5 Board Games for Students with Executive Function Difficulties

Games are a great way to teach students with learning differences. Playing board games and card games allows students to practice a number of skills including problem solving, memory, social-emotional learning, reading, and math. And any game that is fun and rewarding can foster student engagement.

Here are five games that I find work well with students who have learning differences. There are, of course, a ton of terrific commercial games out there that can be very effective learning tools. In this post, I point to games that I have personally played, highlighting how they may interact with the strengths and challenges faced by students with learning differences.

Spot It: This is a fast-paced matching game that tests students’ cognitive flexibility and shifting skills.

Test your observational skills and hone your reflexes with the award-winning gameplay of Spot It!, a game of lightning-fast choices for a group of two to eight players…The game functions on a simple mechanic—fifty-five circular cards, each of which features a number of symbols and has exactly one of those symbols in common with every other card in the deck.

Anomia: This is one of my all-time favorite games to play with students (or friends). Playing Anomia engages students’ working memory and cognitive flexibility.

Anomia is simple.  Players flip cards in turn until the symbols on two players’ cards match.  Matching players must race to give an example of the category on their opponent’s card. Whoever blurts out a correct answer first wins their opponent’s card, and drawing continues.  Sounds easy, right?  Think again!  Wild cards create unexpected matches, and face-offs can cascade when you lose a card, revealing a new match.  Pay attention – it could be your turn at any time!

Set: Though this game is deceptively simple, it often feels like a full mental workout! Students with ADHD and dyslexia often excel at Set because of their top-down thinking and hyperfocus.

Race to find as many SETs as you can—the player with the most SETs at the end of the game wins! Play SET solo or with as many people as you can fit around the table!  It’s triple matching mania that anybody can play, but nobody can stop! SET, although made as a game of fun, has a ton of educational value. Teachers love SET and use it in classrooms around the world.

Codenames: I love this game because in addition to cognitive flexibility, working memory, and the ability to organize information, Codenames requires vast amounts of  imagination. Though Codenames does reward strong vocabularly, it has enough leeway not to penalize students with learning differences, instead rewarding them for creativity.

The two rival spymasters know the secret identities of 25 agents. Their teammates know the agents only by their CODENAMES. The teams compete to see who can make contact with all of their agents first. Spymasters give one-word clues that can point to multiple words on the board. Their teammates try to guess words of the right color while avoiding those that belong to the opposing team. And everyone wants to avoid the assassin.

Story Cubes: Though this collaborative storytelling game requires no reading at all, it can help students familiarize themselves with writing concepts and storytelling techniques. The stories created can be a great way to help kickstart students’ expository writing.

Rory’s Story Cubes is a pocket-sized creative story generator, providing hours of imaginative play for all ages. With Rory’s Story Cubes, anyone can become a great storyteller and there are no wrong answers. Simply roll the cubes and let the pictures spark your imagination! Play with them solo or combine both sets to kick-start your creativity and set your imagination in motion. Rory Story Cubes features a variety of story images. Rory Story Cubes Actions features images depicting verbs. Rory Story Cubes Voyages features images pertaining to travel adventures. Different Game play ideas are featured in Original Actions and Voyages for added variety.

Look for these games online and at the local game store. If you have a few on hand, you’ll be all set! These recommendations are based on games I have actually played myself. If you have more game recommendations, please share them in the comments.

  • Elizabeth Ross, M.A., SMARTS Media Manager