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science education

The Epic Test Review Game You Didn’t Know You Needed


Test review can be torturous. Students hate it and we hate it, but it’s something we feel like we have to do. And engaging students in the process can be like pulling teeth. Games like Grudgeball work fine, there’s only so much higher level thinking we can get from them in that setting. They don’t really want to review any more than we do. But what if you could spend that precious time having your students create a test review game that is engaging and makes them think?

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How do you explain a classroom without using the words teacher, student, desks, learn, or school?  It’s a little tricky, right?  You have to really understand what a classroom is to explain it well without using those words. Truly understanding something is different than simply reciting it. Our goal is always to engage students in what they are learning and drive them to think more critically.

I don’t want students to repeat what I said or what they read. I want them to engage with the content and walk away with their own, true understanding. This is what led me to create this epic test review game! Click here to grab an editable copy of the game template!

Tell Me More About This Magical Test Review Game

My desire for students to think critically and truly remember content from all year inspired me to have students create their own test review game called Forbidden Lingo. This is almost identical in concept to Taboo. I needed a way to review what we learned all year long with my students so they did well on our end of the year benchmark. This game project was just the solution.


Students make their own Forbidden Lingo playing cards using terms they’ve used for the unit of study (maybe a single unit, maybe the whole year). Each card has a vocab word at the top. Then, they have to select five Forbidden words players are not allowed to say while they’re playing the game. 

Year after year, this game has been my go-to for test review! I usually set aside four days for students to work on this project in class before they take their test. With a little modification, it can also be used for any grade level or content area.

Playing Is Easy

Two teams sit in a circle with every other player being on the opposite team. When a player grabs a card from the deck, they see a main word at the top they’re supposed to get their team to guess using verbal clues. There are also five words they are not allowed to say. Each player tries to get  their team to guess as many words as possible in a one minute time frame.  The team with the most points at the end of the round wins.

Preparing for the Project

About a week in advance, tell kids they need to bring in how many notecards you’re going to use. This will depend on how many . They don’t need their notecards on the first day, so this gives some wiggle room for kids that forget them… because they will.

I also offer the opportunity to buy notecards from me for one cent. Check with your admin and email parents before you do this! I usually them the opportunity to buy half as many notecards as they actually need and cut them in half. This helps students take some ownership in the project, and I am not going out and buying notecards for all 200 of my students. 


If asking students to pay a small amount for their cards isn’t allowed, see if you have a supply closet or if your PTO will buy them. They’re not super expensive. If I end up buying them with my own money, it’s rarely more than three of four dollars.

I actually use the money I get from them to go buy more notecards for the next year. The money does NOT make its way to my Starbucks fund :).

We’re Playing a Game in Class Today!

Ask your students: How do you explain a classroom without saying words teacher, student, desks, learn, or school? The strategy is a lead-in to how Forbidden Lingo is played. I listen to their answers and talk about how they had to think outside of the box to come up with an acceptable clue. 

Then, I put a real Taboo Game card under the doc cam and model how I might describe that word while avoiding the taboo words. 

Finally, I pick up the deck and give clues so they cannot see the word I’m trying to get them to guess. This whole process helps model how they are able to give clues when they play. 

Break the class up into groups of six or eight. Give each group a small deck of Taboo cards to play with. Give them 8-10 minutes (about one minute per person) to play before bringing them back to their desks. You can give the winning teams candy, but I give them bragging rights!

Four Parts To Making An Engaging Test Review Game

Vocab Words

A vocab word is the main word students will put a the top of their Forbidden Lingo card. This is also the word they’ll try to get their peers to guess. Present students with a list of words they must include as vocab words. It’s nice to give them a list of optional words they can choose from, too.

Click the image to grab your editable test review game template for Forbidden Lingo!

Forbidden Words

Forbidden words refer to the five words they’re not allowed to say while they’re explaining that card. I let them use their notebooks and textbooks. I usually print some of the articles we used during a specific topic to use as well. Make students plan their words on a template and check in to make sure they’re on the right track. 

Students will want to use words like pizza if they’re talking about the Earth’s Crust. I don’t let them. You’ll read about why in the next section.


