What is, “classroom jeopardy”?

I always hesitate to offer advice on what activities not to do in the classroom. After all, it is one’s relationship with students that guarantees best practice. However, there are undeniable better practices which with research on our side become evident.

The most common review game I’ve seen in a classroom is Jeopardy (and now Kahoot, more on that later). Whether it be on paper, via a well-designed PowerPoint slide (with or without sound effects), or a mobile app. — Jeopardyhas permeated classrooms the day before test day everywhere. Ostensibly, Jeopardy is meant to increase and test a student’s knowledge of test materials — their rote memorized information…hence why Jeopardy is a trivia game show (trivia being defined as details / particular bits of information with little importance).

To be on the nose, reviewing for a test in this way is essentially stating that to do well on your test, you need trivia knowledge. To be fair, many educators would state that background content knowledge is necessary to perform well on critical thinking (and you’d be right). However, how often are we in a situation as professionals where we need to have complex background knowledge of a topic, without being able to use the Internet or access any other resources (e.g., libraries, other experts, etc.)? The answer: almost never(*unless, of course it’s something you do every single day — which is beyond the scope of a higher grade class. We would expect that students know how to perform basic addition without consulting a calculator every time, for example.)

If you believe that Jeopardy-style knowledge is a skill that must be maintained, I would reference IBM’s Watson demonstration on the show in 2011. In general, humans cannot keep up with AI on easy-to-find, simply gathered information. Instead, humans are great at critical thinkingTodai Robot, an AI experiment in Japan, found that AI can already easily pass a university entrance exam consisting of recall questions, but AI struggles heavily when needing to pair ideas together, recognize complex patterns, or think creatively.

The Todai Robot was tasked with Japanese entrance exams. It destroyed rote memorized questions, but was ultimately beaten by complex and creative answers.

The Todai Robot was tasked with Japanese entrance exams. It destroyed rote memorized questions, but was ultimately beaten by complex and creative answers.

Therefore, when we give a Jeopardy review to our classroom, we’re proclaiming one of two things:

  1. This test is based on trivia-knowledge that you could easily gain on the Internet or via myriad other resources, so you’re not allowed to use anything that might normally be available to you in the real world. I’m preparing you for a world in which, somehow, you don’t have access to any personal computing device and you need to know chemistry / physics / Russian literature / etc.

  2. We need to ensure that you know basic information before tackling anything harder, so let’s drill in simple concepts via this game and get to the real stuff later. Instead of practicing our critical thinking skills on a variety of topics and working like we would in the real world, let’s prepare in a way that no one else would. Let’s read several books about screwdrivers, for instance, taking copious notes and tests over this utensil, and maybe in a year or so we will use one. (This being diametrically opposed to asking a student to remove a screw and offering several apparatuses for them to experience.)

Furthermore, Jeopardy reinforces a competitive, winner-take-all environment that our schools should not reflect. Never mind the issues of class rank, GPA, and other measurements of a student’s school intelligence, Jeopardy is fantastic when you’re doing well and have memorized everything, but horrendous if you are struggling. Instead of everyone working together to learn, we race to the correct answer for ourselves. Instead of collaborating to tackle difficult, complex work, we stay individualized to process surface-level content. Education should benefit everyone — not just a select few.


Hence, Kahoot — although it somewhat solves the issue of who participates and who doesn’t — it still reflects three fundamental problems: 1) students must race to the right answer for the most points, 2) it is competitive and one is only accomplished if one“wins” (not based on one’s personal growth) and the results are displayed to the entire class, 3) it is still trivia knowledge.

Extensive research in gaming has shown that learners perform better, and enjoy more, cooperative games. This may seem counterintuitive as competition is such a key facet of our capitalist society. Alfie Kohn presents brilliantly how motivation is ruined when one loses. Therefore, in a competitive environment where only a few select few win, the majority lose (and are hampered). Cooperative games ensure that everyone benefits: everyone should contribute (and learn), and everyone accomplishes the goal. This doesn’t mean that everyone receives a free gold star: cooperative learning can be challenging. For example, BreakoutEDU offers a classroom designed “escape room” where all learners work together to critically think and “break out.”

We only think when we are confronted with problems.

- John Dewey

In general, cooperative learning (and gaming) is project-based (or challenge-based or any form of experiential learning). Being presented with a complex problem that you all solve together while taking on different roles to get there is the basis behind any solidly structured classroom game. You might say: well this is going to take way longer to review than a classroom Kahoot! And you’d be right: real review is not quick, memorized, or reflected on in a day. Learning is an ongoing process that must be reinforced over long periods of time, in a myriad of ways, and with consistent complex challenges. The more we understand effective learning, the more prepared our students will be.