The Game of Crossing Out: A Retrieval Game

The Game of Crossing Out is an exceptionally fun retrieval game that is very simple to organise and gets students thinking.

Here’s how to play:

1. Students first of all write down everything they can remember about a given text, theme or idea. This really can be anything. You explain that the more they write, the better chance they have of winning. Those competitive spirits kick in and you should see students desperately trying to remember anything they can about the topic.

2. Now, we explain the premise: There will be certain tasks that will result in some of their words being crossed out. By the end of the game the student with the most words remaining wins.

3. We now start a chain: student X says a word or image and if anyone has that word then they cross it out. This requires a little strategic thinking as X wants to calculate which word or image will be most popular.

4. X now nominates another student (or you pick) and this student (let’s call them Y) has to say a word that links to that first word. If anyone has this new word they cross it out. But, students get to issue a challenge if they cannot see the link. Y then has to defend and explain the link. We can of course ask for a defence too and ask follow-up probing questions.

5. If the chain breaks (in other words, a nominated student cannot offer a word or image that links to the previous one or the link is not persuasively enough defended) then whoever broke the chain crosses out 5 words

6. We keep building the chain and circulating the room with words being crossed out and students offering up connecting words or images and, where necessary, defending them.

7. After an allotted amount of time everyone counts up the number of words remaining and whoever has the most wins.

Whilst this is the basic format, I also like to include a rapid fire round, which works like this. Explain to students that you’ll say a word or idea related to the chosen text and whoever you select they will need to respond with a connecting word pretty much instantaneously. Everyone with that word crosses it out. You can then bounce around the room a few times, saying a word or idea, pausing for a couple of seconds whilst students ready a connecting word, and then asking whoever you pick. This is a great way to inject a little more energy into the game whilst ensuring everyone is still focussed.

The sequence I tend to adopt when I play this goes like this:

  1. Students write down everything they can think of related to a given idea/text
  2. First chain
  3. Rapid fire
  4. Second chain
  5. End

As such, the total game might last 10 minutes or so and then students count up how many words they have remaining, with whoever has the most winning.

The game is a great way to encourage students to revisit previously studied material, make new connections across texts, and to rehearse the arguments as to how they connect. The embedded accountability mechanisms of potentially being called upon next (either by me or by another student) also help to encourage everyone to remain attentive and keep thinking. It’s also a great way to frame and do something with a more traditional brain dump, which is effectively what we’re asking students to do at the start.

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