Do Review Games Improve Student Achievement?

Last week, Dawn from Algebra Simplified wrote that review games rarely get prime time in her class anymore because they aren’t leading to her desired assessments results (read her post here). This struck a chord with me because I have often wondered if games could lead to student achievement. In fact, for several years of teaching, I rarely used games. I felt that games would mislead students into thinking that we only ‘played’ in class. Besides, with the Common Core’s emphasis on rigor, games didn’t seem to fit with the new curriculum.

However, after too many classes where students sat passively and unresponsive to class assignments, I decided to try using games again on a biweekly basis. The most popular game with them was Trashketball, which I used to engage them in their grammar lessons. Besides being fun, Trashketball games incorporated cooperative learning, active learning, and provided an opportunity for all of my students to be successful.

Clip art from Image Boutique

Clip art from Image Boutique

But, the question still remained: Do games lead to improved test scores? This school year, I decided to answer this question when developing my Student Learning Objective. As part of my annual evaluation, I am required to show student growth on two objectives. For one objective, I stated that students would improve their ability to identify verbal phrases including gerunds, infinitives, and participles. At the beginning of a three week unit I gave my students a 30 item diagnostic assessment, and they scored even worse than I expected; the class average was 12%! My goal was to have 85% of my students score a 70% or higher on the post assessment or improve by 25%. In a class of 16 students, that meant that if just two students didn’t meet the goal, I could be considered “ineffective.”

Each week I introduced a new verbal phrase concept through a lecture and power point. I followed this with short guided practice and then independent practice. Finally, after I had provided instruction for all three verbal phrases, I reviewed the concepts again with my best-selling Trashketball game before the post-assessment. Although students worked in groups, I held them all accountable by requiring each student to write his/her own answers. And it worked! On the post-assessment, the students in the class increased their scores by 65%, and the average score was 77%!

No doubt, games don’t always lead to student learning, but if used in conjunction with other lessons and activities, I have found that they can be a fun way to help my students achieve success. In fact, my Trashketball games are popular with both students and teachers, so I’ve created many to review a number of grammar concepts. If you think you would be interested in learning more about these games, just click on the image below!


OC_BEACH_TEACHER_revised_finalKim, the OCBeach Teacher,  is a National Board Certified English teacher who is currently teaching American Literature and AP English Literature and Composition.  She shares classroom ideas and tips on her OCBeachTeacher Facebook Page.
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Sunday Panel: Assessment Review Strategies

What is your best review strategy for exams and other assessments?

LanguageArtsClassroomLauralee,The Language Arts Classroom: I have students make the review sheet. The class period before review day, I ask students to write a few pointers. I add those to my review lesson (incorporate them somehow, even if they were already on my notes) and emphasize that that is what a student brought to the review.


EllenBrain7 (1)

 Ellen Weber:
One review strategy my students enjoy most involves a flip from verbal-linguistic intelligence where words abound, to engage their visual-spatial intelligence where images thrive.

Here’s how it works. They sketch ideas facts or numbers into simple pictures as they review for the test. These can be very rough drafts for less artistic learners. Students ensure their images remind them of key facts they wish to remember for a test and can share these with a peer as part of the review process.

Once the test begins – they re-sketch their rough draft from memory onto the test (or question) paper. Now they refer to it as a trusty guide to write related facts into test answers. It’s a fun way to remember and it offers a valid cheat sheet to assist the brain, by simply outsourcing facts to be easily remembered.

OC_BEACH_TEACHER_revised_finalKimberly, OC Beach Teacher:
Depending on the type of assessment, I have a variety of review strategies. Often I will play games before students take their vocabulary tests, which we have every two weeks. Sometimes we play bingo. It’s easy because I just give the students a blank bingo board to fill with their vocabulary words in any random order. Then I read definitions, synonyms, and antonyms and they just mark their board with whatever symbol (star, smiley face, etc.) we have chosen. We usually do several games.

If I have more time, I will play a game of Vocabulary Baseball with my students. I post bases around the classroom so that students can move to the appropriate base when they advance. I divide the class into two teams and they choose a “batting” order. As each “batter” has a turn, he or she chooses a single, double, triple, or home run after I have chosen a random vocabulary word. The student is required to give a definition, synonym, antonym, or use the word correctly in a sentence depending on the challenge he or she has selected. As each new batter has a turn, teammates advance one another around the bases to score. At the end of the game, the team with the most runs wins.

No matter what game we play, students are usually engaged and the practice helps them to be successful on their tests!

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Jackie, Room 213: When I assess my students, I want them to do more than regurgitate facts, so exam review needs to be about much more than simple memorization.  I expect them to understand the ideas presented in their texts, so they can use higher order thinking skills to apply and synthesize their knowledge.  I also want them to be able to demonstrate the skills they have learned and honed through-out the semester.  In short, I don’t have a traditional exam review, where I lay out all that I want them to “know” for the exam.  We focus on a series of activities that remind them of the important elements of our texts, and of the skills they have learned. These activities also activate the thinking skills they will need to do well on the assessment.

