Stump the Teacher

by Ana on August 20, 2008

Can You Stump This Teacher?

Can You Stump This Teacher?

I made this game up when I was a teacher in the hopes of creating an interest for independent reading in my kids and also for improving their comprehension skills during independent reading. I introduced it as a contest because, if I’m honest, I knew that was the only way I was going to get their attention and initial interest. And no, I did’t feel the least bit guilty for tricking kids to read – especially when I knew that it could result in a new found love of reading!

A local organization donated a whole class set of a certain book that I thought the whole class could read on their own or at home with their parents. This was the first of many books I used to play Stump the Teacher. Here’s how I introduced the game:

  • I bragged to them that I was SO smart I could read a book, understand it, and be able to answer ANY question they could throw at me. Of course they didn’t believe me, so I had to challenge them by creating a contest to see if anyone could come up with a question that I couldn’t answer…therefore stumping the teacher.
  • I explained to the kids that I would assign a certain number of chapters each week and that every Friday they would get the chance to ask me any questions they wanted to see if they could try to stump me. It’s amazing how interested kids get when they think they might have the opportunity to prove you wrong. What an incentive!
  • I created a “Stump the Teacher” question box out of an old tissue box wrapped with construction paper where I had written plenty of goading comments like ” I bet you can’t stump me!” and “You better think of a really difficult question!”. I left cut up strips of paper next to the box so students could write their questions and drop them in throughout the week as they thought of them.
  • I encouraged my students to work together and/or get their parents to help them come up with really challenging questions. I was hoping that parents would get involved and actually read the book with their kids and discuss it so that they could come up with questions together. The idea worked with some but not all. Oh well, I tried!
  • Then every Friday they would gather around me on the floor as I picked questions out of the box to read and answer aloud. They’d laugh and squeal as I rolled my eyes, yawned, or feigned disinterest as I effortlessly answered their easy detail oriented questions (who, what, where, when type questions).

This is where the game became interesting. After making comments about how easy their questions were, some kids figured out that they would really have to dig and think about better questions to ask me. One week, I had a student ask me a really insightful question about one of the characters. I made a huge deal about what a great question that was and how he almost stumped me. Sure enough, other kids started asking similar questions and it soon became a competition to see who could ask the best question. It didn’t take long for these kids to dive in and use their critical thinking skills to really analyze what was going on in the story and with the characters in order to come up with questions to try to stump me. I was really impressed by their creativity! I, of course, gave in a couple of times to the really good questions and let some kids stump me as an incentive to continue their awesome brainstorming. Warning: Be prepared for the relentless gloating!

I realize that this game is best used in a classroom setting where you can use that competition to your advantage, yet it can still be a powerful way to get your kids to improve their comprehension of a selection at home. You’d just have to tweak it a bit and make it more of a game between you and your child and/or siblings. It would be a great game to use in a reading/literature class in a homeschooling co-op! Although competition is good in this game, the real reason it works is because of the continual discussion of the book. So let the discussions and your child’s questions be your guide throughout the book…it can be so much fun!

Do any of you have any tips or games you play with your kids to get them to understand books or stories better? We’d love to hear from you and have you share so we can all learn!

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  • Rebekah

    What an awesome idea. When my daughters get a little older I am going to have to try this with them at home. Thanks for sharing!

  • Ana

    Rebekah, you’ll definitely have to try this with them…they really will love it and so will you!

  • Amy

    My kids love to play Jeopardy. We take all the subjects and I create answers and we use money from the Life game and they ask for a catagory and $ category and are rewared if they get it right. We add up all the money (math again) to see who won. Actually, I made it that they had to get past a certain $ amount, like $5,000 to qualify for a prize. I put in Daily Doubles and everything, they love it!

  • Ana

    See, that’s just another great example of using a game to improve kids comprehension skills in a really fun way! Plus you get to cover several subjects at the same time.

    Thanks for sharing, Amy!

  • Melissa

    When I taught third grade I would have the kids play baseball. I would either use sight words, months, days of the week, spelling words, or math problems etc. I would divide the class into two teams, on 3 x 5 cards I would put first base, second base, third base, and a couple of home run cards. The batter up would have to either read the word, spell the word, or do the math problem. Then when they had answered correctly, they would draw a card to see what base to go to (bases were around the room just like a baseball diamond), if they missed (strike) 3 times they would have to go back to the back of the line. Someone would keep score and the students would do the game until all the word or problem cards were gone through, or each student had had two or three times at bat. They really enjoyed the game.

  • Jesse

    Awesome game. A reading professor taught us this same game in a graduate level course this past summer. She didn’t take credit for it, so I’m not implying that you are not the creator at all, but out of curiousity, where do/did you teach and when did you create this game? I find it interesting how teaching practices diffuse across space and time…

    Anyway, thanks for sharing! Your explanation had a few wrinkles that I hadn’t heard before…

  • Ana

    @Jesse, Thanks! Yes, it is really cool how people can come up with the same ideas :).

    I was teaching third grade in Orlando, Fl (around 2001) when I first played this game with my students. I came up with the idea one night when I couldn’t sleep and was planning the next day in my head, lol. I was trying to come up with a motivating way for my kids to really think about what they were reading and decided to make a contest out of it. As a competitive person , I would often pit my kids against me (challenging, I know ;)) and found that they really enjoyed trying to beat me at things.

    For example, during whole group word work activities, I would challenge them to create a detailed sentence out of our focus words. If I found their sentence lacking and had to urge them to expand, I would get an m&m…but if they came up with a great sentence on their own, they would get the m&m. Their sentences became amazing within a few sessions…and we applied that strategy (minus the candy bribe) to their writing with awesome results as well! The candy was the first motivator, but it soon became about besting me…their know-it-all teacher.

    So that’s how Stump the Teacher (my version, at least) was born!

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