Pencil Grab is a super simple activity that I learned from Carmen Andrews-Sanchez via Kristin Duncan’s blog (update: her 'TPRS Teacher' blog is no longer active). Pencil Grab requires zero preparation, is easy to play, and it's fun for students!
Update: You may also know this activity as "The Marker Game"!
What is Pencil Grab?
Pencil Grab is a competitive game in which students are racing against a partner to be the first one to complete an action upon hearing a TRUE statement.
How to play Pencil Grab
Pair up students. Groups of three can work, but it's not ideal. Students should sit facing each other, with either a desk or table between them, or sitting on the floor with empty space between.
My favorite way to play is to have all students sit down in two parallel lines, facing the person across from them. This could be done across a row of desks, or it could be done on the floor.
Between each pair, place something that they can grab. It could be a Pencil (the game's namesake!), a marker, an eraser, a pom-pom, a spoon... really, it could be anything. Try to pick something that minimizes the risk of injury!
One bit of advice– don't use balls... because, as every middle school teacher knows, it's not going to go well when you start talking about grabbing balls.
Recite a series of True and False statements to students. This could be random facts that they probably know (ex: "Barack Obama is the President of the United States!", or "The Crocodile Hunter's real name was Steve Harvey"). More likely, though, you will be using this as a review activity, and you'll be making true and false statements about a familiar text or topic. Perhaps you've just asked a class story, and you want to revisit the plot using this game! Maybe you've just finished reading one chapter of a novel, and you want to review it. It could be that it's the end of the class period and you ran out of planned activities, so you play a few rounds of Pencil Grab about what Cinco de Mayo really celebrates to kill time in the spring.
Each time that you make a statement, students must race against their partner to grab the pencil first–but only if it is a true statement! If the statement that you recite IS true, the partner that grabs the pencil first earns ONE point. If the statement that you recite is false–and one of the partners grabs the pencil–that partner loses a point. The students should only try to grab the pencil if the statement is true.
The students then place the pencil back between them and await the next statement from you.
How many statements?
There is no right or wrong number! One great thing about this game is that you can play on the fly, and you can run as many rounds as you want. I have found that students tend to get bored with more than 20 statements; sometimes, even sooner.
Be a trickster!
My favorite way to keep the game fun is by trying to trick my students. I'll often space out my words and make somewhat long pauses in my phrasing so that students find themselves wondering if I have finished the statement. I will often add a detail at the end of the statement that makes an otherwise true statement, false! For example:
- TRUE: Crocodiles live in Australia.
- FALSE: Crocodiles live in Australia [pause... hear students grabbing at pencils...]... and they are always pink. [insert evil laughter!]
Make it a team game!
Update: My friend Cynthia Hitz plays this as a team game. She puts her students in two rows, and each row is a team. After each statement, she tallies the total number of points for each team (taking into account points earned and points lost) to keep score.
To keep things simple, you can use the points themselves as the score, or you can award a single point per round to the team that won that round. For example:
- Round 1: Teacher makes a true statement. Team A earns 8 points (8 students grabbed the pencil first); Team B earns 20 points (20 students grabbed the pencil first). Team B wins the round! SCORE: A-0, B-1
- Round 2: Teacher makes a true statement. Team A earns 13 points (13 students grabbed the pencil first); Team B earns 15 points (15 students grabbed the pencil first). Team B wins the round! SCORE: A-0, B-2
- Round 3: Teacher makes a false statement. Team A loses 3 points (3 students grabbed the pencil when they shouldn't have); Team B loses 5 points (5 students grabbed the pencil when they shouldn't have). Team A wins the round! SCORE: A-1, B-2.
Play it on the fly
As you can see, this is a very easy game that can be adapted for any content. Try it–I know you'll love it!
More games you'll love
Looking for more games and activities that can be used in any subject area? Check these out: