Yesterday was the last day of school before a 5-day fall break, and my college comp class had just finished descriptive essays. What fun writing activity could we do for one day?

Bring in Balderdash.

The game is a vocabulary game, but its purpose isn’t to teach vocabulary (I would suggest Apples to Apples or a million other games to modify to teach vocabulary.) Instead, players are not expected to know the word but rather write phony definitions that seem realistic. They earn points each time someone guesses their definition as “correct” instead of the actual correct one; players also earn points for guessing the correct definition.

Balderdash encourages creativity and detail thinking–general statements such as “a type of animal” won’t be very persuasive. Also, players have to adapt to a more academic voice, so Balderdash provides good practice as we leave personal writing (narrative and descriptive) and enter more research and argumentative writing.

Add in the critical thinking involved of analyzing which definitions seem too obvious or which players seem to have a pattern in their definitions (Do they often use definitions involving animals, or food, or the military?), and Balderdash is a game that hits on several different skill sets.

This is a game you could probably create on your own if you have enough time, but I’d suggest buying the game. There’s no pop culture or current events involved in this game, so it has a long shelf life (Seriously, I think I bought my version when I was in middle school, and I just turned 40.)

When I introduce the games to students, I give them this set of directions below, but I also walk them through the first round. After that, a group can easily play the next 30-45 minutes on their own.

Balderdash could also be a fun way to introduce a section of reading or a unit. The newer versions of Balderdash don’t stop at definitions. They include names, abbreviations, phrases, dates, and places. Creating your own Balderdash cards using these facts from a new unit or new chapter can be an engaging way to prime students for what they’re going to learn.