Socially-Entrenched, Critical Thinking Activities


(Sometimes, I take the long way around, so you can either skip to the How This Applies to Education section or join me for the full story)

Keep in mind, i’m not discussing Game theory or gamification.  Just board games in the classroom.

I love games, I blame my mother for this.  Growing up we didn’t have much on TV and I’m older than VCR’s, so mom bought me games-Hi ho Cherrio, Don’t break the ice, hungry hungry hippos, old maid, memory, marbles and jacks – and we played them….and played them…and played them.   Then when I was older, she introduced me to monopoly.

I often have heard my mom say I ‘monopolied us to death.’  I must admit, I may have begged someone to play monopoly with me quite regularly.  Then I taught myself chess, played checkers with my grandpa, and paper football with my uncle. Scattergories was always a popular game at my house, as was Skip-bo, euchre, 500 rummy and clue.  I never really cared for Sorry! And I still despise Life, to this day.

In 4th grade, my cousins introduced me to Dungeons and Dragons, (If you’ve seen Stranger things, that was us, playing games in the basement. Except contrary to stereotypes, we were the cool kids in the basement playing.  We’d have large crowds as we played during recess too.)  Due to DnD being the scare of the 80’s, I wasn’t allowed to play DnD much, but we were allowed to create our own versions from scratch and play them.  I got the game Hero Quest and played and created content for that for years.  I started to learn programming around the 6th grade and spent my junior high and high school years programming video games and sharing them with my friends and cousins.  We were always testing each other’s games and pushing what we were able to do with code.

Once college hit, I played a few video games – those same cousins opened a computer gaming store, but that was about it. I was busy teaching, coaching, and being a new dad.  Games were not big on my list anymore.

Then one christmas, my wife and I were walking through Toys R us and we stopped to look at the games.  There were some interesting games on the shelf, that I had never seen before.  A younger couple, pointed out Ticket to Ride and said it was a game they loved.  So we bought it.  We loved it too.  In fact, we’ve given it as a christmas gift 5 times.  If you don’t own it, go buy it.  It’s the family game that will begin to replace all those hasbro/milton bradley games.  You’ll thank me for it later, (or curse me as you slowly fall into a wonderful hobby).  Shortly thereafter we found a game called Settlers of Catan (now just Catan) and fell in love with that one.  Later that year, my cousins called me up and asked me to join them in Dungeons and Dragons.  They hadn’t stopped playing since the 80’s and I was eager to start back up.  

Gaming had returned.

Oh, and by the way.  Gaming as an industry had exploded.  Hundreds of mid-sized to tiny publishers were popping up everywhere.  The quality of games continues to have the boundaries pushed as new concepts in games are being developed every few years.  Roll and move games like Trouble just don’t exist in today’s game industry.  I guess, we have the Germans to thank for that.  Sometime around 1980, they started up a board game award (Spiel des Jahres) and started putting designer’s names on the cover.  Like a book has an author, games have a designer. The internet really gave a place for gamers to find out what games exist.  Sites like and crowd-funding sites like Kickstarter have helped the hobby immensely.  As of now, we play games a few times a week.  We have a few game groups that come to our house to play games every month.  

Designer games are more expensive that the mass-market monopoly games that has been reprinted for the last 100 years.  People will scoff, I did too at the beginning, at games that cost $30.  But they are worth it. Think about it, eating out with the family at a sit down restaurant is easily $50 and most of my kids don’t eat more than a few potato chips.  So a $30, $50, or $80 game is something that has a good return on investment.  Boardgames have a much higher resale than video game consoles and games.  If you have sunk money into that hobby, it’s $300-$600 for a console, $60 for an extra controller and the same for games.

