Marcia's Science Teaching Ideas
Marcia's Science Teaching Ideas

Active Learning Games & Puzzles by MJ Krech
You are welcome to use these ideas in your classroom, within your science department, within your school district, or to distribute to any teacher who may find these lessons useful. I only ask that:
1. You cannot sell these lessons or make a profit on them in any way.
2. You cite the lessons original source, and do not white-out the copyright footer on the pdf files
3. Do not copy and paste lessons onto your website. A link to the original is to be used.
4. Do not claim these lessons as your own work.
NOTE: This disclaimer is modeled after a couple of my favorite websites: The Science Spot and Middle School Science. Thanks, teachers!


Active Learning

If you feel as if you are doing all the work, not your students, try active learning! This teaching philosophy gets your students moving. It has your students use flash cards to learn the different models of the solar system, cut and paste vocabulary, or perform skits to show the features of the three main volcano types. My hat's off to Louis Mangione for all his inspirational training and wonderful suggestions!

White Board Team Competition


This is a basic Active Learning activity in my classroom. We have white boards, cut out of one larger one bought at a local hardware store. I train my students early on to move into four teams, send one team member to pick up the white board, marker, and eraser, and assemble in one area, placing the white board so they can work on it without other teams seeing their answers. They are careful to wait for me to count down and say, "Show me your answer!" so as to not tip off another team to their answer. I run White Board Games frequently, at least twice a week. Works great for the 13-15 year old bunch! I love to see their heads together, working out good answers.
Click here to download a new Pdf with 10
White Board Team Game suggestions!
EMAIL ME to request an audio podcast: How to Set Up Team Games.
Basic Team Games Team Games are the best way I know to add some action and spark to the day. I play games EVERY day that I can. At least 3 or 4 times a week! kids love them nd they learn so much when they are actively engaged in learning! However, you must train your students properly or, as you can  imagine, chaos can reign. Not necessary if you follow a few simple steps and take the time to train your students.
Click here for detailed directions
EMAIL ME to request an audio podcast: How to Set Up Team Games.
Team Relay Games 
(Overhead Races)
Use two teams. Prepare an overhead transparency with a long line down the middle. Put the same question, puzzle, problem, on each side. Teams line up on each side of the overhead. Give each team one transparency pen of a different color. The pen is passed down the line like a relay race baton. First person in each line starts at the signal and gets to write down one thing only. If you have sentences that need correcting, for example, they only make one correction each. Then the pass the pen to the next person in the line and go to the end of the line. It's totally "legal" for team members to look at the other team's work. This often gets a team's weakest member past their turn with some dignity. Good game for requiring all the team members in the long line to pay attention to what is happening so they know what to do next.


Lab Safety Equipment Hunt

Make a worksheet with photos of safety equipment in the classroom. Have students walk around the room, listing the location of each safety item shown on the worksheet. Discuss by comparing their answers to an answer transparency. This could be done with four teams or individually.

Lab Safety Equipment Flashcard Game

Play a fun flashcard game with partners. Each pair places their set on the table. scrambled together. Then the teacher says, "Put your finger on the eye wash." Or, "Put your finger on the equipment you would use to put out a fire." Each student uses both pointing fingers, so one of the pair could get both of the eye wash flashcards. When down to just a couple flashcards, stop the game, count the piles, and shake hands with the winner!

Find Someone Who Knows Safety Hunt

Have students walk around finding students who know the answers to questions related to science lab safety. The "Someone Who Knows" must write the answer and sign their name on the student's paper. Adapted from material submitted to by Paula E. Young.

Safety Scenarios Game

Run off Safety Game Scenarios in four different colors. Laminate. Run off your Science Lab Safety Rules. Click here for my rule pieces. Run four sets of these in white. Laminate. To play the game: hand out the same scenario to each team. Hand out a set of Safety Rules Pieces. Teams put their heads together and quietly pick out all the rules that were broken in the scenario. When a team is done, they should say, "Done!" loud enough for all to hear. The teacher writes down team numbers in order of finish. When all teams are finished, the teacher quickly walks around the room checking for accuracy. If first team finished is correct, they are in first place and receive 4 points. If they miss one and the second place team gets all correct, then they change places and points, etc. (Second place gets 3 points, third place gets 2 points, etc.) I do only one Scenario at a time, but you could do several if you have time.


