Using Games to Teach

Posted by Erica Sanders on

Board games in general can help teach logic, critical thinking, creative thinking, social skills, strategy, reading comprehension, and how to win and lose gracefully. There are also ways to sneak math, geography, language arts, and even science into your board game experience. This list is set up to help you find fun games that the whole family will enjoy but will also help with learning. I’ve linked each game title to Board Game Geek for a full description of the game, and the text that I’ve written is helpful hints for using the game to teach. Feel free to contact me (Erica) for further clarification. I have a background in teaching, and I thoroughly love using board games to teach! There is also a helpful site full of videos about other that teach and how to use them from The Dice Tower and a few articles about board games and education from Campbell University and Scholastic. Janet Eastman of The Oregonian also wrote a wonderful article about this list, and Erica was also invited onto a fantastic podcast about using board games and D&D for all kinds of amazing things.
I’ve only included age group recommendations a few times when I feel like it could be played by a younger crowd. That being said, you know your kids. They’re bright, don’t let the manufacturers decide how old your kids should be before they should play something. Most of the age recommendations are based off of difficulty level and nothing
Language Arts:
Dixit - This game says it’s for ages 8+, but you could easily play this with younger children, even 4 and 5 years old. This is a great way to teach theme, how to title things, abstract thinking, vocabulary, creative thinking, along with many more things. You can also use each collection of cards to create stories since they all have been titled the same. You do need at least three players for this game.
Codenames - Word association, vocabulary, critical thinking, and so many other things come out of this. Plus, it’s our store’s best selling game, so people are really loving it and aren’t even noticing the learning they’re doing.
Superfight - This is a very silly way to work on your debate and argumentative skills. Also a great way to get those teenagers to argue about something other than doing homework or chores.
Letter Jam - More fun times with letters and words and cooperation. This games gets silly fast.
Dungeons & Dragons - This is a great way to learn story building, creativity, social skills, ingenuity, and so many other things.
Boggle - Test and expand your vocabulary.
Word Domination - More spelling and word creation, but this time as super villains.
Choose Your Own Adventure Games - There are two games so far in this series, and they both help with reading comprehension, making predictions, cooperation, and provide a great way to talk with kids about decision making and what might happen if they choose one thing instead of another.
First Contact - Deductive reasoning and word association along with vocabulary are prominent in this game, but again, hardly noticeable when you’re having so much fun.
Paperback - Great for spelling, word creation, and is a lot like Scrabble but with a different variation for those looking for something a little different.
Hardback - Very similar to Paperback, but this one focuses a little less on the spelling a little more on developing a good system to make your future words more valuable.
Stuffed Fables - Great for learning cooperation, reading comprehension, and how to balance group needs with player wants.
Blind Spot - Like a word search, but a bit more challenging.
Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective - Clue spotting, reading comprehension, and deductive reasoning are the ways you’ll solve these mysteries.
Above and Below - There is a booklet of encounters that you will face whenever you go cave exploring in this game, and the person reading the encounter has to be a different person than the one exploring the cave, so this is a great time for reading and comprehension practice.
Geography:
Ticket to Ride - The original game is played on a map of the US and the goal is to connect cities. The cities are accurately placed, and it provides a great opportunity to study geography. You could ask your kids, “If this train needs to go from San Francisco to Chicago, what do you think it’s transporting?” It would give you something to research and a more immersive experience in the game. There is also a European version, a world version, along with a number of different expansions that provide a closer look at various countries like Japan, Germany, India, and the old west (which includes Ashland!).
Pandemic - The original game is played on a world map, and you are working together to save the world from four different illnesses. This provides an excellent opportunity to explore geography, population (researching how populated some of the cities are and bringing to life what it means for the different degrees of contamination for each city), but it also provides an awesome time to work cooperatively to achieve a goal instead of against each other. This game can also be played alone by playing a few different roles.
Trekking the National Parks - This is played on a map of the US where you visit various national park locations. This provides a great time to talk about the different geographical features across the US.
Trekking the National Parks: Trivia - This game could either be in the geography or the history section as there are trivia questions for years things were created, locations where things are, etc.
History:
Pandemic: Fall of Rome - Another cooperative game, but this one lands you in Ancient Rome where you are working together to befriend neighboring nations, protect the city from invaders, and save Rome. A great way to immerse yourself in history and a wonderful tool to help kids see things form and give an interesting way of visualization. Can you guys do better than the ancient Romans did?
Through the Ages - Not for the feint of heart. This game would be best played with teens who are able to sit through a long game. This is working your way through different stages of history and civilization. Provides a great look at different leaders and world wonders and the importance of balance. Would be a great way to open up talking about historical figures and buildings.
Innovation - A quicker game of building up a civilization, still learning how to advance technologies and ideas.