As of now, my shelf (pictures of which are called shelfies) hosts about 100 board and card games.   To describe a little, Takenoko is a game about growing bamboo and a panda eating it.  Sushi-go is about collecting combinations of food, Above and below is a storytelling game, Dead of Winter is a dreadful game where we always lose to the zombies.  Time stories, my favorite, is like a choose your own adventure book. Flick’em up is flicking wooden disks to shoot cowboys. Mysterium is like modern age clue and the list goes on and on.  Check out Tabletop on youtube.  We watch it like it’s normal tv, but it’s people playing board games and it’s pretty entertaining.

And if you want some help, here’s the guys from the DiceTower with their top 10 games everyone should own. 🙂 (just for fun, my top 10 games everyone should own: 10. Gloom 2nd edition 9. Munchkin 8. Dixit 7. Catan 6. Splendor 5. Wits and Wagers 4. Pandemic 3. King of Tokyo 2. Takenoko 1.8 Lords of Waterdeep 1.5 Sheriff of Nottingham 1.4 Bang! The Dice Game 1.3 Sushi Go  1. Ticket To Ride)

How this applies to education

(This is where you would skip to if you didn’t want to read my intro)

People struggle making decisions and a game is about decision making.  Big decisions, small decisions, it doesn’t matter.  People are afraid of getting it wrong.  (it’s like they have been conditioned for punishment for attempting something they don’t fully understand and they’re afraid of getting it wrong.)  I’ve watched intelligent individuals freeze when you ask them to play a card.  Even after you explain, what card they play doesn’t matter.  They’re afraid of getting it wrong.  I don’t know if the correct term is Risk-aversion, but the struggle is real.  

How games help students with making decisions: Games help students with decision making.  I mean, Games are based on decisions.  If a ‘game’ doesn’t have decisions then it’s an activity, not a game.  Options are not always a luxury in the classroom, but playing a game give them an opportunity to evaluate given data and make decision on it.  Feedback is often immediate either that person scores points or points are given to their opponents.   

Games Create Culture: People struggle with social interaction.  New Groups struggle with breaking the ice.   I’m still amazed days when our students don’t know each other. Games help break down those barriers and get new groups of individuals talking.  

How to use Games help students with social interaction and classroom culture:  Timeline is a game that can be played in 10 minutes.  The version I have is about placing the scientific discovery in order to make a timeline.  When I place students into new seating arrangements or groups, I will have them play timeline.  With this game, it’s an even playing field, An “A” student doesn’t do much better than students who have learning disabilities when trying to decide which came first the discovery of Oxygen or the discovery of Antiseptics.  The game breaks down social barriers and allows individuals to focus on something that is just between them.  They all try, they all fail, they laugh, and they try again.  For example, I have a junior who is in biology for his 3rd time.  When placed at a table with 3 freshman boys he was quiet and prefered to sit in the back “to charge” his chromebook.  The other day, I brought in a game that I bought for my 5 year old son.  Animal upon Animal, it’s a stacking game of wooden animals.  It’s simple and honestly, the adults want to play it as much as the kids.  For two weeks, the older student has been sitting with the other boys.  They laugh, they joke, they talk, and whenever there is an opportunity they ask “can we play animal upon animal?”  

Break up the monotony: Somedays, students need a brain break.  Or at least, they think they’re getting one as you introduce a new game instead of a new chapter.  What they don’t realize, is often you are Developing skills: Problem solving, communication, teamwork,  Evaluating data and decision making.  You’re just using a game to make it ‘fun.’


  • Creative thinking and problem solving: Games, at their core, are rooted in problem solving.  What can I do to beat _____ (everyone else, one person, the game itself, my personal score)

What games do for students: Games place students in new and sometimes unfamiliar situations.  The students then have to evaluate the known set of data and solve a problem.  


  • Teamwork: There is a variety of games known as Cooperative games.  In cooperative games everyone works to beat the game.  These games are notoriously difficult and only through careful planning and some luck is the team able to win.  


