Let’s Play JENGA!

Any content. Any course. Game on!


Here’s a super easy activity to add a fun bit of kinesthetic learning, student choice, and team vs. team mischief (!!!) to any close reading exercise. Works in any content area! My sample game from The Great Gatsby is posted here (it was really a great fit in a chapter where we were talking about color imagery and crumbling facades!) — but you can quickly re-skin and re-purpose this activity for use in your classroom!

Using a Sharpie (or printed labels), put numbers on each of the 54 blocks in a standard Jenga game. You can either number each block individually from 1-54, or you can divide the blocks into two groups of 36 and double with two of each number (or divide into four sets of 18, etc.).

Project a series of numbered look-for items on the overhead board, and start a countdown timer. Like so:



Collect as many “blocks” from the Jenga tower as possible. Each block is numbered, and the numbers correspond with a specific “look for item” listed on the overhead board. For each block that you select, work with your teammates and scour the source text to find an example of that look for item. Mark your finding (including page number) on the score sheet at your desk group.

You can collect ANY block you’d like (even the top row), but you may only collect one block at a time. If you get stuck, you can even put blocks back on top of the tower to make the challenge *that much harder* for a rival team!

If the tower falls, you lose all of your blocks. The team with the most blocks when time expires wins.

Author: John

John Meehan (@MeehanEDU) is an English teacher and school instructional coach at Bishop O’Connell High School in Arlington, Virginia. He began his teaching career in 2010 as a career switcher through The New Teacher Project, after spending five years working in social media and event marketing. He is a 2017 ASCD Emerging Leader, and an alumnus of the 2016-2018 Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Teacher Advisory Council. In 2016, he was named one of Arlington, Virginia’s “40 Under 40” by the Leadership Center for Excellence. He is a past presenter and regular attendee at educational conferences throughout the United States, including the annual conference for National Catholic Education Association, ASCD Empower19, and the Play Like a Champion Today: Character Education Through Sports summer conference at the University of Notre Dame. He’s an avid runner who’s completed more than three dozen marathons, half marathons, long-distance road relays, mud runs, and obstacle course races. John lives in Silver Spring, Maryland.

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