Gaming to Learn #02: Using Codenames as a Review Game | Casual Game Revolution

Gaming to Learn #02: Using Codenames as a Review Game

Codenames for Test Review

In the Gaming to Learn article series, Jon discusses all aspects of board gaming from an educational perspective.

What do the short stories "The Gift of the Magi," "The Necklace," "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County," and "To Build a Fire" all have in common?  They can all be represented in a game of Codenames using the following words: COLD, DEATH, DIAMOND, DOG, DRESS, FRANCE, FIRE, GLOVE, GOLD, HAND, JACK, LONDON, NEW YORK, SNOW, and WATCH. Codenames Duet can also add these words: ALASKA, FROG, FROST, CHAIN, CHRISTMAS, COMB, JEWELER, HAIR, LOVE, and STORY.

These 25 words are what I used to make a game of Codenames with my 9th grade English students, who had recently read all of these short stories and were reviewing for the test. I thought that playing Codenames would be a fun way for students to make connections between these stories, or at least words that represent these stories' details, settings, and themes — and, in the case of "To Build A Fire," even the first and last name of the author.

In case you've never played Codenames, here's a quick overview: two teams face off against each other. The spymaster from the team that goes first must come up with a one-word clue to get his or her team to guess some of the nine total words their team needs to guess to win. The other team's spymaster does the same thing with eight different words. Seven words are neutral, belonging to neither team, and the last word is the "assassin"; if a team guesses that word, they lose the game immediately. If a team guesses a neutral word or the word that belongs to the other team, their turn ends. Along with their one-word clue, spymasters say a number signifying how many words they want their team to guess based on that one-word clue. The first team to guess all their words correctly is the winner.

Codenames review cards

In my 9th grade English class, student spymasters gave clues such as "gift 2," trying to get their team to guess COMB and CHAIN (the gifts the married couple give each other in "The Gift of the Magi"), and "Jim 2," trying to get their team to guess GOLD and WATCH (Jim's prized possession in "The Gift of the Magi"). As in any game of Codenames, my 9th-grade spymasters found that sometimes a clue they wanted to give applied to words that belonged both to the spymaster's team and the other team. For example, in one game the red team had the word "JACK," but the blue team had the word "LONDON," making it impossible to give a clue like "author 2."

I do think playing Codenames with these specific cards helped students think about the details of these stories in new and fun ways, solidifying them in their memory. For Codenames to have maximum effectiveness as a review activity, the words you play with must be carefully chosen. For help with this, go to the Codenames forum on for a list of all the words in Codenames and Codenames Duet. On the same forum, you can also download a template with which to make your own custom Codenames cards.

Codenames shines at helping players make new, creative connections between words. With some preplanning, you can make full use of this aspect of Codenames in a fun review activity for your students!

That's a great idea.  I downloaded the template and created some custom cards back in the day but it wasn't for anything as ambitious as this.  Super fun.  Kudos to the teacher.