2014 Holiday Blog Hop


blog hop button 2014 (1)

In the spirit of “Faulkner’s Fast Five,” here are five thoughts for this holiday season…

1. On my holiday bucket list: Read a good book! When I went to the NCTE Annual Conference recently, several people recommended “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” by Rebecca Skloot. I’m not sure I can even wait for our winter break to start reading!

2. Here’s a special tradition: We always join our friends and family in a Shuvunda (a gift you “shove under” the bed because you can’t take it back) gift exchange! Much like a White Elephant gift exchange, we always enjoy laughing at the gifts. One of my favorites was A Christmas Story Leg Lamp!

3. Need a gift idea? I love giving presents that keep giving back. St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital sells beautiful ornaments that make great stocking stuffers or unique gifts for colleagues. I always get one for our tree, too, and each year when we decorate, I’m reminded of the patients who inspired the artwork on the ornaments.


4.My students love: Every year I create a holiday “gift book exchange.” I tell my students to find a gently used book or inexpensive new novel, and they bring in beautifully wrapped presents to share. It also helps me ensure that they read when they’re on vacation!


5. Finally, a gift for you: Recently I used these Free Analyzing an Argument Task Cards with my American Literature students. I numbered each card and distributed them to my students with their different abilities in mind. Each student completed his or task individually, but then the students met in groups (based on numbers) to discuss their analysis of Patrick Henry’s argument in “The Speech to the Second Virginia Convention.” Enjoy!

Thanks for “hopping” over to Cross Curricular Corner and celebrating the holidays with us!

OC_BEACH_TEACHER_revised_finalKim, the OCBeach Teacher,  is a National Board Certified English teacher who is currently teaching American Literature and AP English Literature and Composition.  She shares classroom ideas and tips on her OCBeachTeacher Facebook Page.
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Sunday Panel: Keeping Students Focused

Sunday Panel StickyHow do you keep your students focused during cooperative learning?

LanguageArtsClassroomLauralee,The Language Arts Classroom: Before students start cooperative learning, I ask them to brainstorm what it should look like. Chances are that they know the answer and have reviewed these rules before. It is a good chance to remind students and to correct misconceptions.

For classes that frequently work together, a reminder chart (perhaps laminated) of “”what cooperating work is”” and “”what cooperating work isn’t”” helps too.

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 Ellen Weber:
I encourage MI tasks in teams that use and develop student strengths as a way to increase their interest and focus. For instance, verbal IQ develops by communicating more. So I might ask: What if you draft and submit a letter to the editor?

For visually stronger students, I might ask – What if you sketch, photograph your best idea? Visual IQ develops focus by designing images.

We also know that Kinesthetic IQ grows focus by moving & building, so I ask: .What if you build a model of an improved plan?

Those who love the social interaction focus better in teams when I ask questions such as: What if you invite a peer to a lunch discussion?  Interpersonal IQ increases focus by growing relationships that offer meaningful takeaways.

OC_BEACH_TEACHER_revised_finalKimberly, OC Beach Teacher:
One way I keep them focused is by making them all accountable. I used to have them respond in writing on one paper during two of my favorite cooperative learning activities, “numbered heads” and “trashketball.” Now, I ask each student to submit his/her own answers in writing although the group can work together as a team to develop their answers. It helps to involve the students who used to just sit there and let the better students do all of the work.

Feature Friday: Teach Thanks

November’s a perfect month to teach that thanks is more a state of mind in all teams than a state of benefits received. Teams find it cool that thankfulness can recharge brains beyond challenges they face. It’s always fun to teach brain facts related to thankfulness — such as the fact that a thankful action literally reconfigures team brains for more fun and productivity.


My students use thankfulness as a tool that adds an adventure for all to enjoy in their teams. It’s a November go to that revs up brain power in ways that delight their groups.

Get these Brain Based Task Cards!


EllenBrain7 (1)Ellen Weber is a whole brain curriculum specialist at secondary and higher education. She works in secondary and college learning renewal where she has won awards internationally for her practical brain based Mita model to engage both sides of students’ brains.
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Mastering Literature Circles: Help Students Take Ownership of Their Learning

For many years I was hesitant to use literature circles in my class. When I was a student teacher, I observed a class that was supposed to be doing literature circles, and students just socialized. I was uncertain about literature circles for many reasons: How would I group students? How could I ensure that they would read and have good discussions? How would I assess them? However, my belief in giving my students choices and my hope that they would take ownership for their learning prompted me to try them despite my uncertainty.