Metric White Board Game

Dictate metric conversion problems. One member of each of four teams writes the problem on the white board and all team members help solve the problem without letting the other teams see their board. Hold up answers when teacher asks for them. Each correct answer gets a point. Called Show Me the Answer here in Missouri!

Metric Mania

Great practice using the metric system! Click here for entire lesson. Includes great Metric Mania Scavenger Game! 

Mini-Metric Olympics

Click here to download a pdf file with the entire mini-metric Olympics lesson plan. Even provides the "medals!" Highly recommended! NOTE: Now for sale for $3.00 by AIMS Education Foundation.


Experimental Design Vocabulary

A cut and paste vocabulary assignment. Cut out the definitions and past with the correct word. Much more fun than the "standard" vocab sheet. The action of cutting and pasting helps most students remember better! Click here.

Exp. Design Vocab. Team Game

Run a completed "Answer Sheet" off on four different colored papers. Cut out and laminate. Teams must match the vocabulary words to the correct definitions. First team done (and correct) wins! Click here for general Team Game Hints.

Experimental Design Team Relay Games

Prepare an overhead transparency with a long line down the middle. Put the same question, puzzle, or problem on each side. Teams line up on each side of the overhead. Give each team one transparency pen of a different color. The pen is passed down the line like a relay race baton. First person in each line starts at the signal and gets to write down one thing only. If you have experimental designs that need correcting, for example, each student can only make one correction. Then the pass the pen to the next person in the line and go to the end of the line. It's totally "legal" for team members to look at the other team's work. This often gets a team's weakest member past their turn with some dignity. Good game for requiring team members in line to pay attention to what is happening so they know what to do next.


Element Flashcards
The Element Symbol Flashcards have element names on one side and the students add the symbols on the back for points, using their Element Symbols List. If two students have free time, I ask them to quiz each other. Can also play a pairs game where both sets of flashcards are in front of the pair. "Put your finger on the symbol for Iron." They can use both pointing fingers, so one of the pair could get both of the Fe flashcards. When down to a couple flash cards left, count the piles, and shake hands with the winner. 
Element Symbol Bingo Great fun! Give out blank Bingo cards to pairs. They can write in element symbols in the blanks. The quick way to make tokens is to have students rip little pieces of notebook paper. I use a packet of Element Flashcards and call them off at random. The pair that calls, "Bingo!" must match symbols to my cards to win. Prize is usually a piece of candy from my Candy Bucket. 
Patterns of the Periodic Table Skits Small groups of students are assigned a pattern, such as: atomic # increases L to R; atomic mass # increases L to R; metallic properties decrease L to R; Atomic radius increase top to bottom and decreases L to R; Groups of elements have similar properties (such as Halogens, Nobel Gases, Alkali Metals, etc.); Period # indicates # of energy shells, Group # indicates # of electrons in outer shell. Build a mental image in their minds beforehand of the front of the room as a huge Periodic Table. The edge of the chalkboard is Group 1A from floor to ceiling. Way over on the other side of the chalkboard, is Group 8A. The Transition Metals are in the middle. Have each group present their skit, letting the rest of the students guess which pattern they are acting out.
Periodic Table Puzzle Select two teams. Give each team an enlarged version of the Periodic Table. I enlarged mine on our "Poster Machine." Cut this version apart by groups: Group 1A, 2A, etc. I include labels on small cards: the Lanthanide and Actinide Series, the Periodic Table, and the Transition Metals. Give each group the long strips and the label cards, upside down on a table, and have each group turn them over and reassemble the Periodic Table. First team done correctly, gets the point.
Virtual Missouri Mining Map A Louis Mangione staple is The Virtual Map. This is THE BEST WAY I know to teach a map and its locations to a group of young people. Works for foreign language classes, history, geography, science, you name it! Have your students stand. You sketch a map--I do Missouri--in the air. NOTE: The teacher does this backwards so the map is facing the right way for the students!! Sketch the map BIG. I do from above my head to nearly the floor. Encourage the students to get involved. The more they are actively involved, the more they learn. We require our students to know the location of several minerals mined in Missouri. With flat hands, we trace the location of coal (northern half of Missouri), sphalerite (southwest), lead (southeast surrounding St. Francois Mtns.), etc. I repeat the outline of the map and then fill in the mineral locations. Then I just trace an area and ask the students what mineral is located here. Works great! 


