Classroom Motivation: Survivor Games

I've been thinking of ways to motivate students who do not care about grades. This is foreign to me because I always care about grades. Always.

What students do care about is competition, winning, and beating their friends. How can I incorporate this into our every day classroom life?

I give you....

Here are my thoughts so far:

Students are put into tribes/districts that will last the school year. Everything they do matters to the tribe. The tribe will decorate a flag/banner to represent their tribe. How can I hang this somewhere as a marker where students can't advance themselves unfairly?

Each quiz will have three levels of questions: easy, medium, hard. Each member that gets the easy question correct gets to pull a game piece out of the food/drink category. Medium earns you a weapon. Hard earns you a luxury item. So I would literally make game pieces on three different colors of paper and have three containers for students to draw from.
Once a week there is a scenario from the faceless society/trial council/capitol such as "There is an extreme drop in temperature. All tribe members must relinquish a parka." Tribes where all members turn in the piece advance while teams who can't stay in place.

So everything that normally happens in the classroom: group work, discussion, problem solving, quizzes, tests, neatness, homework, good questions, good behavior, good attendance, etc is now a chance to win game pieces.

There could be a theme for any given time 1/2/3 weeks where we focus on one thing like 'asks good questions', 'perseveres in problem solving', 'perfect tribe attendance', 'no referrals', etc to earn luxury items.

Logistically, I need some type of game board for students to move along whether physical or technological. Something everyone can see but no one can touch. Ideas?

@heather_kohn suggested an immunity necklace for individual honors. That student may win no homework, honor of tribal leader, immunity from a scenario, sitting in the teacher, chance to randomly advance their team (dice) etc.

I haven't decided if students should move up certain levels like health levels (since I don't want any team to die out on purpose) or move around a map of perilous places (more like The Hunger Games, literally).  Or both.

@TJTerryJo suggested 'extra energy' days where students could do work to catch up and advance their tribes...sounds like reassessing in SBG right?

I also thought I could incorporate bell ringers. Give one problem to each tribe each day and the tribe with most points at the end of the week gets to choose a tool/weapon?

Is this something feasible to keep going for the whole year? I've thought of possible monthly prizes such as: go to lunch early for one week, eat lunch outside for one week, team t-shirts, free snacks for a week, lunch of their choice with the teacher, etc.

But what can I use to motivate students to last through the year? If I give monthly prizes then I have to have an end of year prize. If I don't give monthly prizes, will the idea of winning be enough to make them last the school year?

I'm teaching mostly sophomores and juniors, 15-17 year olds. I'm teaching Algebra II and Geometry. Should all tribes compete against each other regardless of class? Or should Geometry compete only with other Geometry classes and Algebra II with Algebra II? Should I hold out for one overall winner or one from each period? Each class?

I think if I plan enough to last the first semester that suggestions will naturally happen along the way and I can use student input to improve it for the second semester.

I could also offer extra credit like interesting problems for students to solve outside of class in order to earn a luxury item or advance their team.

Overall, I want to promote team work, asking good questions, and persevering in problem solving for students who don't care about grades or doing well in school.

What do you think?

Note: Some ideas came from coolmath's Survivor Algebra.


  1. Hello! I was wondering if you had any resources or more specifics on how this worked out for you! I would love to try this with my algebra 2 students this year but I'm not sure where to begin. Thanks!!

    1. I can tell you that it definitely did not play out the way I laid it out here!

      Here is my folder of resources: https://app.box.com/s/o36zidjk9yxg1jnniz20udzq8gk9ukfz

      I bought foam flags from Dollar Tree and had students use stickers to decorate their team names on the flags. I hung numbers 1-7 below my whiteboards and when teams 'advanced' they moved their flags to the next level.

      I printed out game pieces, laminated, and cut. Honestly now, I can't even remember how they earned the pieces. They kept them in a pencil bag in their binder. Toward the end I just made up different amounts of pieces they had to have and if they had enough they advanced.

      One team won at the end of the year and I gave them a school t-shirt, gift card, and candy.

      I will tell you what did NOT work- keeping students in the same teams all year long. I don't ever recommend that.

      Definitely read and purchase Nora's Survival of the Fittest to get you started as well. http://simplifyingradicals2.blogspot.com/2012/11/survival-of-fittest.html