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Using PowerPoint to Play Educational Games

PowerPoint is a flexible tool which allows for a variety of classroom applications beyond displaying lecture content. Many creative instructors leverage PowerPoint's multimedia and hyperlinking capabilities to create games that they and their students play in class. Games motivate students, hold their attention, and introduce excitement, spontaneity, and fun into a class session. They are particularly useful for review or as a novel way to present course content.

Some PowerPoint games are variations of famous television game shows, while others are adaptations of board games, sporting events, or familiar activities. All make use of hyperlinks between slides to simulate the format and play of the game. Within the context of your class, students can play these games in teams or individually, depending on the game, your objectives, and the size of your class. There are scores of examples of PowerPoint games on the Web, most of which are freely available for download. Below we highlight examples that are appropriate for use in higher education, but be aware that these are only a handful of the many games that can be adapted for display via PowerPoint. Others can be found through simple internet searches.

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Jeopardy

This game is a favorite among students. Most of them will be familiar with its conventions, so introducing it to your class should be relatively easy. It is also straightforward to author in PowerPoint. Jeopardy consists of a main slide with a series of hyperlinks to separate slides that contain questions.

The Jeopardy concept is nicely adaptable to educational ends–lending itself to multiple disciplines, question types, question difficulties, and objectives. Jeopardy questions most easily test knowledge and recall, but they can also be adapted to higher order skills such as application, analysis, or evaluation. In these cases, students should take time to reflect and provide short answers to the questions.

On television, Jeopardy is played by individuals who attempt to answer questions as quickly as possible. This format tends not to work well in a classroom, however. When responses are given quickly, students in the audience might not get the benefit of formulating answers for themselves. In addition, many students will be reluctant to be "put on the spot" as a lone contestant, and there is a real chance of embarrassing members of the class.

A format that many instructors find more inclusive and comfortable is to have groups of students work together as contestant teams. Rather than having groups chime in as quickly as possible, the instructor presents the "answer" and gives groups time to discuss their response (in the form of a question, of course). The instructor then calls on a group. If their answer is correct, they choose an area of the board and a new question is posed to the next group. If their answer is incorrect, the instructor poses the same question to the next group, and so on. Each group is given an equal number of opportunities to answer first, and after a predetermined number of rounds, the group with the highest number of points is the winner. Plan for some kind of reward for groups that succeed–candy or other prizes keep students motivated and help to make the game exciting.

Jeopary Game screenshot

Jeopary Game screenshot

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Who Wants To Be A Millionaire

This game is also popular among students. Like Jeopardy, it is well suited to educational ends and can accommodate a variety of questions of varying difficulty. The questions are presented to contestants in multiple choice format, so the game is appropriate for examination preparation or review.

Who Wants To Be A Millionaire was played by a single individual working through a series of fifteen multiple choice questions starting at $100 and roughly doubling until the final $1,000,000 question. Questions became more difficult the farther one progressed, but contestants had access to three "lifelines" to help them answer tricky questions. They could poll the audience for an answer, phone a friend for advice, or use the "50-50" option in which two incorrect answers were eliminated. Each lifeline could be used only once, and if a contestant answered incorrectly, the game was over. After each question was presented, the contestant was given the option of taking the money earned up to that point or trying his luck at answering.

For classroom purposes, it's necessary to tweak the rules of the game a bit. Who Wants To Be A Millionaire is best played with teams of contestants rather than individuals for the same reason that Jeopardy is: student performance is enhanced in a group while the risk of embarrassment to individual class members is minimized. Some instructors also prefer not to give students a chance to "opt out" of a question, asking them to answer until they either run the table or answer wrong.

One feature of the game show that translates very nicely into the classroom is the use of life lines. Student groups should be allowed to poll the audience or use the "50-50" option; if you have graduate teaching assistants, you may adapt the "phone a friend" option to "ask a grad student" or you may simply eliminate this as a choice. In any case, the game is exciting, captures both the groups' and the audiences' attention, and promotes a collaborative environment in which students work together to win the big prize. Like other games, consider bringing something to reward student success.

There are a variety of ways in which PowerPoint can be used to accommodate this game. The example shows a typical layout, with a question, life lines at the bottom of the screen, and multiple choice answers each of which is hyperlinked to a correct or incorrect slide.

Who Wants to Be a Millionaire Game screen shot.

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 $100,000 Pyramid

This game is a variation of the $100,000 Pyramid game show. It is best used as a review of declarative knowledge, and some instructors choose it as preparation for exams. It functions best in two ways: as a "take home" review where small groups of students work together, or as an in class exercise where pairs or small groups of students each have access to a computer terminal. It works less well in a lecture hall or an environment with only one computer.

The $100,000 Pyramid game show consisted of two parts: the basic round and the winners' round. To start, two contestants were each paired with a partner. Each pair chose a category which contained seven answers. One of the pair would supply verbal clues and the other would attempt to guess the answer from them. Each pair was given a limited amount of time to get as many correct answers as possible. The pair with the most correct answers after the first round was given a chance to work through a pyramid of six answers in sixty seconds for a chance to win the big prize.

Either the first round, second round, or both can be used for educational purposes. The example below shows what a typical first round PowerPoint slide might look like. Imagine students choose the topic of "literary terms." By clicking on a hyperlink, one student is shown a screen that lists seven answers such as "metaphor," "simile," "iambic pentameter," "quatrain," "sonnet," etc. This student describes items on the list by giving clues to his partner, who faces him and away from the screen. The goal is to name as many items as possible within a set amount of time. Pairs can alternate working through different topics, or groups of four can play one pair against another.

$100,000 Pyramid Game screen shot.

If played in groups of four, you may choose to extend the game by having the group that scores highest in the first round compete in a $100,000 round. Our second example shows what this slide might look like. Pairs try to complete an entire pyramid of new, and more challenging, answers.

$100,000 Pyramid Game screen shot.

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Twenty Questions

This PowerPoint game differs from our other examples in several ways. First, it is less a game that has clearly defined rules of play, and more a manner of asking questions and creating an entertaining atmosphere that gets students actively involved in thinking. It is a very easy strategy to execute–both in terms of authoring the PowerPoint slide show and implementing it in class–and it lends itself seamlessly to many question types and objectives, from asking students to recall facts, apply information, or analyze and evaluate it. Because the Twenty Questions strategy is simple, there are a myriad of ways to use it in classes both large and small. A typical application is noted below, but be creative and invent new ways for yourself.

In Twenty Questions, the instructor creates a PowerPoint slide with hyperlinks to separate slides containing questions. The instructor or a student chooses one of the hyperlinks. The class is given some quiet time to formulate a response to the question displayed, and the instructor chooses a volunteer to answer. You'll generally have enthusiastic volunteers if you give small prizes for correct answers.

You might use this strategy as part of a review session for an examination, devoting the entire class period to asking questions, or you may use it as a brief active learning strategy within the context of a lecture. In this case, you may ask two or three questions at transition points in the material to test students' comprehension and help them work with and remember the information before moving on.

Keep in mind, too, that because PowerPoint is a multimedia application, the questions you author can contain images, animations, audio, or video. These can be powerful learning tools for students in a variety of disciplines, and they work well with each of the game examples that we've showcased.

Twenty Questions Game screen shot.

Twenty Questions Game screen shot.

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