In traditional literature circles, students are grouped by their book selections, but I plan my groups carefully beforehand. At the beginning of the school year, I give a reading diagnostic which gives me a grade level equivalency for my students’ reading abilities. By putting students in groups with similar reading abilities, I am able to differentiate and provide appropriate book choices to each group. I also take group dynamics, work ethic, and learning styles into consideration. It takes time, but if the unit is prepared well, the teacher will be able to act as a facilitator.
literature circles
Additionally, I make single-gender groups whenever possible. It provides some of the advantages of single-gender education in a coed classroom. And truly, I’m amazed at how well this has worked! Furthermore, this also helps me to plan book choices for the groups. Although it may seem stereotypical, many of my girls prefer books with female protagonists, romance, and drama. For instance, I often include the following books choices for my girls: The Joy Luck Club, Water for Elephants, A Thousand Splendid Suns, The Bell Jar, The Color Purple, The Help, or The Lovely Bones. In contrast, I provide the following titles for my boys: Into Thin Air, The Things They Carried, Lone Survivor, Catcher in the Rye, The Diary of a Part-Time Indian, and The Red Badge of Courage. Clearly, I have a range of novels- classics, contemporary fiction, and nonfiction- to help engage a variety of readers.

I also plan the outline for a schedule; however, when they choose their books, they identify the pages and chapters they will read for each meeting. They also select roles for their meetings, which require them to be prepared and accountable. These jobs include the leader (who writes discussion questions to start each meeting), vocabulary master, researcher, literary element educator, and highlighter. Each group provides a copy of this information to me, so I know their schedules and roles.

On the day before the first meeting, I give several students a ‘script’ so they can role-play a literature circle group meeting with a book they read in 10th grade. They present in a “fishbowl,” and I model note-taking for the class because this is one way that I assess their discussions. At first I peruse their notes carefully, providing feedback for future meetings, but soon I don’t have to grade the notes as carefully. I also use peer and self-evaluations, which are averaged at the end of the unit. The students often provide meaningful feedback to one another. For instance, a student may praise his group’s leader for reminding them to look in the text and keeping them on task. Then again, students have been known to mark a classmate with a low score and comment with a reason such as the group member came unprepared or was frequently absent.

Literature circles are one of my favorite units to teach, and I have students apply their learning to other readings in class after they finish. It’s reward to watch the students respond to their books in meaningful ways and take control of their learning. They appreciate the autonomy, and I know they will definitely be better prepared for college.

How do you use literature circles in your classroom?

OC_BEACH_TEACHER_revised_finalKim, the OCBeach Teacher,  is a National Board Certified English teacher who is currently teaching American Literature and AP English Literature and Composition.  She shares classroom ideas and tips on her OCBeachTeacher Facebook Page.
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Sunday Panel: Differentiating Instruction

Sunday Panel StickyWhat are some specific ways that you are able to differentiate for the various learners in your classroom or subject area?

EllenBrain7 (1)

 Ellen Weber:
I encourage students to use their full range of stronger intelligences in class. I suggest tasks they can do to meet rubric criteria we set together.

To understand a new concept for instance, they might play with words, do crosswords, compete in scrabble, debate, search for new ideas on the internet, write a blog, tell their best idea in 140 letters, or offer to speak at a local club.

The choice to differentiate is the choice to grow brainpower and it takes less effort when students come to the table with their strengths as tools.

AlgebraSimplifiedIconDawn, Algebra Simplified:
A carefully crafted activity that has work geared for more than one ability level makes meeting the needs of all students at the same time much easier. Normally with these type of activities, the differentiation is so seamless that the students don’t even realize that it is happening. On the other hand, when differentiation is just obviously … well…different, student buy-in is key. I start with a class reminder of the benefits, a vote on who would like to experience the benefits, and an ardent request for student cooperation so that all can benefit.

LanguageArtsClassroomLauralee,The Language Arts Classroom:
1. Task cards. Students all have assignments, and only I know which cards are more difficult. If I distribute them with partners, this also helps.

2. Choices/ Goals. If I allow students to have personal choices or make specific goals, they are tailored to their own needs. I must approve of the goals, but as long as a student is working toward improvement, that counts. (This especially works well in public speaking. Students can personalize what will make them better speakers).

3. Specifics to world. Right now is election season. Discussing the class’ interests in advertising techniques, word choice, and picture choice for campaign mailers and other commercials allows students to bring their personal stories to the class. Students have different perspectives, and encouraging explanation empowers students to understand different points of view. Specifically, bringing the world to the classroom empowers students who may not normally contribute.

OC_BEACH_TEACHER_revised_finalKimberly, OC Beach Teacher:
In earlier posts this month, I mentioned using literature circles and choices to differentiate instruction. Besides those strategies, I have a few additional tools. For instance, with students who may need additional support in my class, I make simple adjustments to assignments: providing a word bank on a vocabulary worksheet, reducing the number of exercises on a grammar handout, or shortening the page requirement for an essay.

On the other hand, to provide additional challenges for students, I offer enrichment opportunities. For example, I recently offered extra points to students who took advantage of a vocabulary video contest at The New York Times Learning Network. Furthermore, I always share writing contest information for local and national competitions. Not only do my students benefit from the enrichment, but sometimes they even find themselves winning a contest!

How do YOU differentiate instruction?  Please share your ideas in the comments sections.