Skip to Navigation
University of Pittsburgh
Print This Page Print this pages

November 21, 2002

HOW TO TEACH: Playing games in the classroom

Alex Trebek, move over. Now Pitt chemistry profs are hosting "Jeopardy!" the popular TV game show, right in the classroom.

Chemistry senior lecturer Leonard Kogut and teaching assistant Michelle Price demonstrated the science-oriented Jeopardy game at the Nov. 15 Teaching Excellence Fair.

Kogut joked that he was guest-hosting the demonstration for chemistry colleague Joe Grabowski, who developed the comprehensive sciences Jeopardy games web site (

The web site provides instructions, design aids, blank Jeopardy files and a content template (both in ChemDraw and PowerPoint formats) to create a customized game, regardless of discipline. Little or no programming experience is needed, according to Price, who said she assisted Kogut in launching his general chemistry Jeopardy game.

The set-up is not limited to text, Price said. A more experienced programmer can adapt the template to include pictures, animations, symbols and sound, she said.

The familiar Jeopardy format of six categories with five questions of increasing difficulty — Don't forget that answers must be in the form of a question! — is familiar to almost all students, Kogut said. "You don't need to explain the basic rules," he said, "although you can adjust how you score it, how you break down your teams, how you decide who has control of the board, whether you use one-answer or multiple-choice questions." Students even can design their own game by creating questions and answers, which is another way to involve students in learning, he said.

(Examples of student-designed versions also are available on the web site.) The game is an engaging alternative exercise that can serve as a counterpoint to lectures or recitations and ease exam anxiety, Kogut said. "Student enthusiasm has been fantastic. It's a great change of pace," he said. "It's a form of active learning, it's fun to use, it's easy to prepare and it has multiple uses," Kogut said, including as a diagnostic tool and for preview and review sessions.

For example, Kogut said, at the start of a term or a new chapter, the instructor can measure students' knowledge level using multiple-choice questions. "Everybody in class gets a set of giant letters, A through D. You open a square, and ask everyone to hold up the letter corresponding to the correct answer," Kogut said. By assessing the frequency of incorrect answers the instructor gets insight into which topics or concepts need to be reviewed, he said.

Experience has suggested a few pitfalls to the game, Kogut said, which is usually played by groups of students competing against each other.

"It can become too competitive, a little too cutthroat," he said.

"You also need an arbiter for when there's more than one correct answer. Usually, I play that role. Most times, to keep the game moving, you need a score-keeper and a time-keeper and a moderator. And the teacher in me wants to elaborate on particular questions," which can interfere with the flow of the game.

"We think it's best when not used to earn course grade points," he added, because that can lead to claims that the teams were not fairly chosen or detract from the collegiality of the classroom.

–Peter Hart

Filed under: Feature,Volume 35 Issue 7

Leave a Reply