ACM Logo  An ACM Publication  |  CONTRIBUTE  |  FOLLOW    

Using game shows as an instructional tool

By Dan Yaman, Missy Covington / September 2007

Print Email
Comments Instapaper

As more and more corporate and K-12 instructors gravitate towards interactive and attention-grabbing instructional techniques, many are starting to see the intrinsic benefits of using game shows. Our experiences, and those of hundreds of instructors, have shown that when learners play game shows their energy levels surge, they pay attention, and they remember more of the instructional content.

Game shows are an appealing medium—they provide healthy competition, have entertainment value, and are a cultural staple both in the U.S. and internationally. However, many instructors are unable to come up with a practical and justifiable way to use them. They are sometimes met with resistance from skeptical supervisors and financiers. What follows are a few of the most frequently voiced objections and our time-tested responses.

"Game shows aren't serious enough-they're just for fun." Training and teaching is a serious business. It's critical that learners absorb and retain content. Game shows are fun, but they're not just fun for fun's sake—they can engage learners so instructors can get serious messages across.

Using game shows can be a way to convey sensitive or serious material in a way that doesn't intimidate learners. This informal training tool opens up discussion around a topic and can "break the ice," making learners feel at ease in the training session and with the material at hand.

"Our employees or students would never buy into, or get excited about playing a game show." Game shows appeal to learners of all ages. We've personally conducted game shows that were "expected" to fail because the audience "just won't get into it." We've never had an experience (with any audience, ever) where the game show didn't appeal to a majority of the audience. There are a few reasons behind this:

  • Everyone loves to compete; people love to show what they know and see if they can answer given questions.
  • Game shows are a medium that people of all ages can relate to—nearly everyone has seen a game show in some format. They're easy to understand and pick up without complex instruction.
  • Game shows appeal to all learning styles—they allow visual learners to see the question and surrounding information; auditory learners to hear the question and discuss answers; and kinesthetic learners to ring in, cheer, and participate.

"Our content is too complex to fit into a game show format." Information is more readily absorbed when broken into smaller chunks and information groups—as is required in a game show format. We've seen game shows used successfully in every type of training situation—from learning about the American Revolution, to rocket science, to OSHA standards, to general corporate policies and procedures.

"We just don't have time to do this with all the other information we have to teach and assessments we have to give." Any type of training and instruction requires a method of review. Learners need to hear information multiple times in order to retain that information. Game shows can be used in place of an "ordinary" review, or can supplement an already existing review process. Game shows can incorporate pre-existing review exercises like role-plays, quick question-and-answer sessions, and learner demonstrations.

Game shows can also take the place of a formal assessment—many game show software programs allow instructors to record results by individual learners. This method of assessment can be less stressful and more accessible than traditional paper-and-pencil methods.

How to Use Game Shows

Game shows are used most frequently in three basic ways: previewing information, reviewing information, and as an energizing event. How an instructor uses a game show depends on the type of content they're presenting and the structure of their information session.

Using game shows as a preview mechanism in a training session can make trainees aware of their gaps, generate curiosity for an upcoming topic, and let instructors know what they need to cover in depth (and what they can skip over). "Family Feud"-style game shows work well for previewing information since you can ask questions that have multiple answers. For instance, you could build interest in a topic like customer-service policy by asking: "What are our customers' top-five complaints?" When previewing information with game shows, be "forgiving" about right or wrong answers, and consider eliminating (or minimizing) penalties for wrong answers.

Game shows are among the most powerful content-review tools around. They're great for assessment and test preparation, or for just a quick recap. Use game shows as a quick review immediately before an exam to alleviate test anxiety and refresh learners' minds. Review after a long training session to "cement" the content in trainees' brains and to provide an emotionally compelling final event.

Almost any game show can be used to review information, but for a quick-fire review session we like to use a Jeopardy!-style game show. This rapid question-answer format allows instructors to cover a lot of information in a short period of time, and as point-levels increase, they can increase the difficulty level of their questions. "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire", Tic-Tac-Toe, College Bowl, and "Wheel of Fortune"-style game shows also work well for reviewing information-and most can accommodate both short-answer and multiple-choice questions.

There's nothing wrong with using a game show to simply raise the energy level in a classroom or training session. Play a quick, fast-paced game show (like "Jeopardy!") with content that may be one level easier than you would usually use. The purpose is to "warm up" your audience and give them a positive, successful experience—not to stump them. We've also played ice breaker game shows that have nothing to do with the content at hand-using current-event or pop-culture trivia.

A Unique Experience

However an instructor chooses to use them, game shows provide learners with an experience unlike anything else. They motivate learners to pay attention during a training session, they engage and captivate the audience like no other training method, and—most importantly—they are a tool with which instructors can deliver and elaborate on their content. Most instructors know that teaching isn't just about standing up and lecturing anymore—today's learners crave interaction and excitement. As a result, game shows are a practical addition to an instructor's toolkit.


  • There are no comments at this time.