Great Escapes

Standards Met: McREL Geography Standards 1 and 3

What You Need: Prepared review questions for each group (ideally with QR codes to check answers); maps (including one of classroom); tablets, to use QR codes

What to Do: Teresa Kwant, a former sixth-grade teacher at Jim Bridger Elementary School in West Jordan, Utah, used room-escape games to make studying more engaging for her students. These games place participants in a story line where they have to solve puzzles to unlock a “room” before moving on to the next. In Kwant’s version, instead of rooms, envelopes with new clues are unlocked. Kwant, who blogs at Inspiring Ideas for Elementary Educators, makes room-escape packets for many different subjects, but says geography is particularly well suited to the game.

To begin, students are given ordered sets of clues with messages or questions, hidden throughout the classroom, to solve in an allotted amount of time. One question might be: “What country contains the coordinates 30° S, 60° W?” or “Name the three types of rocks found on Earth.” Once students solve the first question—using maps, notes, or reference texts—the next envelope either contains a new message that unlocks another hiding spot or a new review question. If students don’t answer correctly, they must try again. Kwant let her students use QR codes to check answers.

Try playing as a class first to get a handle on the game structure. Then, you can split kids into teams, with each getting its own version of the game, color-coded by clue.

One teacher who used Kwant’s games with her fifth graders wrote, “Students had a ball! It was interesting to watch them work the problems separately and then compare answers and work together.”

True, False, Fix

Standards Met: McREL Geography Standards 1 and 2

What You Need: Geography review statements, some correct and some with errors; blank slips of paper

What to Do: Stephanie L., a middle school teacher who blogs at Stephanie’s History Store, uses a true-false game to help her students at Providence Catholic School in San Antonio practice geography facts. A colleague of Stephanie’s loves “the higher-order thinking it encourages and the simplicity of the review!”

Stephanie prepares the activity by writing two-dozen true or false statements that are related to geography facts her students need to review. She then pairs kids and has them sort the statements, putting those they consider true into one pile and those they consider false into another. Once Stephanie checks a pair’s piles, they set to work correcting the statements in the false pile. For instance, a statement might read, “Egypt is located in the Southern Hemisphere.” Students might correct it to read, “Egypt is located in the Northern Hemisphere” or “Tanzania is located in the Southern Hemisphere.” If their sorting is incorrect, students can use their notes or resources to correct it. You might also have pairs swap partners after an initial sort to check their ideas against another pair’s; have them swap before you check the statement piles so that they have in-depth discussions about the statements before correcting them.

Kids who may benefit from an additional challenge can write their own sets of true and false statements, and then trade them with other groups to sort and fix.

Geography Fishbowl

Standards Met: McREL Geography Standards 5 and 18

What You Need: Index cards or small squares of paper (three per student), large bowl or container

What to Do: Bring vocabulary into your study of geography! Begin by writing various vocabulary words or concepts on index cards or squares of paper. You can prepare these yourself, or have students contribute three ideas each, one per card. Items might include phrases or words such as coastal city, tornado alley, or latitude.

To start, split your class into two groups, and play Round 1 of the Fishbowl game: A student from Group A picks a slip of paper from a large bowl and tries to describe to team members what is written on the paper. No motions, spelling, or “sounds like” clues are allowed. Once someone from the group guesses correctly, the clue-giver picks out another slip of paper, trying to describe as many phrases as he or she can in two minutes. Then, it’s a player from Group B’s turn. Groups alternate, with a new team member as clue-giver each time, until all the slips of paper are gone.

Next, play Round 2: The same clues from Round 1 are placed back in the bowl for Round 2. This time, clue-givers can only provide one word to help their teams guess the phrase. Players use these one-word clues as well as what they remember from Round 1 to guess the phrases. Again, each clue-giver is given two minutes.

Finally, play Round 3: This time, students can use only motions to help their teammates guess the phrases. The same slips of paper are used, in random draws, and the clue-giver gets two minutes.

At the end of each round, tally the scores. A correctly guessed clue is worth one point.

Game Makers

Standards Met: McREL Geography Standards 9 and 13

What You Need: Index cards, posterboard, markers, Internet access and computers/tablets, resource books and magazines

What to Do: When your students are learning about a particular geographical region, such as a state or country, have them conduct research, and then use the information they’ve gathered to create a game.

Before assigning your students the game-making task, outline your expectations by making a rubric. The rubric may include measures such as number of questions, creativity, difficulty, accuracy, game format, and clarity of game rules. You may also want to prepare prompting questions. For instance, if students are learning about a country, provide prompts such as “Has the country been involved in any disputes with other countries?” or “What food/dance/music/clothing is traditional in this country?” If students are learning about a state, the prompts might be “What is the capital?” or “Are there any interesting dialects/phrases /accents in that state?”

Then, split students into small groups to begin researching and creating their game. They can use the Internet, books, or magazines to research their topic. At the start, distribute posterboard, markers, and index cards for game creation. Students might use the posterboard to make a game board and index cards for game questions.

All groups should work on researching the same country or state, and be given the same prompts and rubrics so that they are learning roughly the same content. After students finish creating their projects, they can swap games with other groups to test whether their original research was complete enough to succeed at another group’s game.


Photo: Sidekick/Getty Images

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