Teacher to teacher

Breaking the monotony of Regents test prep

When a teacher can find innovative and creative ways to approach mundane subjects, it can get a student’s creative juices flowing. This year I taught Regents Prep classes, which are meant for students who earned a class credit but did not pass their Regents exam in history. I felt a weight on my shoulders: How do I lead students through the marshes of Regents Prep while eliciting a level of excitement fit for an honors or AP course?

The answer was a wooden block away.

The wooden block was Jenga, and soon Game Day was created. I numbered each of the 54 individual Jenga pieces (hint: use a marker and avoid labels because they stick to the other pieces); each number corresponds to one of the 50 multiple-choice questions on a Regents exam. When students select a piece in the Jenga game, they are expected to answer the corresponding question; if they do not know the answer, a group member has the opportunity to steal. If no one in their group is able to answer the question correctly, they research the answer as a group.

One group member is tasked with being the “keeper of the key” by checking answers and keeping score. They tally the answers on a tracking sheet, which allows me to track the growth of individual students and refine the grouping for later games.

Creating alternative games has also been a fun way to break the monotony of test prep. One of the games my students love most is our classroom version of “Minecraft.” On the floor, students find 30 Regents multiple choice questions in the form of political cartoons, maps or charts. They are then tasked as a class with completing the “Minecraft maze” by answering the Regents questions correctly and being on the appropriate track. The catch is that you only find out if you are on the appropriate path if you answer correctly.

Students track each other’s attempts while working collectively to beat the maze. In my largest class of 33 students, the class is divided into two teams and they race to beat the maze. Students are continuously tasked with answering the same multiple choice questions. The repetition allows them to build an understanding of how to interpret the document itself.

The most important part of the Game Day culture in my Regents Prep classes is that the students have a say. They are constantly asked to provide feedback and suggestions on how to make Game Day even stronger. Their suggestions have led to the division into teams, tracking of answers, creation of new games and, most important, growth in their multiple choice scores on mock exams.

My students love these games because it allows them to review key concepts and work as a team. And it provides an instant reward for successful completion. This healthy competition has transformed my Regents Prep class into a fun and challenging environment.

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