Social Studies Board Games

Student-created board games are an effective in-class study tool.

By Chris Jackson


board games

One of the biggest challenges in any classroom is making content interesting, relevant, and engaging. Students are growing up in a world in which they are constantly looking to be entertained - but not necessarily educated. Great teachers, however, can combine the two by providing “edutainment” for their students. One of the best ways to do this is by using content as a foundation to create classroom board games - like “Life,” “Monopoly,” or “Candy Land.” 

The great thing about using a board game project in the classroom is that it can be done with virtually any subject matter at any level. For the purposes of this article, I will be specifically outlining how to create a board game for a social studies unit. 

Let’s say you are teaching a unit on the Renaissance and students are responsible for learning the names, dates, people, places, ideas, etc . . . There is quite a bit of information that must be covered according to state standards, and it is very easy for students to become overwhelmed and disinterested early on. Before starting a board game, students should engage in research activities to find out information about the topic. Once students have listed basic facts about the Renaissance, and their teacher has confirmed that those facts are correct, then the real fun can begin!

STEP 1: You can have a discussion with students about their favorite board games. Students identify what makes a board game interesting, which will help them to create one of their own from scratch. 

STEP 2: Students create question cards from facts they locate in their study guides. They should be encouraged to come up with creative names for these cards to make them more fun... “Quick Thinks,” “Pop Quizzes,” and “Task Cards” are all names my students have used in the past. 

STEP 3: You can provide students with a rubric of exactly what you are expecting the end product to look like. Once students are clear on what the teacher’s expectations are, they should be allowed free reign regarding the materials they are allowed to use to create their games. Ideally, students should work in groups. This way, each student is held accountable for individual components of the creation of the board game. Student groups should meet with their teacher to reveal their plan for meeting the rubric requirements, and to ask any questions they may have regarding their task.

STEP 4: The board can become a work of art for students. The boards can be as detailed as students like. Students can create traditional flat boards, pop-up boards, boards with pieces, etc . . . I have had students create boards where the game requires students to move their pieces up a tower, through holes in the board, and more! This is an area where teachers should really encourage their students to be creative. 

STEP 5: Once the board games are completed, there should be ample opportunity for students to play all of the games. Often, this is the most fun part of the project for students. A great way to engage students is to have them rotate through each game. Each group designates a “game master” to teach the visiting groups how to play their game.

Ideally, the board game project will take a few days and should generally be introduced once students are familiar with the academic content being studied. Board game projects are great ways to prepare students to review content before an exam. When I used this project in my classroom, students usually received high scores on exams because they became so engaged in learning the material through game play. It’s the best study tool I’ve ever employed as a teacher! 

Here are more activities to do with your class in order to spark interest in classroom curriculum.

Social Studies Board Game Lesson Plans:

Revolutionary War Board Game

Students create a board game based on the Revolutionary War.

Play Board Games

Students play board games to learn about predator/prey relationships.

Mystery Board Games

Students create mystery board games much like the game of Clue.