Twilight Struggle - A closer look at the cold war. Great two player game.
Watergate - Another two player game, this one with a deeper look at the Watergate scandal.
Timeline - There are a few different versions of this game as well. Your goal is to put the events/inventions/etc. in historical order. This can create lots of great discussions and can help develop critical thinking by having kids try to figure out the answers if they don’t know them already.
Sid Meier’s Civilization: the Board Game - Learn about various historical figures, buildings, and how a civilization can get built from the ground up.
Math:
Sushi Go! - Collecting sets of things and trying to gauge statistics of how likely you are to be able to collect the sushi that will get you the most points.
Five Tribes - There’s a fair amount of sneaky math that goes into this game that would slip right by a 10 or 11 year old. This is played a bit like Mancala, so there’s counting and planning out where you’ll land, plus, one of the actions is getting points multiplied by certain things, so sneaky multiplication practice too.
Escape Rooms in a Box - There are many different versions of these, and they all provide you with great logic, math, and reasoning puzzles. This is another wonderful way to develop cooperation as the group is working together to achieve the goal.
Kingdomino - This is another game where you are adding up points and trying to get multipliers and developing strategy to see where you can get the best points possible.
Qwixx - Lots of addition in this one, but done so in such a fun way, you don’t realize you’re improving your math skills.
Math Fluxx - This one is a pretty obvious connection, so it may be a harder sell for some kids, but if you’ve played other Fluxx games before, they’ll know how fun and silly the game is, so they might be more likely to give this one a try.
Brikks - Develop your Tetris-like geometry skills.
Bohnanza - Much like Sushi Go! there is a lot of set collection where the more cards of one type you have, the more points you’ll get at the end. This game, however, introduces a trading feature, which can help teach fairness and negotiation.
A Fistful of Meeples - This game forces you to think ahead and consider all forms of outcome for each turn. There’s basic counting that occurs, but more importantly, each Meeple you place triggers different actions, so you have to be able to plan ahead for the whole turn.
Power Grid - Find ways to earn more money, then balance your spending so that you can buy the things you want without running out of resources.
Megaland - Working with percentages and probability. This is a “push your luck” game where you go into a cave to find treasure, but each time you decide to stay in the cave, a card is drawn. If that card has a monster on it, you lose a life or two, and you only start with 3 lives. The monster deck is small, so it’s easy after a game or two to remember how many monster cards there are compared to safe cards, so it’s a great way to bring up percentages and probability.
Carcassonne - This is a great way to learn spatial reasoning because as tiles are being placed, they have to match up with the tiles next to them (city to city, farmland to farmland, etc.) and more points are earned for the larger spaces you acquire.
Barenpark - Another great way to learn spatial reasoning - everyone has a board that they start with, and they’re trying to design their own bear zoo. The tiles are different shapes (like tetris) and everyone tries to fit their pieces into their zoo.
Science:
Cytosis - This is a fun cell biology game with enzymes and receptors. It’s hard to sneak biology in...
Evolution - This is a beautiful game that provides a really interesting way of looking at evolution more than just with a text book. See what helped dinosaurs survive and what became problematic.
Evolution: Climate - Another beautiful game from the group that made Evolution. This one is very similar to the original, but now adds climate effects.
Evolution: The Beginning - This one works best as a two player game and plays more quickly than the previous two Evolution games.
Oceans - The newest game in the Evolution series - similar to the first Evolution game but with ocean creatures.
Compounded - Chemistry! Find out what’s flammable and may explode. Great way to talk about different elements without having access to most of them.
Photosynthesis - Learn how photosynthesis works by making your own forest. This game can be a little challenging though because sometimes someone’s tree blocks your tree from the sun (just like in real life) and then your tree doesn’t grow as well.
Terraforming Mars - This is my favorite game, and it could easily be used to discuss outer space, what would actually be needed to make Mars habitable for humans, what humans need to live, and so many other things.
Astronomy Fluxx - Learn about our space flight history as well as all the awesomeness of space.
Anatomy Fluxx - Learn about all things related to and inside of the body!
Planetarium - Play with different elements and see how they interact with one another. Also, from Board Game Geek, “The thematics of the game have been developed with an eye on the science, led by a scientist working on NASA's search for life on Mars. Evolution cards thematically include all kinds of planetary phenomenon, from asteroid impacts, atmospheric effects, to geological events. Final Evolution cards mark the relatively stable state a planet is in at the end of the solar system's development and include classifications for the final planets such as Hot Jupiter or an uninhabitable frozen dwarf planet.”
Learning Language (these games are not dependent on language to play):
Dixit - Great cards in the game that can be used to teach varying levels of language
Hanabi - Cooperative game where knowledge of colors and numbers is needed
Mysterium - Cooperative game with beautiful cards and a Clue-like mystery
Telestrations - Would need to be altered for prompts depending on language knowledge, but would be great for vocabulary lessons
Azul - Tile laying game where you match colors and patterns
Carcassonne - Add drawn tiles to board to make a village
Splendor - Use gems to buy cards, no language on cards
Century Spice Road - Buy spices and then buy better cards, no language on cards
Qwirkle - Great practice for shape and color recognition
Skull - This is a bluffing game that would be great for new language learners

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