The idea of the game Forbidden Lingo is to avoid using those Forbidden words to explain their vocab word. But this is an academic project. I require my students to use the five Forbidden words they chose for their vocabulary word to write sentences explaining their vocabulary word

For example, say the vocab word is classroom and they forbidden words are teacher, students, desks, learn, and school. The sentence your students should write could say:

A classroom has a lot of desks where students sit and learn from a teacher at school.

This. Totally. Throws. Them. Off. (at least in middle school). They don’t understand how they’re supposed to use the words after you told them not to. Try your best to explain, model, explain again, model again, not lose your mind and keep going. Eventually I made an anchor chart with an example of this and hung it up. This seemed to help a lot.

Deck Logo

All card games have logos. I ask them to make a deck logo on all the cards like they would find on a normal deck of cards – uniform and colored. Remind (coughwarncough) them they have to make 20 to 30 cards, so their logo shouldn’t be exceptionally detailed.

Students Play Each Others Test Review Games

As students finish up working on their Forbidden Lingo, they form groups and play. They should be able to combine decks because they should all have their own logo and it’s easy to sort cards out once it’s time to turn them in. 


THIS IS THE BEST PART! They’ve made all the cards. Each card has the Forbidden words they’re not allowed to say during the game. They had to justify those words by using them to explain their vocab word. Since each student’s card is different, they have to think of their feet! Now, they have to use new words and make new connections to get their team to guess the vocab word.

This is the easiest, best test review game ever. The kids think deeply. They make connections. They have to synthesize information very quickly. It’s all hidden in a game they’re really excited to make and play with friends!

Forbidden Lingo is one of mine and my student’s favorite projects every year! Click here to grab an editable copy that will work great for any topic!

Middle School, Projects

Your Tried and True Strategy to Teach and Troubleshoot Punnett Square Examples


As soon as I start my heredity unit with my middle school students, someone asks the question, “Why do I have blue eyes and both of my parents have brown eyes?” Without fail. It’s not a super simple answer when they’re just learning about heredity. Students have to learn how to complete a Punnett square. I am always so excited to show them Punnett square examples of how this eye color phenomena actually happens!

Some kids really get it and others looked at me like I am an alien. It took a couple years for me to realize teaching Punnett Squares can be tricky because they seem so simple. When I really took a look at why some kids were struggling, I realized Punnett squares are a little more complex that I originally thought.

So many things that can go right and wrong. Even kids who complete the Punnett square correctly don’t always know what the information is trying to tell them. So let me help walk through a few tips and tricks that have helped me! 

What Are Punnett Squares?


Punnett squares are a diagram showing us all the possible genetic combinations of offspring created by two parents for a specific trait. In other words, it helps us predict the likelihood offspring will have specific traits. Can two parents with brown eyes really have offspring with blue eyes? Simply, yes. Getting kids to the place where they can answer this on their own takes a bit of work.

The Secret Sauce to Students Getting It

There’s a strategy to teaching Punnett squares in a way that makes sense to your students. The last thing you want to do is start by working through several Punnett square examples. Although this works in theory, there’s a lot of background students need to complete and collect information from Punnett squares.

Focus on Vocabulary!

Do not skip this! Kids need to know a lot of vocabulary to learn Punnett squares well. Strong vocabulary knowledge gives students the ability to set up simple and complex Punnett squares and the understanding they need to analyze the information they find. 

I’d suggest teaching the words trait, offspring, allele, dominant, recessive, homozygous, heterozygous, dominant, recessive, genotype, and phenotype. 

Spending time on this vocab will result in stronger science students who are ready for high school! 

Don’t be the teacher who moves right from vocabulary to Punnett square examples. There are so many small mistakes students can make that will really throw them off later, but being able to make sense of Punnett squares in their head before you actually teach it helps so much! Click here to find this investigation and more resources to teach Punnett squares!

Be intentional about Punnett Square Practice Problems

From setting up Punnett squares to analyzing what kind of information they’re telling us, be intentional about how you work through Punnett square examples. Scaffold each step and be sure your students are ready to move on before introducing the next skill. Don’t just give them Punnett Square practice worksheets. Guide them through every step.

