10 Tabletop Games Teachers Can Use in Their Classroom

If you don’t know already, I am an educator. I love teaching. If you take away the assessments, the paperwork, and all the red tape that exists in the school system, teaching is a pretty remarkable profession.

Also if you know me, I love tabletop gaming.

So if there are ways to incorporate gaming into the classroom, I will make those strides to do so. Of course, I implement gaming strategically. You can’t just be going into school and saying to your students, “Let’s play this game”, without ensuring that the game incorporates some element of curriculum (unless you’re just taking a break from curriculum, in which case go nuts). You also have to consider that it will engage the majority of your student classroom and if the game sparks many conversations in the curriculum that you’re trying to teach.

Having said this, in no particular order, here are my recommendations for ten tabletop games that you, as an educator, can incorporate into your classrooms:

1. Timeline

The premise of this game is to put a series of events in the correct order based on the year the event took place. The front of the card has the name of the event and the back also has the name of the event with the year, which is kept hidden from the player. Players attempt to put their cards in the correct place on the timeline. If they’re wrong, they draw a new card. The timeline eventually gets bigger and more difficult to put events.

I recommend this game for a couple reasons. For the math geeks, it’s a way to teach the ordering of integers. They include both negative and positive integers for the years, so when you set up the final timeline, it is actually a good formative assessment for students putting numbers on a number line. For the humanities people and even the science guys, this game gets a good discussion about how technology has developed over the years and why/how certain inventions or developments were needed at that time.

2. Cardline

Sister to Timeline, Cardline has the exact same game mechanic, but they use animals, countries, or even music and movies. I recommend the animals one though because it gives students the idea of estimation, especially when you’re using the weight or life span category. This game gives a visual representation of something that weighs tonnes (such an elephant or a blue whale) to something that weighs in ounces or fractions of an ounce (like an ant or a worm). The same idea of putting the numbers in order is there, but you get more of a sense of their estimation skills. If you just work with the fractions, you’re also able to get a good idea as to whether or not students can put fractions in order.

3. Dancing Eggs

During a professional development seminar, this game was recommended to me as a great way for students, who are done early, to do a DPA activity. There are ten eggs in a carton, and there are two dice, a red one and a white one. In a small group, one player rolls the red die and the first person to perform the action on the white die earns an egg. It could be actions like catching the egg when it bounces, or walking around the table. If you complete the task, you roll another die which tells you where to put the egg for the remainder of the game, either between your chin and chest, or between your knees, or between your head and shoulder, you get the idea.

If you want a hilarious way for students to move around and show resiliency, this game is for you. This game is also recommended if you want your colleagues to look like fools at your next staff party.

4. Rory’s Story Cubes

My friend Ron showed me this game one time and I somehow immediately thought of the Grade 6 Provincial Achievement Exams. This is because (and correct me if I’m wrong, because I’m basing this on when I wrote the PAT a long time ago), the grade 6 English PAT has a section in the writing part, where students were to write a narrative based on a picture or text they saw. What better way to practice this then Rory’s Story Cubes. You can do this as a warm-up activity before you start teaching. Simply roll the dice that are provided, say the symbols to the students and then have them come up with their own stories. It is  great practice for responding to a picture through writing.

5. Dixit

Following my last comment, Dixit also provides a way to create simple stories using  images. The artwork in Dixit is remarkable and contemporary. You can definitely play the game with your students, but what I would recommend is taking a random card from the deck, showing it to your students, and have them write stories based on the image they saw, just like they would using the Story Cubes.

6. Wits and Wagers

I go back to a math game that again looks at estimation. Wits and Wagers is a board game in which questions are asked and players have to get close to the correct answer. Answers are arranged on a mat, which features payout ratios. Looking at the answers, players decide which answer was closest without going over. Although there is a bit of betting in this game, the game involves being able to analyze ratios and give students a better understanding of numbers.

7. Family Feud

So while I was attending high school, someone had told me that during their drama class, they were using Family Feud as a way to practice accents. I started to think now that this would also be good game to play in a middle school setting. You can definitely get a performance going and have different traits depending on the types of families you suggest. I definitely think that this game would be a good way to also practice improv skills.

8. Settlers of Catan

Okay, I know this game has caused many fights among friends, but lets look at some of the educational elements of Settlers of Catan. For instance, by placing the chits on the board and rolling the dice, you create a simple probability experiment for students. You can analyze how often certain resources come up by performing a simulation. If we look at the gameplay, we look at the fundamentals of economics. You look at the concept of supply and demand; demand changes consistently throughout the game and when you have one item not being drawn, it becomes more and more valuable. You could talk about concepts involving trade. I’ve learned more about what a trade embargo is through this game than on the news (Thanks friends *sarcasm*). Then you also have the communication aspect of the game; the talent of negotiation becomes important in getting what you want and winning the game.

If I had my way, I would buy seven copies of this game, and just have a day where students are split into groups, just playing this, and then discuss some of the concepts mentioned above.

9. Brain Quest

Oh how this game has saved me on numerous occasions when I was subbing. It is a basic trivia game and has been leveled by grade. If you want to take a brain break, while almost guaranteeing that you’re still on curriculum, have your students break off into teams, and read questions from the Brain Quest deck. As the teacher, you have full control of how you want the trivia game to run; there are no bounds.

10. Anomia

Players in this game are given a deck of cards that contain a set of symbols and categories. Each player will quickly show the top card of the deck and place it face up in front of them. Then the next player will show their card face up in front of them. At some point the symbols are going to match, and as soon as this happens, the players who have the matching symbols must say an item from their opponents category.

I recommend this game because in the deck there are categories such a “noun”, “proper noun”, “adjective”, “verb”, etc. and given that premise, this is a good way to practice knowing the definitions to these words. Definitely a great brain break if a group of students are done their work.

Gaming in the classroom promotes on some levels, critical-thinking skills, communication, resiliency, and teamwork. This is a small list, and I’m sure there are many other games out there that hit curricular outcomes and make learning these outcomes fun. If you know any more, please write me a comment; I love the sharing aspect of teaching and more ideas will grow the notion that gaming does belong in a classroom.

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