Cut & Paste Rock Cycle Vocab Click here for a nice cut & paste vocabulary review. Remember: "Big" kids get a lot out of this kind of "little" kids exercise! And because they have to think about the words, they learn much more than if they just did the customary "copy the definitions."
Rock Cycle Vocab TEAM GAME Run a completed "Answer Sheet" off on different colored papers. Cut out and laminate. Teams must match the vocabulary words to the correct definitions. First team done (and correct) wins!
Rock Cycle Puzzle Make flashcards showing names of different formation processes, arrows, types of rocks, characteristics of different rock types. OR Put on one piece of paper and enlarge on "Poster Machine" & cut out. Give to teams of students. They assemble into Rock Cycle Diagram with arrows showing formation processes and characteristics matched to proper rock types. Have each team assemble on a desk top for a game and/or paste to newsprint for points. Click here for Rock Cycle Puzzle. Refer to Rock Cycle Notes for proper placement of puzzle pieces.
Ride the Rock Cycle (Created by Stacy Baker, Pleasant Hill School, Peoria, IL)
"For this activity students roll a die and travel through different stations to learn about the rock cycle. After their journey, they use the information from the "trip" to create a comic strip." Click here for Rock Cycle Worksheet. Click here for Rock Cycle Dice.
"Show Me the Rock!" Game After both Rock Cycle Labs in which your students have learned the three rock types and their formation processes, review with this game. Each team listens carefully to your clue, such as: "Show me the rock that is made of rounded pebbles cemented by sand and clay (Conglomerate)," or, "Show me the rock that is formed by heat and pressure and has medium to coarse texture (Gneiss)." Each team picks out the rock from their lab tray that they think answers the question, sends a member up to the teacher, while hiding their rock in their hand, then reveals the rock when the teacher says, "Show me the Rock!" Point for each team that picks the correct mineral. They know this game, having already played the Mineral version.


Cut & Paste Weathering Vocab Magic trick, almost! They seem to remember their vocabulary better when they cut & paste, instead of copying definitions! Click here.
Weathering Vocab Team Game Run a completed "Answer Sheet" off on four different colored papers. Cut out and laminate. Teams must match the vocabulary words to the correct definitions. First team done (and correct) wins!
Types of Weathering Game Each team holds two cards: Mechanical and Chemical. Teacher reads a description of a type of weathering, such as: formation of potholes in winter. (Mechanical) On a signal from the teacher, team leaders hold up the correct card. Could also offer BONUS point to teams who know the exact type, such as Frost Action (Frost Wedging.) Great fun, especially if you have several smaller teams and keep the action moving quickly.
W.E.D. Game Similar to Types of Weathering Game mentioned above, except the teacher reads headlines from recent newspapers, such as "Landslide destroys village in South America," or "100 feared dead in Russian avalanche." Team leaders hold up correct card identifying either: Weathering, Erosion, or Deposition.


Global Distribution of Water Enlarge a diagram of a pie chart, showing the distribution of water worldwide. Make labels with small cards. Hand to each team in a closed packet. "Mark! Set! Go!" First team done correctly gets 4 points, etc.
Water Cycle Game Enlarge a nice diagram of the Water Cycle. Make small cards with the labels. Hand to each team in a closed packet. "Mark! Set! Go!" First team done correctly gets 4 points, etc.


