Algebra Middle School

Math Review: Secret Phrase Scavenger Hunt

Another great night of learning at the Global Math Department last night, where Matt Vaudrey and Megan Hayes-Golding shared their ideas for Exam Reivew That Doesn’t Suck.  Enjoy the playback and admire Matt’s enthusiasm for teaching, and great ideas for keeping kids engaged.  And thanks to Megan for her continued willingness to facilitate and share.

One of my favorite test reivew activities is a Secret Phrase Scavenger Hunt.  The problems here are from a review of inequalities, but can be easily adapted for many grades and courses.  Full disclosure: while looking through files for this example, I was shocked to discover that this Word document is one of the oldest files in my network drive, from September 2000!  Maybe I need to edit stuff more, or maybe this activity is just plain perfect.

Here’s the idea: take a sheet of probems, and assign each problem a “secret letter”, so that problems completed in order will spell out the “secret phrase”.

Inequal sheets

Make an index card for each answer, and tape them around the room or the hallway.  I usually place the letters on the back of the cards, but for this activity they appear on the front.

Cards on board

After the sheets are handed out, teams complete problems and may get up at any time to hunt for answers.  I usually assign students to teams for this activity, and it is interesting to observe different approaches.  Some teams will complete all problems together, then hunt for all solutions.  Other teams will complete some problems, hunt for solutions, then go back to work.  Another approach is to split up the problems – “divide and conquer”.  This apporach often leads to Civil War as one or two students in a group will invariably make enough errors to bog down the process.

The winner is the first team to come to me with the “Mystery Phrase”.  To keep the ball rolling, I will often give award to the first 2 or 3 teams to find the phrase. Here are a few tips for setting up your hunt:

  • Don’t be afraid to make your phrase something goofy.  After students fill in a few letters, they may try a “Wheel of Fortune” approach.  Unpredicatable phrases avoid this some.  For my inequality sheet, I chose the phrase “TWO HAWAIIAN UKELELES” – not easy to guess.
  • Make harder problems the “key” letters in your phrase.
  • Adding a few “distractor” cards – cards that are not solutions to any problems – also works nicely.
  • If students come to me with an incorrect phrase, I do not tell them where they went wrong.  It is up to the group to re-visit their problems and troubleshoot mistakes.

Hope you and your class enjoy the phrase hunt!


By Bob Lochel

HS Math Teacher. Hatboro-Horsham School District, Horsham, PA.

10 replies on “Math Review: Secret Phrase Scavenger Hunt”

The sheet students receive have blank boxes. As they solve problems, students fill the problem boxes with the letters matching the solutions. The letters then spell out the secret phrase.

Oh, I see what you are asking now. I change up the phrase now and then, based on pop culture, or if I want to make it difficult. The black font was the original phrase, then I changed it to the phrase in pen. I’m pretty sure I have changed it to something else these days.

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