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science games

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