know the value of purposeful practice--opportunities to reason and build fluency around a certain topic.
However, it’s difficult to just put a worksheet in front of our students and expect everybody to thoughtfully engage with it for the entirety of the class period. With this in mind, I began to explore ways to game-ify some of this practice and make it meaningful for more students.
Enter review games.
I love review games. You’ve probably noticed there are A LOT of them on Mathmedic.com. I’ve found that by adding some simple structures around how students complete practice problems, way more students are actively engaged, and many of them don’t realize it’s often just a worksheet in disguise.
In this article, we’ll share our go-to strategies for turning an old worksheet of practice problems into a review game. Here, we'll focus on the games you can play with little or no preparation.
Pick and Play
There’s a whole set of games that have the same basic premise. You find or write 10-15 questions on the topic you’re practicing. They can be numbered or lettered. Make copies and cut them up so you have stacks of all the different questions which you will arrange on a table or desk near the front of the room, close to where you are standing, where students have easy access. You will need one copy per group of students, so roughly 6-8 copies of each question per class period.
Arrange students in groups of 3 or 4. Each group should come up with a team name and write it on the board. Groups send one group member up to the teacher to grab a problem and they will work on this as a group. You can have students work on mini whiteboards, in notebooks, or right on the paper. Emphasize to students that all group members should be working on the problem, not just one or two.
When they are done, they bring it up to you to check. If it is incorrect, you will simply say “No” and send them back to try again. What happens when the answer is correct depends on the game!
In Trashketball, a correct answer means the student gets to line up at a yard stick, crumple up their piece of paper and try to make a basket. If they make it into the closer basket they get 3 points for their team. If they make it into the further basket, they get 5 points for their team. If they miss both baskets, they can still get 1 pt for getting the question correct. To see an example, check out Unit 1, Day 14 of Precalculus.
In Stinky Feet, a correct answer means the student gets to take a Post-it note from the board which tells them how many points they earn for the question. Before the game you will need to prepare your sticky notes with the point amounts written on the back. To make the sticky notes, write a point value on the back of 30 or so Post-It notes (we use pencil so they can’t see through it). Stick them to a poster or whiteboard. I write positive values between 0 and 10 on most of them but a few higher ones (15 and 20) and some negative ones, including one negative 20. I don't tell the students the distribution of positive and negative numbers. For a twist, we let the students choose whether to keep the points for themselves or give them to another team, BEFORE they see what the point value is on the sticky note. To see an example, check out Unit 6, Day 13 of Algebra 2.
In Castle Attack, a correct answer means the student can either remove two lives from a different team (or one each from two different teams) or add one life on to their own. At the beginning of class give students 60 seconds to draw a castle on the board for their team. Give each team 3 marks (stars, X’s, smiley faces, etc.) to represent their three lives. The competition ends when only one team is still alive. (Or whoever has the most lives by the end of the game--to keep students practicing for the whole hour we say groups can still solve problems to “resurrect” themselves and come back to the game).To see an example, check out Unit 8, Day 7 of Geometry.
In Connect 4, a correct answer means the student gets to place a sticky note on the Connect 4 board, which is a 7x6 table I project onto the board. Each group gets a different color sticky note to represent their game pieces. Just like in Connect 4, the sticky notes obey the laws of gravity and can't float, meaning they have to be placed on the ground level or on top of another sticky note. To see an example, check out Unit 2, Day 9 of Geometry.
Important: We require that groups take turns sending up group members and writing out the answer so that every student is included and participating. I tell students I should see everyone's handwriting at some point!
The 4 games above work well for any type of practice problem.
More Low-prep Games
Here are some additional low-prep games that use a different format.
- Around the world: As easy as this “game” is, my students always say they really enjoy it. All you have to do is cut up your problem set and tape them up around the room. Have students travel “around the world” in pairs completing the problems on a recording sheet. This works for any type of practice problem. We like this game because it gets students up and moving around and gives us opportunities to circulate and provide some targeted and differentiated support to various groups. To see an example, check out Unit 7, Day 9 in Geometry.
- Speed dating: Arrange the desks into concentric circles or 2 straight rows, where two desks are always facing each other. Print the problems and cut them up, placing one problem on each pair of desks. Students can record their work on the recording sheet. You will need a timer as well. Students will work with the person across from them on a review question. We recommend giving about 1-2 minutes for each “date” before having students switch desks to work on a new problem with a new partner. If your desks are arranged in circles, let the outer circle move clockwise and the inner circle move counterclockwise. If you have rows of desks, have one side move toward the front and the other move toward the back. This activity works best when the problems are short and all take roughly the same amount of time. To see an example, check out Unit 5, Day 12 of Precalculus.
We hope these ideas are helpful for the next time you want to give your students some purposeful practice!