Credit for  the “Key Term Tennis” activity (originally called “Verbal Tennis” goes to the late, great Paul Ginnis. I highly recommend his book, “The Teacher’s Toolkit” (Find it on amazon here). It’s filled with excellent activity ideas.

At ThemEd we’re all about the practicalities of teaching, as the last thing education needs is more theory. I’ve always been a fan of practical Pro-D, so here’s a really simple practical activity that works well when consolidating and recapping at the start of a lesson.


How it works…

In this activity, students are in pairs and the object is to bounce key terms back and forth between each other (like tennis). It can be played “for fun,” or as a competition (I let students choose). If playing for points, you score a point when your partner is stumped for 5 seconds and cannot return with a word. You then start again, or choose a new topic. You can “challenge” your partner (I like to give students red cards to hold up to challenge one-another), which means after one partner has said a word, the other partner “challenges” which means the first partner has to be able to offer a definition of that key term they’ve just said. If they can’t offer a definition, you score a point. If they can, however, your partner scores the point.

It works well from half-way through to the end of a unit. I like to write the topics that we’ve covered so far on the board and then have students choose a topic before they play a “round.” So in criminology, for instance, after a few topics I would write on the board:

  • The brain and behaviour
  • The brain and cognition
  • The brain and emotion
  • Hormones
  • Neurotransmission
  • Neuroplasticity

So two students playing might look like this:

  • Student 1: OK, let’s go with hormones. 
  • Student 2: OK, you go first. 
  • 1: testosterone
  • 2: um…endocrine system
  • 1: aggression
  • 2: amygdala 
  • 1: um…um…Albert and the rat study. 
  • 2: Radke et al
  • 1: um…um…um…
  • 2: 3….4….
  • 1: um….
  • 2: 5! My point. Let’s choose a different topic. That makes the score 2-1 to me. 

If student 1 had have “challenged” student 2 after they said “endocrine system,” student 2 would have had to say what the endocrine system was. Another way students can “challenge” is when a partner says a term that is not related enough to the topic. For instance, if student 1 had have said “blood,” student 2 could have challenged. This is where me as teacher becomes referee and I’d say if it’s relevant enough or not.

I find that about half of students like to play for competition and half just for fun. Interestingly, this division doesn’t occur by gender.

I like to follow this with a Q&A. In fact, I always like to have an open forum Q&A at the start of each lesson after we finish whatever consolidation activity we’re doing.

Once again, this is a quick and easy activity that requires zero prep, minimal effort from the teacher, but has high levels of student engagement and interaction and is highly effective at consolidating learning.


A note on consolidation

At Themantic Education we encourage the C.H.A.C.E.R lesson plan because, well, it just makes sense. But when following this structure I think it’s important to try to keep lessons varied or else students will become a bit fatigued and jaded because of the repetition. I try to have routine with variation; the routine is in the structure, the variation is in the types of activities.

By regularly consolidating the terms and building blocks you can not only ensure memory consolidation, but it also builds student confidence as well.

The C-consolidation part of the C.H.A.C.E.R lesson is often a time when you can have some really exciting and engaging games and activities, because you can review the concrete details (i.e. building blocks). These are often quantifiable entities, so student knowledge about these building blocks is quick and easy to assess as being “right” or “wrong.” This is why it makes it easy to write things like crosswords, kahoots, pub quizzes and jeopardies.


I would love for this blog to be as collaborative as possible, so please leave any ideas or thoughts on this activity in the comments. Just yesterday I added a few new ideas to my unit plans after some really interesting ideas in the comments (thanks Alan and Sara!)