What game shows can do for our teaching

Studio optional

Much as I like to think (and tell people) that my teaching is great, it is very rare indeed that I am approached with a request to reprise any of my ‘greatest hits.’

Thus, I have been very happy that just this has happened here at Surrey, where our undergraduates told my colleague that they’d like to have another go at my immersive technique for developing public speaking skills.

Of course, they framed it more on the lines of: “can we play that game again?”

That game is – in this case – not even my own game, but the BBC’s. ‘Just A Minute‘ is a very British panel game show, where contestants have to speak on a given subject for one minute ‘without repetition, hesitation or deviation’. Break any of those rules and you get the subject for the rest of the time.

Even those students who have never listened to Radio 4 can pick it up in a couple of moments and its format leads itself very well to political subjects. We’re going to be going through rounds with suitable topics, giving everyone an opportunity to use their knowledge actively, try out some public speaking in a fun and engaging manner, and generally building community (which has always been a key part of these sessions).

In short, it’s a way into getting students to buy into the skills-development agenda, which is often difficult to do: it’s one reason why we’re not packaging this as public speaking. As an approach, we’re doing something not so very different from Amanda and her ‘Best X in Town‘ model of research methods: an applied model, on which we can build the architecture of more conventional teaching.

With this in mind, we might usefully think about other examples of where we can take game-show formats to hijack for our classes.

The difficulty is then one of finding the correct format, since many of them are about knowledge-recall, which might not be quite what we want to develop. If we do, then you could run a ‘Jeopardy‘-style quiz at the end of each class, to check on recall: easier questions for this class’ materials, harder ones for previous classes’.

For more active learning, then you need to have a format that let’s students create something more than just a factual answer. ‘Whose line is it anyway?‘ might be a step too far (albeit a very amusing step), but certainly one could consider getting students to generate questions for a ‘Catchphrase‘ session. That could be much closer to a pick-up-and-go format than the more obvious ‘University Challenge/College Bowl‘ approach , although you could get students to build up to this, to test their teachers.*

The trade-off is going to be familiarity (with the format) against utility (for your objectives). That said, most games that make it to TV have had enough development to be simple to understand, so have confidence in your students’ abilities and who knows where it might lead?

* – Given how I rubbish I was when I actually went on University Challenge and how much grief I’ve had about it in the 15 years since, I’ve advise caution on this one.

2 Replies to “What game shows can do for our teaching”

  1. Although I’d like to take credit for being as smart as Amanda, she gets the credit for Best X in Town, so I edited your post to replace her name with mine.

    In the game show, if people violate the rules, what length of time are they then required to talk about the subject? I can see this spiraling into much awkwardness with students (which I assume is part of the point of the game — speak knowledgeably and succinctly or look like an idiot).

  2. Thanks for picking up my error.

    If they break a rule, then it has to be called out by another player, who then has to talk for whatever is left of the minute. Succinctness isn’t actually desirable, since you want to talk out the time (which is more tricky than it sounds, especially if you can’t hesitate or repeat yourself). In practice, it all works out just fine: not too long, not too short.

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