Get in the (State Testing) Game!

By Nancy Barile on October 4, 2010
  • Grades: 6–8, 9–12


If I could put my entire English curriculum into a game format, my students could learn anything. There's something about playing a game that brings out the best in high school students. Teens enjoy letting loose, having fun, moving around, and being competitive with their peers. Games excite and stimulate the students to learn. 

Wouldn't it be fun, I thought, if I could make a game out of review for our state's mandated test? This would relieve the stress and pressure the students feel going into the test, while, at the same time, helping them review important and key concepts.



Context Clues

One of the first steps I took when planning this game was to look at where my students struggle on our state test. One area is in vocabulary. Students often miss easy context clues that would help them find the meaning of a difficult word. The first focus of this game would be then on finding the meaning of a word using context clues.


My high school students have difficulty recognizing tone, so I added a few paragraphs for them to help decipher tone. While I was at it, I added setting, narrator identification, and a few reading comprehension questions.

Point of View

No matter how many times I go over it, my students seem to forget point of view. Reviewing this concept right before the test has always proven very beneficial.

Figurative Language

Finally, it's always good to do a quick review of figurative language right before the test, so I throw in a few questions that require students to identify personification, alliteration, metaphor, oxymoron, simile, and imagery. I also have several questions in which students need to write their own examples of each one.


Finally, a little work with punctuation, especially commas and semicolons, serves to help students not only with their essay writing, but with the writing portion of the SATs, as well.

Here is a sample game with an answer key. Download MCAS Game 2010.



Teams and Setup

At the beginning of the class, I will review the following:

- How to figure out the meaning of words through context clues.

- How to identify speaker's tone.

- How to identify literary techniques such as alliteration, metaphor, personification, and simile.

After that, the lesson is constructed in the form of a game. Team are picked randomly. Students line up in four to five rows, with four to five students in each row. Depending upon the size of the class, you may need one or two people to check answers. If it is a small class, I will be the only one doing this. If it is a larger class, I will enlist a student or two to help. Sometimes it's best to have a student who may be disruptive during this type of activity to be one of the people checking answers.

There is one pile of questions for each row of students. The questions are in order. The first person from the group comes up and takes a question back to his/her seat. S/he answers the question ON A SEPARATE SHEET OF PAPER, and then brings the question and answer to the person correcting. If the answer is correct, the next person from the team comes up to get the next question. If the answer is wrong, the person passes the question to the next person in the row, and that person must attempt to answer it. The group that finishes all the questions first is the winner.

At the end of the lesson, the teacher reviews the questions, making sure the students understand any concept that they struggled with during the game. The students are generally eager to learn where their mistakes were so that in the next game, they do not repeat them.

Students have a great deal of fun while learning when playing this game. I frequently get requests to "play the MCAS game" throughout the year. Here's a short video taken by one of my students on a day when my class recently played the game.

If students have difficulty with any of the above concepts, Teaching Powerful Writing is a great resource for practicing everything from figurative language to point of view. This printable on Oliver Twist is great practice in developing the literacy elements of tone and mood. Questions for this type of game in a socials studies classroom can be found at Scholastic's "Student Quizzes."

Have fun!!




This just gave me an idea for how to teach a unit we are starting in four of my classes....I think we will do this in a game format with the students designing some of the questions in groups as they are learning the material...with some teacher guidance this might help them get more involved in the lesson...Thanks Nancy!

Excellent idea!!!!!! I know it will work.

Hi Joanne - I'm glad to hear you played the game, and the kids had a great time!

I just did this with my class-it was so much fun!

I agree, Jeremy. Games are so much more fun than Drill and Kill.

Great idea. Any skill that requires lost of repetition, like vocabulary work, math facts, or dictionary work, is learned much more effectively with games than with drills. The students I teach are a little young for the version of the game that you provide as a sample, but I will adapt it to my classroom. If you'd like to see some of my games for learning dictionary skills, click my name.

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