Boom Bag Strategy Is a Blast in US History

Karishma Merchant is a master at motiviating students like 11th grader Markus Philson to become involved in American History.

Karishma Merchant is a master at motiviating students like 11th grader Markus Philson to become involved in American History.

Washington, DC — Last month while visiting Karishma Merchant’s AP US History class at Collegiate Academy, I saw a master teacher using a strategy that ignited her class.

The technique is called “Boom Bag.” I saw an entire class of students working in pairs to compete for points as they reviewed material for an upcoming exam. I was struck by how enthusiastic students were and how engaged they seemed in the learning.

Here’s how Ms. Merchant describes the technique, which is easy for teachers to make and is “loved” by her students.

“What I do is on slips of paper write down open ended questions, content specific questions, and skill/strategy-based questions along with an answer [on the other side of the paper]. For open-ended questions, I write down ‘answers will vary’, and I put them in a paper lunch bag. [The bag also includes] slips of paper that say ‘Boom!’ (about a 1/3 of the number of questions).

“In pairs students then face off in a competition. Student A will close her eyes, reach into the paper bag that Student B is holding, pull out a slip with a question, and hand it to Student B. Student B will read aloud the question for Student A to answer.

“If Student A answers correctly, then she gets to keep the slip of paper and count it as a point; if she gets it wrong, it goes back in the bag. If Student A had drawn out a slip that said ‘Boom!’ then she would be required to put all of the slips she had collected from previous rounds back into the bag and start from 0.”

This process goes back and forth, alternating between the two students for a limited time, usually about 15 minutes at the end of class. The points can be used in a variety of ways, like for extra credit or as part of a whole-class contest.

Ms. Merchant’s students said that she chooses the activity selectively, usually using it for several days in a row prior to an important assessment because the students love it and the activity really increases their retention.

When I visited, as soon as Ms. Merchant picked up the boom bags, the eleventh graders began squealing, “Boom Bag! Boom Bag!” and high-fiving one another.

Laurie Calvert is Teacher Ambassador Fellow at the US Department of Education from North Carolina

Karishma Merchant has been teaching history at Collegiate Academy, in Washington, DC, for four years.