Skip to main content

How to Play the Balderdash Game in the Classroom

Sharilee obtained a degree in secondary English education from the University of Calgary. She has taught in Canada for 10 years.

What is Balderdash?

Balderdash is a game played with 2-8 players and has a board. The goal of the game is for each player to make their way around the board. In a recent article on board games for building vocabulary, I recommended Balderdash as a way for students to play with language. The way that I usually use Balderdash, however, has some slight modifications from the regular game. This article will explain how to modify the game of Balderdash so that it can be played as a class activity, with the teacher leading the game.

Balderdash pits players against one another in a quest to guess the definitions of rare and obscure words. In the regular version of the game, each player takes turns being the "dasher," who reads out a rare word from a card. Other players then submit definitions, written on pieces of paper. After all, submissions are done, the dasher then reads out all the fake definitions, along with the real definition, from the papers. The other players then guess what the real meaning of the word is. Players gain points for their word being chosen, as well as for guessing the right word. The dasher gets point if no one guesses the correct option.

Balderdash Board

photo by skpy.

photo by skpy.

Why Modify the Game?

The advantage of making Balderdash into a whole class activity is that it brings the whole class together, and all students can be involved. Shyer students may feel hesitant to play a board game with their classmates if they don't know them that well, but if it is done as a class, it is not as intimidating for the more withdrawn students. Another benefit of making it a class activity is that you have control of how long the game will take. Balderdash as a board game is tons of fun, but it tends to be quite a long procedure. Modifying the game allows the teacher to work the activity into whatever time she would like to allot for the activity, and the game will not be prematurely shut down by the sound of the bell.

Playing Balderdash as a class activity can be done to help build confidence in vocabulary. I always sold it as a special event, and never as a learning activity. It could be a reward at the end of the week, for good behaviour, or finished assignments. Or a way to take up some time, if everything else is done. For enterprising substitute teachers, it could be used to fill some time after the kids are done all the work that the leaving teacher had given out.

How to Modify Balderdash

Okay, here are the steps for modifying Balderdash for the classroom:

  1. The dasher is always the teacher. The teacher stands at the board, and if possible, enlists a helper, either a student or an aide.
  2. THIS IS A VERY IMPORTANT STEP! For classes over 15 students or so, put the students into pairs, and let them work together. For classes under twenty, assign "secret partners." Write down the secret partners on a piece of paper, and at the end of the activity, reveal the partnering. Emphasize that, even if they are not doing that hot, their partner may save the day. They will not know who their partner is! If there are an uneven amount of students, make the teacher a partner with someone.
  3. Tell the students that there will be prizes for first, second and third place partners.
  4. The teacher chooses cards she feels the class would appreciate.
  5. She will read the word aloud, and then write in on the board.
  6. The helper gives out pieces of paper, to write down the fake definitions.
  7. After they are done, the definitions are handed in, and students take a vote on which one they think is the real one. The helper takes a tally of scores for each one.
  8. The real definition is then revealed. If no one got it, the teacher gets three points. For each definition chosen, that person gets a point. If anyone made up a meaning that was close to the real one, that person gets a point.
  9. Keep playing each round like this, for the allotted time. I find that we usually don't have time for more than three rounds, but this will depend on your class.
  10. At the end, tally things up, and give out prizes. If you have secret partners, reveal these, and add the partner's score together. This can be a great source of hilarity, to find out who your partners. Be prepared for cheers and groans!

Tips for Better Play

Have fun! And try to do a bit of bluffing with them. This can be a lesson in not believing everything you hear, too! This is a class activity that all students can get into. I found that the even the most alienated of students could get into it.

Another hint I would give is for a student who absolutely refuses to play. You can have another student put in a definition in for that particular student, in addition to their own. This shows teamwork and makes an effort to include them in the fun, even if they are reluctant to join, and they have a chance to get their name on the board.

Questions & Answers

Question: Are there free printable games like Balderdash or Apples to Apples for 4th or 5th graders?

Answer: I don't know of any printable versions of those games, but it is easy to make them all-class games, as I explained in the article.


Sharilee Swaity (author) from Canada on September 03, 2012:

Iheartkafta, I love your user name, by the way! The kids absolutely loved it when I played this game with them. Thanks for the comment.

iheartkafka on August 31, 2012:

What a great idea! I love the game and this would certainly be a fun way to build vocabulary. Thanks for the interesting and useful hub!

Sharilee Swaity (author) from Canada on June 14, 2011:

@Craig, you are right! We want to get their intellect up as high as possible, before we release them on the world. Agreed! Thanks for the great comment!

@Pamela, it's a pretty fun game at a party, and the kids like it, too. Thanks for the feedback!

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on June 13, 2011:

I think I played this game some time ago and it sounds like a lot of fun anyway. Nice hub.

Craig Suits from Florida on June 13, 2011:

Hiya Princess...

Sounds like a great game...

I'm for any game that is fun to play and teaches kids at the same time.The sum of their individual intellect is all they will be when we turn them loose in a world most adults have trouble coping with.

Good job.....