Punnett Square Setup

I’m going really elementary here. Ready? Draw a square and then, starting in the middle and a little bit above the top, draw one line vertically separating the square into two equal rectangles. Next, starting a little to the left and in the middle, draw a line horizontally. This creates four smaller boxes and splits both the top and the left side into two sections as well. 

One set parent allele goes on the top; one letter above each box in the outside spaces. The other set of parent alleles goes on the left side; one to the left of each box in the outside spaces.


How Do You Do Punnett Squares?

Each one of the parent alleles on the top of the Punnett square falls and is written into the two boxes below it. Then, each letter from the side scoots over and is written in the two boxes to the right. It’s kind of a drag and drop. 

Your capital letter is the dominant allele and the lowercase letter is the recessive allele.

Another great way to explain this is to tell students to think of it as the distributive property in math. When you have 2(4x+y), you distribute the 2 outside of the parentheses into the 4x and the y. This turns into 8x+4y. Students distribute the letter outside of the Punnett square, the parent allele, into each box. You can see this in the color coded GIF!

Be sure to tell students the capital letter always is first in an allele pair. No matter what. 

So, What Do Punnett Squares Actually Say?

Once we’ve ended up with two alleles, one from each parent, in each box and completed the Punnett square, we can answer the question: what are Punnett squares? These alleles are the possible allele combinations, or genotypes, the offspring can inherit from the parents. 


Genotypes are different from phenotypes. Genotypes are the allele combinations, while phenotypes are the physical expression of those alleles. While a Punnett square can have BB, Bb, and bb genotypes, it only shows physical expression of brown and blue eyes. 

The example we walked through shows you why vocab is so important! Students really need to know how all these words work together in order to complete and draw information from Punnett squares.

Kids Still Struggling? Here’s some troubleshooting help!

While students are working, pay attention to what they’re doing. It’s easy to sit and grade or answer emails. Don’t do it! Until your kids have a good understanding, walk around, check work, and correct as needed. I explain how why scaffolding is so important in my blog post Five Easy Tips To Teaching Heredity In Middle School.

These are some issues I’ve run into while teaching Punnett square examples and how to remedy them.

Get seven full days of no-prep lessons to use in your middle school classroom so you can save time and energy planning your Punnett Square unit!

Students only put one allele inside of each box.

It’s possible that there was some miscommunication (or not listening) when students were learning where to place alleles on the Punnett square. If you see this with a few kids, pull them over and reteach or do a few more examples. If you see this a lot, reteach everyone. Do more examples together. Employ the I do, we do, you do strategy. Use whiteboards (maybe even in pairs) for quick checks. Make practice stations where struggling students can work with and listen to conversations their peers are having.

Students don’t know how to analyze a Punnett square.

For whatever reason, teaching how to read and analyze a Punnett square is overlooked. Be sure to scaffold your Punnett square instruction. Complete a few simple Punnett squares, then ask what genotypes and phenotypes a few Punnett square examples show. Next, ask something like, “what percentage are heterozygous?” Or, “What is the possibility that the offspring will have freckles?” and specifically teach students how to find answers to those questions. We often forget that we’ve been doing this so long it’s easy! Students are brand new to this. Give them the proper support to be successful.

Students are just lost.

Remediate vocabulary! Punnett squares are so vocabulary heavy and kids really, really need to have a good grip on it. If you find most of your students are struggling overall, reteach vocabulary. Give each word hand gestures or have them create a game. If most of your students are lost, don’t push it. Go back and reteach, starting with vocab.

I’m a huge proponent of student investigation in science. I think it’s so valuable. But there’s also value in direct instruction. If your students are struggling, sometimes the best thing to do is just tell them what to do. I can set up the coolest investigations for seasons, moon phases, and tides, but at the end of the day, there will always be a kid who tells me the earth is flat. And you can let kids investigate Punnett squares, but you’ll still have to follow up by teaching some of the information directly. It’s okay to tell kids the right answer. 

Back to our question, can two parents with brown eyes really have offspring with blue eyes? Absolutely, they can! Don’t tell students though. Be intentional as you work through Punnett square examples with them. Then they’ll be able to find the answer out for themselves!

Life Science, Middle School