Why Play Games with Task Cards?

Why should you use games with task cards? How will it increase your students' learning?

Author: TeamTom Education , Tags: 

( words) minutes to read 

You are accountable for getting high levels of student achievement, so there’s no time for playing around…or is there? Take a look at these big ideas about games in the classroom:

  • Games provide a motivation point for feedback.
  • Games can make the classroom memorable.
  • Games combined with task cards can be powerful.

In this post, I will share some strategies and research for using games with task cards in your classroom. The research comes from John Hattie  (you can find his book here).

Games are perfect for giving students feedback.Click To Tweet

Games Built for Feedback

Feedback is one of the most powerful forms of instruction. Out of over 100 instructional strategies, feedback and formative evaluation rank as number 10 and 3 (Hattie, 2009). Task cards in a game setting provide multiple opportunities for both immediate feedback and formative assessment.


Feedback and Task Cards


Games and Task Cards. Each task card is brief and gives a chance for students to practice. Then they receive feedback. A game like basketball (read more about how to play here) is built around giving feedback. The game is structured for two types of feedback:

  1. Feed-back: After each question, students can find out if they are correct.
  2. Feed-forward: After each question, students hear from the teacher on why answers are incorrect. Or better yet, the teacher can ask the student figure out what is wrong with the answer. This is powerful!

Applying Feedback. Immediately after receiving these two types of feedback, students get to try it out. They practice exactly what they just learned!

Receiving feedback like this between task cards is so much more effective than doing a set of task cards and not receiving feedback. It’s even better than receiving feedback a day or two later.

In a game, students can immediately apply what they just heard. They can learn by doing. Massed practice with no feedback (like a 20 question worksheet) is a lot of practice without learning from mistakes. The students wonder, “Am I doing it right?” The students just don’t know – until it’s too late!

Read more about Massed vs Spiral Practice

In a game, they find out their mistakes immediately. They get quick feedback and can adjust. More importantly, they want to adjust because of the game!

Games provide students with an intense motivation to participate!Click To Tweet

Motivation to Engage in Task Card GamesQuality tasks generate student thinking and discussion.

Games provide intense motivation to participate. When structured around task cards, students are engaged in learning tasks…not just playing. Or even worse, doing nothing (as in many lecture formats).

Hattie found that “time on task” has a medium effect on learning (d = 0.38). But the problem is not how much time we have in class. The problem with learning is the amount of engaged time in class.

In a game like task card basketball (read how to play here), students spend a brief time shooting a basket – intense emotional engagement. Then they spend a slightly longer amount of time discussing and figuring out problems or questions on a task card.

If the task card is designed correctly, students will be forced to reason and discuss. This type of engagement is way better for learning than students sitting and passively watching a teacher lecture or model how to do something.

Hattie explained it this way. The research has mixed reviews on engagement in practice. Some practice, such as simply reading, has very little impact on student learning (d = 0.10). Higher learning occurred (d = 0.38) when:

  1. practice was deliberate and short
  2. students were allowed to have errors when practicing
  3. they received feedback on their errors
  4. they were given another chance to get it rightWhy Games

This is exactly what happens in task card games. Plus, it’s not just work. To students, it’s work for the purpose of playing in the game! It may sound superficial. You might think it’s trite. But when your class is filled with students buzzing and discussing the task card with zeal, you have real motivation to learn. Not just play.

It’s not just play. It’s engaged learning. It’s research-based instruction.

The key with games, students want to apply the feedback to get better!Click To Tweet

Games for Task Cards

Read more about these games:

  1. Task Card Basketball (aka Trashketball)
  2. Test Question Slapdown
  3. Area and Perimeter Task Cards Scavenger Hunt
  4. Comparing Fractions Task Cards Scavenger Hunt
  5. Three Ways to Use Making Inferences Task Cards
  6. Bye to Boring Test Review: 4 Easy Strategies

Task Cards Designed for Thinking

It really isn’t enough to take a task card and add a game. Not all task cards are made alike. The task itself has to be designed for thinking. The cards have to

  1. be challenging enough,
  2. allow enough success, and
  3. force mistakes for learning.
  4. They should have complex text,
  5. multi-step problems, and
  6. a mixture of open-ended and multiple-choice questions.

Cards that are designed for thinking have variety and are more than a cut-up worksheet. They should have complex text, multi-step problems, and a mixture of open-ended and multiple-choice questions.

If students can’t discuss the card. It’s not designed for thinking. One answer and “I’m finished!” – that’s not intense thinking. That type of teaching resource may be good to build fluency or to hold a quick quiz. For games, the cards must lend themselves to rigorous thought and discussion…even for elementary students.

Great Questions = Learning. It's not enough just to add a game to a worksheet!Click To Tweet

The Question is the Task

The same text can teach a math skill, social studies content, or a reading skill. The real measure of the quality of a task card is the question.

More importantly, are there more than one question on a card? This is important.

Students must think about a task in multiple perspectives. This develops deeper understandings. This occurs when there are multiple questions on one task card.

A factual question, an inferential question, and a skill-based question make a powerful combination. Hattie’s research showed that “a mixture of lower and higher level questions are more effective when aiming at deeper information and understanding” (Hattie, 2009, p.183).

Take a look at the sample of cards below. You’ll see variety and complexity.

Scaffolding in the Task Cards for Making Inferences
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Scaffolding questions make all the difference on math task cards!
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Browse Task Cards

Tap Below to Discover Task Cards for Reading, Social Studies, Science, and Math.

About the Author

TeamTom Education is dedicated to creating engaging teaching resources and strategies that make learning awesome!

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