Game on

By Lisa Peel and Tim Mello
Early Childhood Education Department
Delaware Technical Community College
Terry Campus

A recent article comparing pedagogy (the method of teaching) and andragogy (the method of teaching adult learners) posed the question “Is it too late to be a child? Is it too early to be an adult?” (Nikolova, Zafirova-Malcheva, Staganova, Boytchev, 2013).

Essentially, the researchers wanted to determine if game-based learning was as effective with adults as with children, who are naturally inclined to learn through play. While the study focused a great deal on video games, in regard to story-telling and traditional games, the study concluded that when adults become immersed in games and are allowed to become children again more learning occurs.

In planning for our workshop for the 2015 Instructional Innovation Conference at Delaware Tech, we brainstormed various no-tech and low-tech games that we’ve used over the years before gamification became popular. Here are a few of our tips for using games in the classroom to kick off a lesson, access and assess prior knowledge, check in with a formative assessment, or conclude a unit of study.

Struggling to get students to participate?


Incorporate dice like this teacher does.


Try a game we call Discard It, in which students are given speaking prompts on cards to facilitate class discussion. The idea is to get rid of the card prior to the end of class by participating according to the prompt.

Trying to make vocabulary more fun?

If you have to teach vocabulary, which most of us do, you might try the I have, who has? game. It’s a simple game where students match up a key term/concept/person with a definition/example/theory. This website makes it even simpler by generating the game cards for you.

If you’re looking for other ideas about how to teach and assess vocabulary, these games are great. If you teach math or biology, don’t think that vocabulary is taboo!

Need an activity to engage students in authentic problem solving and work in diverse groups?

Some of our workshop sessions played Picture Puzzler and engaged in rich discussion about vocabulary. If you missed this activity, you can read how it works on a previous blog post.

Tools for gaming the old-fashioned way

A lot of games use whiteboards, but if they aren’t in your budget you can always try this.

Remember most tasks on demand can be gamified simply by incorporating timers or points for teams.

As Seen on TV

In our 2015 Instructional Innovation Conference session, we adapted board games to prevent boredom in the classroom. For those of you who enjoyed the “As Seen on TV” version, here are some more PowerPoint templates for incorporating all manner of popular game shows in the classroom. And this site provides realistic Jeopardy, Family Feud and Mad Gab templates that are easy to use.

Oh No!

Many of you in the session may have been lucky enough to try your luck in a game of Oh No! This is a game in which you put key words or concepts on popsicle sticks or paper strips and write “Oh No!” (or a key phrase that relates to your course) on a few sticks.

Students pull sticks from a container and define the word, name the theorist, categorize the idea, separate the true and false statements, etc. If someone gets an “Oh No!” stick, all of the sticks go back in the bin and they must start over. The first team to sort the ideas correctly wins. During the workshop, we discussed how English and math teachers could use this as an error analysis activity to sort correct and incorrect sentences or equations.

And more…

Looking for even more ways to incorporate games? This website offers dozens of games and game templates for easy integration into the classroom.

Remember, the goal is to use a game as an introduction, reinforcement, or quick review. Typically, a game lasts only a short time; it doesn’t replace teaching and shouldn’t last an entire class period. In fact, one of the favorites of the day was the snowball fight.

Additional resources from this workshop and others from IIC 2015 can be found here.


Nikolova, N., Zafirova-Malcheva, T., Stefanova, E., & Boytchev, P. (2013) Is it too late to be child? Is it too early to be adult? Andragogika, 1(4), 156 – 173.

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