"Show me the Answer"
White Board Game
Review parts of the Study Guide by putting students into small teams. Each team uses their white board to answer a teacher question. They keep their white boards hidden until the teachers says, "Show me the Answer!" Great fun!
Types of Plate Boundaries Skit Divide your students into three groups. Each group is given the task of developing a skit illustrating their assigned boundary: diverging, converging, or transform/sliding. You can add further requirements such as: show movement magma/lava, show resulting features, show direction of movement. Video tape the presentations.
Name of Plates Games Enlarge a world map showing the major and minor plates. Make labels of those you require them to memorize with small cards. Hand to each team in a closed packet. "Mark! Set! Go!" First team done correctly gets 4 points, etc.


Seismic Waves Slinky Demo Click here for one website that discusses how to demo seismic waves. Basically, use a compressional wave for P-waves, a side-to-side "snake" motion for S-waves, and up-and-down wave motion for L-waves.
Seismic Waves Skit Have each student act out one of the three types of seismic waves. P-waves repeat this sequence: take two steps forward and one step back; S-waves repeat this sequence: take two steps to the right, then one step forward, then two steps to the left, then one step forward; L-waves repeat this sequence: take a step forward, pause, jump twice, take another step forward, pause, jump twice. Have the entire group begin at a starting line. If the students don't "cheat," the P waves should arrive at the finish line first, S-waves second and L-waves third. Good demo!
Seismic Waves Matching Team Game Click here for a quick team game, where each team has nine pattern pieces to fit into a puzzle, which shows the main characteristics of each wave.


Volcano Skits Assign groups one of the three main types of volcanoes: composite, cinder cone, or shield. Require each group to illustrate the following in their skit: the slope of their volcano, the type of eruption, and the type of lava. they cannot talk, but can makes noises, especially to make the eruption noises. Everyone has to participate for full points. Let the rest of the class guess which one is being presented instead of having a group announce it. I've seen some great stuff with this assignment and I think they remember them better.
Volcano Matching Game Run off sets of different color cards. One set is the names of the three major volcano types. Another set is a description of the type of eruption. The third set is the type of lava. The fourth is the type of slope. Teams match the cards into the three different groups.


Relative Aging Team Games A good way to introduce the concept of rock sequencing is to present each step with a separate sketch. We usually just give students the finished product and many students have trouble with seeing how the finished diagram came to be. Here are a couple of good sequencing games. I give each team the four sketches along with 4 sticky notes. They have to put the sketches in order and put a sticky label with each sketch explaining what cause the change in each sketch. Click here for the first game and click here for the second game. These are in worksheet form but can be easily converted into game pieces.
Half-Life Skit Have the entire class stand up in the center of the room, all huddled together. Then touch the shoulders of students and have them step out of the "huddle" and stand around the outside of the room. Eliminate half at a time. As each "half-life" is completed, pause and ask them what just happened. You can either tell them what you are doing. or continue on, taking half out each time, and pausing for them to figure it out. How many half-lives to completely "decay" our class? If one half-life takes about 1 minute, how "old" is the class?
Geologic Eras Team Game Click here for the game pieces. Run off on colored paper and cut out. I cut out the Eras and the characteristics separately, then have teams assemble them in order with corresponding characteristics. I also have sketches showing humans and other large mammals, dinosaurs, one-celled life, fishes (copyrighted) that I also run off as game pieces. I hand out the pieces clipped together and when they open them, I don't tell them what to do with the pieces. "Figure out what to do." They do a great job with this! Gets them up and moving and thinking as a team!
Geologic Eras Skit Assign each team of students a Geologic Era and give them 5 minutes to come up with a pantomime illustrating at least two geological and two biological events from the Era. No words or sound effects this time! Have the other students guess which Era is being dramatized. Good way to review the main geological and biological characteristics of the Eras.


