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Playing Jeopardy! in Class: A Tribute to Alex Trebek

November 10, 2020

On November 8, 2020, Canadian game show host Alex Trebek died at home at the age of 80 after a battle with pancreatic cancer. Amazingly, Trebek kept filming his popular trivia game show, Jeopardy!, right until the end of his life (the final episode will air December 25, 2020). Trebek set a Guinness World Record for the most game show episodes ever hosted—more than 8,000 in all! In the words of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, "the world lost an icon."

Jeopardy! had a great impact on both my personal and professional life. I grew up watching Jeopardy! every night after dinner—it was one of my dad's favorite shows. The show's concept, along with Alex Trebek's friendly, encouraging manner, instilled a love of learning in me from a young age.

Professionally, I often used the game show's format to create review activities in my ESL classrooms. My students loved the challenge of the progressively more difficult questions and looked forward to competing for imaginary money. I used Jeopardy! for vocabulary review most often, but I also adapted it for grammar review and used it as a general trivia game that my students enjoyed. I even had my students create their own Jeopardy! boards.

Many North American immigrants claim to have learned English by watching Jeopardy!, including Kristyna Ng and Burt Thakur who both made it onto the quiz show to tell their language-learning stories.

If you are interested in trying Jeopardy! with your students, follow the steps below.

How to Play Jeopardy!

1. Choose the categories and words you wish to review.

  • For a vocabulary review activity, you can choose the titles of six lessons you've done during the past month for your categories and five words you wish to review from each lesson for the dollar amounts.
  • Another idea is to choose common categories such as People, Places, Food, Weather, Animals, and Sports to create a general knowledge review.

2. Copy the following table onto the board, or share it in an online teaching platform.

  • If you want to review fewer words, choose fewer categories (e.g., for a total of 15 words to review, have three categories with five words in each).
  • You can also google "Jeopardy board" to find various other boards to share in class or online.

3. Prepare the vocabulary words and definitions in a master list ahead of time that you can refer to.

  • To mimic the real Jeopardy! game, the words/definitions should progress in order of difficulty, with $100 being the easiest and $500 being the most difficult.
  • If you're reviewing ESL Library lessons you've done in class, simply open the PDF or Task Player of a lesson and make a list. For example, if Category 1 is a review of Climate Change vocabulary, your list might look like this:
    • $100 undeniable = unable to be denied
    • $200 greenhouse gas = a type of gas that contributes to the trapping of heat in the earth's atmosphere
    • $300 carbon footprint = the amount of greenhouse gases contributed by a single person or group
    • etc.
  • If you're playing a general knowledge game, you can find plenty of vocabulary words and definitions within our Famous People, Famous Places, Famous Things, and Sports & Leisure lessons. 
  • Alternatively, have students create their own list of words and definitions based on past lessons or categories, words, and definitions that they write themselves.

4. Start the game!

  • Divide the class into two (or more) teams.
  • One student from Team A starts the play by choosing a category and an amount.
  • Read the definition from your master list associated with that category and dollar amount. 
  • If that student responds with the correct vocabulary word for that definition, they collect the dollar value of that square.
    • To make it more authentic, have your students answer Jeopardy!-style, where each answer begins with "What is..."
  • If that student from Team A answers incorrectly, someone from Team B can steal the money by answering correctly. If neither team can answer correctly, you can reveal the correct answer and no one gets the money from that square.
  • Continue the game with a student from Team B. Continue gameplay with the teams taking turns until they've gone through every square. 
  • The team with the most money at the end of the game wins!


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Comments (6)

Reshma L.(Teacher)

Thank you

Reply to Comment

Tanya Trusler(Author)

You're welcome! I hope you had a chance to try it with your students.

Sandra A.(Teacher)

I am a dinosaur when it comes to using your digital teaching platform...I don't use it! I notice that some of your recent lessons are digital only. Will you still be creating printable, downloadable lessons?

Reply to Comment

Tammy Wik(ESL Library Staff)

Hi Sandra!

Yes, we are absolutely continuing to create printable, downloadable lessons! We are still very much in the midst of the Cretaceous Period 🦖, so you are in excellent company and we will continue to create materials for you and your fellow pen and paper enthusiasts (myself included!). There are also plenty of other reasons to create printable and downloadable lessons, including keeping our materials accessible to students and teachers with differing resource availability.

I would like to also shine some light on the reasoning for our recent digital-only lessons. We create digital-only lessons mostly when the lesson topics are very current or when we expect they will need more frequent updates than most of our lessons. You may notice that our news-oriented categories are digital only. We have also had a small number of Discussion Starter lessons that fit this criteria as well. Our publishing team informs me that they if digital-only lessons continue to have teacher interest after a lesson's initial release, they will likely convert them to printable, as well. (And if anyone reading this is curious, we also actively are working to convert many of our printable-only lessons into digital, as well.)

And lastly, because I am incorrigible teacher trainer, I would (gently) encourage you to take a peek sometime at our digital resources. We will be doing some webinars in December (keep an eye out on our website for an announcement!) introducing teachers how to use the digital platform. Even on the Standard Plan (which is a bit more printable-focused), there are some great digital resources you have access to for your students.

You can assign digital reading tasks as self-study or homework for your students. And you can also project digital interactive tasks or readings onto a screen in your classroom with a projector and do them together as a class. Or, if you're teaching online, you can "project" the same tasks to your screen if you're using a platform like Zoom or Google Meet.

If you're feeling up to it, grab your beverage of choice and settle down and check out some of our Teacher Training videos: https://help.esllibrary.com/article/212-how-to-use-esl-library-teacher-training-module

(I recommend the 1-hour webinar found at the end of the list of videos on that page).

Happy teaching! And do feel free to write it any time you have questions/curiosity/suggestions. We thrive because of our communication with our teachers.

Brian L.(Teacher)

The free online Jeopardy template from JeopardyLabs is also a good resource: https://jeopardylabs.com/

Reply to Comment

Tammy Wik(ESL Library Staff)

Thanks for sharing this great resource, Brian!

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