Explore Like a Pirate Book Study: Chapter 9

It's time once again to take part in Sweet Sweet Primary's Explore Like a Pirate book study! This week we are looking at Chapter 9: X Marks the Spot: Finding Joy in Playful Assessment. You can find my take on Chapters 1-8 HERE.

Chapter 9 is about mini-games, side quests, and out-of-the-box assessments. As in the previous chapters, author Michael Matera lists just about every possible mini-game, side quest, and assessment under the sun. I look forward to going back and choosing just the right ones to complement the gamified unit that I'm planning.

I have to say that I identified with this chapter the most because I feel like I do a lot of these things already. The key is now to modify and perhaps rename some things in order to make them fit in with my "game."

Here's some more info about each of these elements:


In Matera's world, mini-games are the "brain breaks" in the game. Now, these are not the Koo Koo Kanga Roo kind of brain breaks. These are parts of the game that are fun but don't move the story forward. In many cases, they provide a review of the content. I like Matera's suggestion to not announce these mini-games ahead of time...the surprise makes it more fun!

I won't list all the mini-games he mentions here (don't forget you can download the book for free if you have Kindle Unlimited), but here are a few that I haven't heard of before that I want to use this year:

Mega Tic Tac Toe- To add additional layers of strategy, draw 9 separate tic tac toe boards in a grid. Students play in two teams. Each team that gets an answer correct can mark off an X or O, BUT wherever they mark determines their next placement. If they put an X in the center of the top left board, they have to make their next play in the center board. You can even make it more challenging by having 3 teams and adding a triangle team, for example!

Graffiti- Students preview a new chapter by looking for key terms, important concepts, and specific details. When they find something important they raise their hand, wait to be called on, and then race to the board to write it down. The goal is to get everything important about the chapter onto the board. At the end, you can have the students look at the board and see all the content they are going to learn in the new chapter. I was thinking of even having students in different groups use different colors of markers, and then counting the terms at the end and rewarding XP to each group based on the number of terms they wrote down.

Super Silent- This is a team building activity where students must complete any challenge given without making a single noise. You start with moving from sitting in a chair to standing. If you hear so much as a bracelet move, everyone starts over! Then gradually, you move to more complicated tasks, like pulling out your chair and sitting down, etc. I can't wait to pull this game out of my teacher toolbox!

Out-of-the-Box Assessment

I am big on assessment that goes beyond pencil and paper, so I thought this section was great! Here are some ideas I really liked:

Odd One Out- List 4 things. Students must explain why three of the things fit together, and why the fourth does not.

Sketch Pad- This requires students to think visually. They have to draw a concept that they learn about. This could be great for science concepts like the water cycle, or in social studies. For example, my 3rd graders learn about the regions of the US. I could require them to draw and label a picture of each region. I would expect to see the different things we learned about the regions reflected in each picture.

Side Quests 

Side quests are optional assignments that help students delve deeper into the material. Matera's rules for side quests are as follows:

1- You can only turn in your side quest once.
2- The side quest must connect to the current unit.
3- The side quest must be turned in before the unit test.

These rules help you handle assessing these tasks that aren't supposed to be graded (they can add XP to your students' point totals). You don't want to waste time grading a bunch of work students just rushed through to say they completed it!

As I read through the list of side quest options, I got super excited because I feature many of the same activities on my choice boards! I can modify some of my pre-existing choice boards to be used as side quests in future games.

Here is an example of one of my choice boards (it is available for free in my store):

Speaking of choice boards, I just added a Growing Bundle to my store. You can grab all the choice boards I have now and any I make in the future for only $5! The price will go up with each choice board I add, so grab it now!

Next week, we come to the end of the book. I look forward to putting all this information together and planning my first gamified unit!

Do you currently use mini-games or side quests in your class? How do you incorporate them into your day?

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