Three minutes left until the end of class. You’ve taught a great lesson, cleaned up your materials, and assigned the homework. You look at the clock and realize that you have three minutes left—not enough time to jump into a new topic, but too long to ask students to just sit quietly. What can you do to use this time well and ensure your classroom doesn’t descend into chaos?
Twenty Questions! This is the perfect game because it is incredibly quick and simple; students don’t even need to spend time taking pencils out.
If you’ve never played Twenty Questions, here is how to play in the classroom:
- The teacher thinks of a word. The word usually is a noun such as pencil, zebra, rug, or book.
- Have students raise their hands to ask questions that can be answered with a yes or no. Good questions include ones like, “Is it alive? Is it found inside?”
- Answer students’ questions only with yes or no. Keep track of how many questions are asked.
- If the students guess the item before the twentieth question, they win. If students are unable to guess the answer, the teacher wins.
This game is a great use of otherwise wasted time because students actually learn important skills from it.
- First, this game teaches students good questioning skills. At the beginning of the year my middle schoolers will often start their questions with specifics, “Is it a dog?” or “Is it a shoe?” I teach students that these questions are very limiting because they only tell them one piece of information. I explain to students that broader questions such as, “Is it an animal?” give them much more information.
- A second reason this game is beneficial is that it gives students a chance to practice their logical thinking skills. If the fifth question is, “Is it in a school?” then the next question shouldn’t be, “Is it a wild animal?” Many students will need explicit instruction in these logical thinking skills. However, after you’ve provided a lesson on that topic, Twenty Questions is a great way to review and practice it throughout the year.
- Finally, Twenty Questions is great because it encourages active listening skills. Students must carefully listen to the questions of their classmates to participate in the game.
Once your students master the basic game dynamic, you can even make the topic related to what students are studying. If you do this, you may want to provide students with a short clue to guide their questions such as “Greek Mythology” or “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.” Also keep in mind that this game can be used at other times as well: a long line at the book fair or waiting for a guest speaker to arrive.
Time is our most precious resource in the classroom. When you end up with a bit of extra time, Twenty Questions is a great way to take advantage of it. Do you have other ideas? How do you keep your students occupied at the end of the day?