Composition of Air Team Game Enlarge the pie chart from the above worksheet. Print out the pie chart without words, in color. Print out the words separately. Cut out. Give to teams. Say, "On your mark! Get set! Go!" Each team assembles the pie chart correctly and raises hand when finished. Thanks to Debra Kerr for brainstorming this game with me!
Composition of Air Team Skit Make quick calculations before assigning this skit. Calculate 78% of class and assign them to Nitrogen; 21% to oxygen; 1% to argon. Assign the 1% to one student even if less than 1% of your class. A catch-their-attention way to illustrate the trace gases, is to ask the 1% student to take off a shoe and throw it to the side to represent carbon dioxide and the rest of the trace gases. You can add more impact to this skit by asking the entire class to assemble themselves into a giant pie graph in the middle of the floor. Have a pile of labels and percents on cards that each section has to grab to label themselves. Thanks to Debra Kerr for brainstorming this with me!
Layers of the Atmosphere Game Enlarge a chart showing the layers (unlabeled) of the atmosphere. I copied a student's sketches from the above assignment and enlarged and cut them out. Each team must place the sketches in the correct layers of the atmosphere, such as: meteors in mesosphere, person in troposphere, geese in the tropopause. Great fun!
Atmosphere Mania Team Game    !NEW VERSION OF GAME!
!NEW VERSION OF GAME! Similar to Metric Mania. Good review of all the different facts you'd like your students to remember about the Layers of the Atmosphere! Click here.
Layers of the Atmosphere Speed Game Give each team a colorful chart with all the layers and pauses listed. I set the timer for 5 minutes and the teams must list as many characteristics as they can for each layer. Have the team choose the Recorder to write it all down. The rest of the team looks up as many different things as they can from their assignments. The Recorder just writes. You can make it trickier by giving points for correct characteristics, but subtracting for any wrong facts. Keeps them on their toes!
Layers of the Atmosphere Flashcards Run off simple cards with layer names on one side. Have the students write important information on the other side, even add small sketches. Or use index cards and have students write layer names on the one side. This helps prevent them from seeing the answers through the paper. You can do all sorts of quick review games using these cards. Put them in order from the ground up. Put your finger on the layer you live in, the layer where meteors are found, the layer that contains ozone, etc. Students turn the card over to check their answer.
Heat Transfer Team Review Game Click here for a quick team game that gets their heads together with some peer teaching thrown in for good measure. Quick but potent learning!
Heat Transfer Team Game Click here an example of a cut-apart game. (You'll need more pictures.) Give a packet of these sketches and have them separate into three piles with sticky note labels: radiation, conduction, or convection. Great fun to listen to them debate the game pieces and teach each other!
What is Climate? A good way to introduce the concept of Climate. Small groups or pairs come up with a definition on newsprint. Post where all can see. Or have each group write on chalkboard in different colors. They arrive at a group definition by consensus. Post this for all to see. Main rule: can't use the book's definition! In fact, try not to let anyone open the textbook! Later discuss the definition of climate from the book.
Climate Controls Review Cut out pictures from magazines or go high-tech and capture images of various climate controls, such as: very snowy scene (latitude), mountain scene (altitude), harbor with ocean view scene (nearness to large body of water), island surrounded by water scene (ocean currents), desert scene (center of large landmass), jungle scene (latitude), etc. Ask each team of students to identify which Climate Control is most at work in each scene. They can write answers on sticky notes. Good team game!
Worldwide Climate Zones Activity Make 3 different color sets of laminated cards: 1 set of cards with the 11 climate names, 1 set of cards in a different color with descriptions of the 11 climates, and a third set of cards with the parts of the North American Continent areas that match the 11 climate zones. I gave the students copies of the Koppen Climate Classification System to match Climate Names with Descriptions and, also using their World Climate Zone Map, asked them to match the climate types with different areas of the North American Continent.
Climagraph Game Print out several climographs of the United States. Have student teams match them to short climate descriptions. Good thinking exercise. Students really have to think how yearly temperature & precipitation trends would look on a graph. Click here for a climograph of Nashville. Print out climographs such as this one, minus the name of the city and the latitude/longitude information. Have them match to the correct climate name/descriptions. The correct one for Nashville is: Subtropical Moist: warm to hot summer, cool winter, precipitation all winter. You could also have the students separate the climographs into marine (low yearly temperature range) and continental (high yearly temperature range) by looking at the temperature line graphs.


