Teaching with Games - By: Erica Sanders

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.

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.

The text written next to the games is helpful hints for using the game to teach. Feel free to contact Erica at ericas@funagain.com for further clarification. She has a background in teaching, and she thoroughly loves using board games to teach!


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.

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.

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.

More fun times with letters and words and cooperation. This games gets silly fast.

This is a great way to learn story building, creativity, social skills, ingenuity, and so many other things.

Test and expand your vocabulary.

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.

Deductive reasoning and word association along with vocabulary are prominent in this game, but again, hardly noticeable when you’re having so much fun.

Great for learning cooperation, reading comprehension, and how to balance group needs with player wants.

Clue spotting, reading comprehension, and deductive reasoning are the ways you’ll solve these mysteries.

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.

Work on spelling and word creation, similar to Scrabble.

Roll the cubes and use them to create a story.

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, Oregon!).

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.

While exploring various national parks throughout the US, you will be able to discuss where they are, see gorgeous pictures of them in the game, and use those to look up the rest of the park and discuss it.

You'll be playing on a map of the world, so you'll become familiar with the continents.

These are focused more closely on various countries which allow you to get a feel for them a little closer than playing on a board like Risk. There are a number of board expansions that allow for different locations.

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?

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.

A quicker game of building up a civilization, still learning how to advance technologies and ideas.

A closer look at the cold war. Great two player game.

Another two player game, this one with a deeper look at the Watergate scandal.

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.

Learn about various historical figures, buildings, and how a civilization can get built from the ground up.

Dive into the presidential election between Nixon and Kennedy and get a really good look at politics and this time in history.

Use this with a group to display the of balance of power and discuss throughout history.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Develop your Tetris-like geometry skills.

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.

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.

Find ways to earn more money, then balance your spending so that you can buy the things you want without running out of resources.

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.

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.

Works on probability and addition.

This is a fun cell biology game with enzymes and receptors. It’s hard to sneak biology in...

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.

Another beautiful game from the group that made Evolution. This one is very similar to the original, but now adds climate effects.

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.

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.

Learn about our space flight history as well as all the awesomeness of space.

Learn about all things related to and inside of the body!

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.”

Play with different elements and see how they interact with one another. Also, from Board Game Geek, “Provides an excellent opportunity to discuss what is needed for an ecosystem to thrive, what might disrupt it, and how to balance everything.”

Learn about how different birds behave, where they live, and what they eat.

Great cards in the game that can be used to teach varying levels of language.

Cooperative game where knowledge of colors and numbers is needed.

Cooperative game with beautiful cards and a Clue-like mystery.

Would need to be altered for prompts depending on language knowledge, but would be great for vocabulary lessons.

Tile laying game where you match colors and patterns.

Add drawn tiles to board to make a village.

Use gems to buy cards, no language on cards.

Buy spices and then buy better cards, no language on cards.

Great practice for shape and color recognition.

This is a bluffing game that would be great for new language learners.

Similar to dominoes.

Match the pictures but be sure to say the word in the target language.