Students could be challenged to design an educational board game on a subject of study. Credit could be given to the students based on the gameplay, the presentation and the simplicity of the rules, but with a large proportion of the total marks being set aside for the educational value of the game. The best way of ensuring this factual knowledge is tested is for the students to design a range of “Good News” and “Bad News” playing cards – complete with consequences – that are picked up after landing on certain squares on the board (“Congratulations! Stalin has placed you in charge of the prestigious Moscow underground railway project! Move forward three spaces”). A third set of cards could test factual knowledge.

In a subsequent lesson, students play several games over the course of one or two lessons and peer assess each one.


Although there is a temptation to see this approach as being particularly suited to younger year groups, it also works surprisingly well with older students: my IB History students produced games based on Stalin’s rule of the USSR with an interesting range of game cards based on positive and negative examples of his economic, political and cultural policies.

Stage 1: Imparting the information

This approach works particularly well at the end of a study unit to consolidate knowledge and understanding. However, students could also be given a completely fresh body of factual knowledge and challenged from the outset to transform this (incorporating fresh research as appropriate) into a board game.

With younger students I adopt this approach when teaching them about the spread, symptoms, cures and consequences of the Black Death. They are given a detailed list of information. As a warm-up exercise, they spend a few minutes reading through the points in the table. For each one, I ask them to consider how they could present this as a “mime” to the class. I then call up a person in the class and secretly point out to them just one of the points from the table to mime to the rest of the class. At the end of the mime (which should take no longer than a few seconds) each member of the class should write down which they think it represented. The game is repeated using 9 other students miming 9 other points, one after another. I then tell the class the correct answers and ask them how many they get right? [more on miming, freeze framing and body sculptures here]

  A. Causes (tip: particularly useful for ‘factual test’ cards) B. Symptoms (tip: particularly useful for ‘bad news’ cards) C. Cures (tip: particularly useful for ‘good news’ cards)
1 Punishment from God for our sins Boils (‘buboes’) appear under the arms and between the legs March around town whipping yourself asking God’s forgiveness
2 Touching someone who already has the plague The victim starts feeling a bit dizzy and weak Drink a glass of your own wee twice a day
3 Jews poisoning the wells The victim starts to suffer from internal bleeding Cut a hole into your skull to let out evil spirits
4 Fire from the heavens Black spots and blue blotches start to spread over the body Open your veins and let a pint of blood pour out
5 Position of the planets The tongue turns brown and the breath starts to stink Hold sweet herbs to your mouth to drive away the bad air
6 Rubbish in the streets The victim starts to sweat and to develop a fever Kill all the cats and dogs in the town
7 Bad smells The boils under the arms and legs grow as large as apples Slice buboes open, squeeze out poison, seal the wound with poo
8 Bad food, especially meat and fish The victim starts to vomit and cough up blood Sit in a sewer. The bad smells will drive away the Black Death smells
9 Evil spirits in the body The victim starts to from fits and spasms Shave a chicken’s bottom and strap it to your plague sores
10 Too much blood in the body The victim dies Swallow the powder of crushed emeralds

Stage 2: Guidance for students

From my experience, students produce the best “Good news!” and “Bad news!” playing cards (and then the board games associated with them) when given as much freedom in terms of the concept as possible: they tend to have a much broader frame of reference in terms of such games than the teacher. Saying that, there are some excellent free printable board game templates (see link at the bottom of this post) that can provide some inspiration. I have also found that most students prefer working with a partner or in a small team to produce their game. However, prior to handing over to the students, I find it beneficial to guide students to start thinking about the following questions:

How do you decide who starts the game?

  • Roll of the die?
  • Answering a factual knowledge question?

Will the players take on different roles?

  • Can they choose these, or will they be allocated?
  • Will they have particular advantages or handicaps?

What is the objective of the game? Is the winner:

  • The last person left alive?
  • The first person to reach a certain place?
  • The first person to have reached several places on the board?
  • The first person to have collected certain objects?
  • The first person to have answered a set amount of questions?

Will the players

  • Always head in one direction (around the board – like Monopoly)
  • Zig-Zag upwards (like Snakes and Ladders)
  • Be able to choose their direction (like in Trivial Pursuit)

How will the cards picked up affect the game?

  • Go to “jail” (which would be what exactly in terms of this topic)?
  • Move forward places on the board?
  • Miss a turn?
  • Demand / perform a forfeit?
  • Require the player answer a factual question, then rewarded/punished based on their answer?

What will the board look like?

  • A map of key places associated with the topic?
  • Will it be on several different levels?

Stage 3: Playing the games

The games should be placed on desks around the classroom. Each team should sit at their own game and play it for ten minutes (I have the ClassTools timer displayed prominently on the screen). They should then be given a further few minutes to assess the game using a Google Form (set up by the teacher in advance). At the end of this time, all the teams should move around to the next game and the process is repeated for as much time as the teacher wishes to set aside: I usually find that students wish to play every other game, which can take upwards of two hours of lesson time.

Stage 4: Feedback to students

If students have peer-assessed the games using Google Forms, the job of the teacher is to simply export the spreadsheet of results, order them in terms of each game marked, and then work out the average grade for each game. Occasionally adjustments need to be made based on the fact that certain teams may mark themselves or others more harshly or generously than others.

Taking it further

Students should use peer assessment slips to express their judgement about how much each team member contributed to the task. This is a very simple and effective way of ensuring that any student who contributed more to the task during the homework phase is given appropriate credit.


Hubpages, 16 Free Printable Board Game Templates (Available at: http://hubpages.com/games-hobbies/board-game-templates, last accessed 4th January 2017)

Hubpages, Make Your Own Monopoly Game: Board, Money, and Cards (Available at: http://hubpages.com/games-hobbies/make-your-own-monopoly, last accessed 4th January 2017)