Cloud Flashcards Game Have students get out their CLOUD FLASHCARDS. Work in pairs so there are two pictures of each cloud in front of the pair. Say, "Put your fingers on the cirrus cloud." Since each student can use both pointing fingers, one student could win both cirrus cards! Play until only a couple cards are left. Have pairs count their cards and shake hands with the winner! 
Cloud Matching Game Run off copies of Symbols and Abbreviations, Associated Weather, and Cloud Pictures, so each cloud type has a picture card, a symbol card, an abbreviation card, and an associated weather card. Have teams separate the cards into matched piles for each cloud.


Virtual Human Compass Turn your students into a giant compass by forming a large circle along the outer wall of the classroom. Ask them to point to North. Assign North to the student standing at the North point. Talk about how North is designated both 0o and 3600. Repeat for all the main compass points and NW, SW, SE, SW. Pick different compass points, such as 90o and ask the students to point to the point. Also give odd numbers such as 95o and ask them to point to that spot. Thanks to my dear friend, Amanda George, for this great idea!
Virtual Human Night Sky While in your "Human Compass" formation, review altitude, also. Have the students point to the zenith of the sky, which is 90o azimuth. Point to the nadir of the sky, which is under your fee, directly opposite to the zenith. Point to the horizon, which is 0o azimuth. Point to 45o azimuth. Then combine azimuth and altitude. Ask such questions as, "Where in the sky is 0o altitude, 90o azimuth?" (on the horizon, due East) "Where in the sky is 45o altitude, 180o azimuth?" (halfway up, due South) Once you feel they have a working idea of altitude and azimuth, give them the Astrolabe Lab.
Star Wheel Game Fun game! Divide students into teams. Each team separates into halves and goes to opposite corners of the room with their game cards and star wheels. Give each team half a stack of cards. The cards are either quick sketches of about a dozen basic constellations or the constellation names. You give them all a puzzle to solve and the teams have to match their answers to get a point. If the answer is Orion, both the name and the sketch have to be chosen. Have team "runners" bring the answer card, hidden from view, to you on a signal, then show you the cards all at once. I color code them so matching teams are easy to see. Blue constellation sketch-blue constellation name = 1 point. I use simple questions, such as, "Which constellation is rising (or setting) at 7 p.m. on December 10th?" or "Which circumpolar constellation is overhead on June 15th?"
H-R Diagram "March" Having trouble teaching your students how a star "moves" through the different parts of its life cycle and how they change position on the H-R Diagram? Tape a giant H-R Diagram on the floor. Or chalk it out on the parking lot. Include the X-Y axes, the Main Sequence diagonal, the Red Giants and Red Supergiants, and the White Dwarfs. Have students label dim and bright, hot and cool, and draw arrows to show increasing temperature and brightness along the axes. Use hockey pucks (or anything else that won't roll or blow away) to put some actual stars on the diagram. Have various students walk themselves through the life cycle of the sun and various other stars. Have them "drop off" the Diagram as they become Black Dwarves, or Black Holes, relating a star's fate to its initial mass.
Moon Phases Flashcards An important objective: to recognize all eight moon phases AND be able to relate each moon phase to the relative positions of the sun, moon, and earth. I usually start with these flashcards. Label them, This alone is a challenge for most. I put a transparency up and have them refer to their textbooks. Then the FUN starts! We play the "Put Your Finger On" Game; separate into like phases, arrange in order as if they are moving around the earth, etc. Click here for one image of moon phases that could be made into flashcards. 
Moon Phases Skits Assign each team a different moon phase. Require the team to act out the moon phase for the other teams to guess. They must include the Earth and the sun in the skit. This makes them show the relative positions of the Earth, sun, and moon, which is a state requirement here in Missouri.
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Created by MJKrech