How to get students to work together: A game called forbidden desert places all the players into an arid region where sandstorms and heat are killer.  The group has crash landed and has to find the pieces of an airship to make their escape.  The game is fully cooperative, if one person loses then the whole team loses.  Individuals have to work a  cohesive unit in order to successfully navigate the Forbidden desert.


  • Resiliency: In sports, we always focus on resiliency.  We work and train kids to never quit. A good game is providing a challenge to the players.  

How games train you to not be a quitter:  We need to express the same mentality in the classroom.  We do not often get an opportunity to build skills in an environment that is not tied to grades.  Learning and mastering a game builds confidence.  Confidence turns into Resiliency.  Resiliency allows students to deal with failure in a situation that is not punitive.  

Imagination and Storytelling: So you have a Language Arts class and you need a writing prompt, Story Cubes, maybe for you.  Story cubes are dice with symbols.  It’s a game where you roll the dice and tell a story.  This can be a fun starter for the class, and story cubes comes in all kinds of varieties, including Batman!  Concept is the boardgame version of Charades, players try to get concepts understood using a variety of symbols on the game board.  Reverse charades (wish I would have thought of that one) is where everyone acts out the scene and only 1 person tries to guess.

Many games weave in story, it’s called theme.  Notably, the Mice and Mystics series, which was in part developed by a dad trying to help get his daughter to read, is an incredible story line based game.  The grand-daddy of all imagination and storytelling games is Dungeons and dragons.  But, if fantasy is not your gig, RPG’s (role play games) come in a wide variety.  There is doctor who RPG’s and Western RPG’s and well, just about anything.  If you want more quick play, Dread is a short story telling game where players make decisions to drive the story. Any action that would be considered difficult requires them to draw a tile out of a Jenga tower.  If the tower crumbles, their character is dead.  And the story continues.  Fiasco, is another game completed in scenes with a driving mechanic that helps determine how it may play out.

It’s Fun: Sometimes, class time is so rooted curriculum and grades we forget about child social development.  Playing games helps students build relationships with each other and with you.  I recently had students evaluate my class.  I asked a simple question about who was their favorite teacher and what could I learn from them.  Nearly every single response related to the relationship the student had made with the teacher.  Not the teacher’s ability to manage a class or write an incredible test, but their favorite teacher was one they had made a personal connection with.  This goes back to my point #2, creating culture.  Once students are comfortable around each other they have more fun.  When they are relaxed then they are able to learn better.  Anxiety and concern about looking ‘like a fool if I fail.’ (something I heard today) keeps students from excelling.  We need to override that emotion and replace it with something positive.  The fear of failing is causing them to fail.

One of the top games that get pulled in my room is a simple dexterity game called Animal upon Animal. A group of seniors played it for most the class period one day.   And you stack little wooden animals and the first to run out of their stack wins.  But the taller the stack gets the more perilous the attempt.  The importance of choosing between a Snake and a Porcupine could be the tipping point (no pun intended) of the game!  The anxiety builds as everyone watches, while holding their breath, as quarterback gently places the porcupine.  They all await the loud clang that would come from a tumbling tower should it fall.  They all exhale together as the tower seems to hold another turn.

Another Favorite is werewolf, a social deduction game.  In the same Genre, Revolution, Resistance, Spyfall and Coup have been popular.  These games revolve around the concept of hidden identities and using social cues and discussion to figure out who is who.  These are all social based games that require communication among the group.

And the list goes on and on.  

Classic games have their place in the room too.  Checkers, Chess, Balderdash, Pictionary, and Battleship all offer different experiences for the students.

If these sound interesting for your classroom or your home then feel free to visit games club after school on non-PD wednesdays, or attend our semi-annual game night at Goody B’s.  If you need something more immediate, check out Wil Wheaton’s Tabletop on Youtube.  

Just remember,


Mr. G

Follow me on: instagram @chad_g77 and @sv_blackhawks_NHS,  Twitter @PoppaG77 and @svblackhawk, Snapchat @chadg77, or join our Slack Channel find my website at


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s