Play a Game!

Many of us use games in our instruction. Playing a game can be a great way to kick off a review period. And games offer students (and their teachers!) a chance to unwind.

Popular games in the chemistry classroom include Jeopardy, bingo, and Battleship. A simple google search will show that Jeopardy is ubiquitous and probably suitable for all topics. Bingo is effective for introducing students to the periodic table (a prompt might ask for “the alkali metal in period three”) and is fun when reviewing nomenclature. We’ve sunk battleships based on both electron configuration and nomenclature.

In recent years students in my classes have enjoyed playing Chemistry Taboo! At the moment, I’m using two sets of cards. The cards for first-year chemistry offer a fun and engaging start to our review period for final exams in June. The same cards serve as a fail-safe icebreaker for incoming AP Chemistry students in the fall. A second set, covering AP Chemistry, provides a fun way to begin our review period for the May AP test administration.

For those unfamiliar with the game, here’s a quick rundown of the major rules of play. Students divide into teams of four, and a pair of teams play against each other. In a class of 26 students, you might have 6 teams and 3 games going on simultaneously.

One player picks a card and tries to get his or her teammates to guess the target word or phrase while not using any of the listed “taboo” words (or their variants) on the card. For example, the target word/phrase ”Boyle’s Law” might have the taboo words “pressure”, “volume” and “inversely”. It is more difficult than it appears to have your partner say “Boyle’s Law” without the listed “taboo” words.

No point is earned if the student accidentally uses any of the words on the card (the “taboo” words) or if the team fails to guess the target word in the allotted time. (I find it’s best if teams face each other across a lab bench. The student who is “up” walks around to the opposing team’s side, so that they can read over his or her shoulder, therefore monitoring the player’s avoidance of the “taboo” words.)

You and your class will have fun finalizing your own rules of play, such as the appropriate amount of time for one turn, if gestures are legal, if hints from outside of chemistry are allowed, etc.

Below are some of the cards I have used. Your cards will vary depending on your curriculum and even the humorous moments you and your students have shared.

Of course, it can be almost as much fun to make the deck of cards as to play the game. Students could even be challenged to suggest their own cards. This might make a suitable activity for a substitute teacher.

Not only do students enjoy the game, but they remember it, and near the end of a term or before a holiday they’ll ask to play it. Games offer one more way to reinforce content while building a great sense of community and lasting memories.