March 15, 2018

Sheldon Soper

Use Basketball to Make a Stale Review Game More Engaging

Topics: STEM Education / Play, Learning Through Play, STEM, STEAM


Get minds and bodies moving!


 The classroom game Around the World has long been a favorite for one-on-one math fact duels. Its origins trace back to the basketball game of the same name where players compete to see who can complete a series of shots taken from around the 3-point arc.

In the classroom version, students face off against each other to respond to mental math problems with the winner moving on to challenge the next student. The goal is for a players to go “around the world” by defeating opposing players at every other desk in the room and eventually returning to his or her starting position.

The problem with this and many other “classic” math review games is that the highest performing students (read: the students who probably need the least practice) are the ones that often get to participate the most. This doesn’t have to be the case.

With both pro and college basketball post-seasons in full swing, there has never been a better time to cast off stale review activities and shake things up with some fresh basketball-themed games that get everyone involved and participating!


Around the World Scramble


Take the practice to the hoop with this high-energy take on Around the World. The waiting and watching are eliminated so that every student is playing every round.


  • a playground or gym with a basketball hoop
  • a variety of balls (preferably foam or soft)
  • playground spot markers or gym cones or circles cut out of poster board or cardboard
  • envelopes
  • index cards
  • writing utensils
  • scoreboard


  1. Use your spot markers of choice to mark a variety of locations on the basketball court (ideally within range of basketball shots the participants can make). Place at least one marker on the court for every two participants in the activity.
  2. Label each spot with a unique number.
  3. Write unique math problems or content questions on numbered index cards and place one under each marker. Record the answer for each problem on a second card, tuck it into an unsealed envelope with a matching number, and place it under the corresponding marker as well.
    • For longer games, prepare additional sets of cards and answer envelopes to swap into play.
  4. Place two balls and two writing implements at each marked spot.
  5. Each player should create a personal index card numbered with the same amount of spaces as there are spots marked on the court.
  6. Divide participants into two teams.

Rules of play

Players line up along the baseline underneath the hoop. At the signal to begin the round, players race to one of the marked spots on the court not already occupied by a fellow team member (an opposing player is OK). Once everyone is in position, players are signaled to sit and retrieve the questions under their spot markers. Players then record their answers on their personal index cards in the numbered space that matches the number on the spot on the ground.

Time is called and players check their answers against the correct answers in the envelopes. If a player’s answer is correct, the player gets two points for his or her team and is then eligible to shoot a ball at the hoop from their spot for a bonus point (affectionately termed the “and-one”).

Once all answers have been checked, players eligible to take shots should remain standing in place while the rest return to the baseline. At the signal, players hurl their balls at the hoop. Allowing a short window of only a few seconds for this step increases the chaotic nature of the game whereas a slightly longer window can calm things down a bit – discretion is key.

Players who miss their shots report their scores and return to the baseline. Those left on the court then report their scores to the leader/scorekeeper before returning to the baseline themselves.

Loose balls should be retrieved and returned so that there are once again two at each spot. The question and answer cards should be reset under their respective markers as well. Once the field of play is set and all players are lined back up along the baseline, the next round can start.

During the course of a game, players cannot return to a spot that they have already visited (the personal index cards help to keep track of this). During a round, if a player cannot find a spot that is either unoccupied by a fellow team member or still blank on their personal index card, he or she returns to the baseline as a rebounder until having the opportunity to claim an eligible spot in the next round.

The team with the highest score wins at the end of the defined play period or when players’ personal index cards are filled.

Why it works:

  • High energy – Players are running, sitting, standing, reaching, and throwing in between the provided math problems. The incorporation of motion and kinesthetic activity helps keep students alert and engaged.
  • A Change of scenery – Getting kids outside of the traditional confines of the classroom environment helps make the activity special and unique.
  • Customizable – The game can work with virtually any content that can fit on an index card.
  • Everyone plays – The game moves at a quick pace and keeps everyone active and involved. Unlike traditional Around the World, students who answer correctly always experience success, even if their opponents answer first.
  • Lower stress competition – The team-based scoring helps shift focus away from individual pressures to perform.
  • Built in accountability – Personal index cards can be collected to both evaluate participation and identify potential struggles.

As the basketball season reaches its climax, take the opportunity to ride the wave of excitement and toss some energy and engagement into your review experiences. For more fun, basketball-themed review games without the need for a basketball court, check out Hero Ball, Trash Can Basketball, or Vocabulary Basketball!

Kids will surely appreciate the opportunity to learn through play!


sheldon.jpgSheldon Soper is a ten year veteran of the teaching profession and currently serves as a junior high school teacher in southern New Jersey and as a writer for The Knowledge Roundtable, a free tutoring marketplace. His primary focus is building reading, writing, and research skills in his students. He holds two degrees from Rutgers University: a B.A. in History as well as a M.Ed. in Elementary Education. He holds teaching certifications in English Language Arts, Social Studies, and Elementary Education. Sheldon has also worked as a tutor for grades ranging from second through high school in a wide variety of subjects including reading, writing, calculus, chemistry, algebra, and test prep. His core educational beliefs stem from the notion that all students can be successful; it is the role of educators to help facilitate growth by differentiating and scaffolding student learning on a personal level.


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