Using games to teach basics: learn to love learning accounting.
Accounting (Study and teaching)
College students (Psychological aspects)
Educational games (Usage)
Education (Methods)
Education (Evaluation)
Rhodes, Kimber
Smith, Aileen
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Name: Academy of Educational Leadership Journal Publisher: The DreamCatchers Group, LLC Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Education Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2004 The DreamCatchers Group, LLC ISSN: 1095-6328
Date: Sept, 2004 Source Volume: 8 Source Issue: 3
Product Code: 9915400 Accounting Methods; E197500 Students, College
Geographic Scope: United States Geographic Code: 1USA United States

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Teaching accounting principles courses continues to challenge accounting educators because many students have difficulty with the classes and often resist the commitment of time necessary for learning accounting through traditional classroom presentation. This paper presents alternatives to traditional pedagogical methods through games that can be used to supplement the classroom instruction. The games are designed to target accounting topics considered difficult by many students, such as basic financial accounting terminology, financial statement account classifications, Conceptual Framework terminology, adjusting entries, and managerial accounting terminology. The proposed games can be used as part of the traditional classroom or as activities supplementary to the classroom.


"Creativity" is not usually a nice word in the accounting profession, particularly in times of recently publicized reports of "cooking the books." Accountants are not free to make their own rules while playing the "business game;" instead they are bound and constrained by acceptable practices and procedures. So how can students and teachers learn to enjoy learning accounting practices and procedures? Make learning accounting principles more attainable and fun by using hands-on activities and games.

Studies have shown that students want to learn what is relevant to them, want to be involved in their learning, and naturally resist traditional teaching practices (Knowles, 1988). This attitude causes students to become passive receptors of knowledge, and that passivity can dampen the motivation and curiosity of the students (Davis, 1993). Therefore, the teaching approach can potentially be more successful if the focus is on actively engaging the student in the learning process (Harris, 2000). The use of games is one method to increase student activity and involvement in the learning process. "Students learn best by doing ... because active learning situations provide opportunities for students to test out what they have learned and how thoroughly they understand it" (Davis, 1993). In a recent study, professors found learning to be related to the students' preferred teaching method. Students' exam grades were higher when their preferred method was used in the classroom (Beets, 2001). This paper focuses on alternative instructional methods and reports how games can be used to reinforce classroom coverage of basic financial accounting information in an instructional environment that is supplementary to the classroom.

Supplemental Instruction Program

The Supplemental Instruction (SI) program is a nationally organized program used at over 800 universities in the United States, and similar programs are used on university campuses around the world (UMKC, 2002). Traditionally high-risk and problematic courses, such as financial accounting principles and beginning managerial accounting courses, are chosen for SI tutoring. The SI leaders are students who have already completed these courses with an 'A' and who are able to serve as model students or mentors for potential SI students. The SI program challenges the students to perform to the best of their ability in the course by increasing the coverage of the course material in creative ways. Typically, students who participate in SI groups succeed at a greater rate (i.e., lower withdrawal rate and lower percentage of D or F final course grades) than those students who do not attend the bi-weekly sessions (UMKC, 2002).

The SI groups focus on how to learn the subject and how to retain information presented in the classroom lectures. The SI program has three major goals: "(1) improve student grades in targeted courses, (2) reduce the attrition rate within those courses, and (3) increase the eventual graduation rates of students" (UMKC, 2002). Because of the makeup of the SI groups, they are able to reinforce the overall learning of the students by (1) providing a less formal, small-group atmosphere in which to work with the material and interact with the leader and other students and (2) allowing for individual positive feedback that can be more easily achieved in a one-on-one and small-group format. Research also revealed that often the best teaching/learning environment occurs whenever one student explains a topic or concept, and hence teaches another student (UMKC, 2002). The SI atmosphere provides an opportunity for that to occur.

Through a small stretch of the imagination, teachers may now be able to reach those students who do not easily grasp basic financial accounting topics taught in textbooks. By using a creative medium, game-playing, teaching and learning accounting principles may become more readily achievable. Most students are not in an accounting class to become accountants; they are there only to get the basics of the accounting concepts. This can make the motivation for learning and hence the motivation for teaching basic principles even more difficult.

Complacent attitudes for learning accounting are also a problem in the business world, which creates a dilemma for human resource (HR) departments all over the United States. In company training sessions, HR departments have employed games and fun activities to teach employees about financial information of the companies. One training manager uses the music to "When the Saints Go Marching In" to teach employees about the income statement and sings, "When the Income Comes Marching In." She uses a seesaw to explain how the assets and liabilities on the balance sheet must stay in balance. Other HR departments use business-simulation board games to teach employees about the rules of the business game. These HR departments believe in the assumption that "people don't learn unless they're having fun;" so they step outside the conventional classroom setting to promote effective learning (Case, 1996). The SI environment provides a venue for creativity and the use of games to teach accounting.


Basic financial accounting courses are filled with topics that are difficult to understand without some prior knowledge or considerable study and practice. Two of the most commonly difficult subjects are the financial statements and their accounts and the introduction of accrual basis accounting and adjusting entries. "Financial Statement Bingo" and "What's The Adjusting Entry?" are games created to reinforce these rudimentary topics and to target those students who struggle to understand the basic textbook information concerning these topics. The objective of using the instructional games presented here is to help teach accounting concepts and definitions and still have some fun, or "academic gain without pain!"

Financial Statement Bingo

"Financial Statement Bingo" is designed to help students learn the appropriate classification of accounts on the financial statements, namely the classified balance sheet and the income statement. "Financial Statement Bingo" also addresses the definitions of the basic accounting principles and assumptions which govern the preparation of the financial statements. Materials needed to play the game include: 1) bingo cards with spaces randomly arranged with account classifications, principles and assumptions; 2) card markers to mark the spaces on the cards; and 3) caller's cards with account titles and definitions of assumptions and principles. Table 1 shows an example of a Financial Statement Bingo card.

The caller should read the account name or principle definition on the caller cards and allow players to find the appropriate account classification or principle/assumption on the bingo card. The players place markers on the box of choice in attempt to 'bingo' by lining up markers, five in a row, in a vertical, horizontal or diagonal pattern. To bingo, a player must correctly identify all five marked spaces containing the account classification, assumption or principle on the individual bingo cards as the caller gives the information. As is the common practice in Bingo, the center space is designated as a free space on all of the cards. It should be noted that it is difficult for the students to "bingo" early in the course when they are struggling to learn the account titles. At this time, there have been twelve card variations used in the "Financial Statement Bingo" game. However, more can be developed for use with larger groups.

Bingo can also be adapted to other topics than the financial principles or managerial principles courses. For example, it can be used with terminology from the Conceptual Framework Statements No. 2 and No. 5. See Table 2 for a sample set-up of these characteristics, assumptions, and constraints.

Managerial Accounting Bingo

Since the Managerial Accounting Principles class often is also considered a high-risk subject, additional practice for terminology from the material from that course can also be set up in the Bingo format. See Table 3 for an example of how it can be used for managerial accounting terminology.

What's the Adjusting Entry?

"What's The Adjusting Entry?" is used to help students get a basic understanding of adjusting entries by preparing journal entries randomly picked from a game board. Materials needed to play the game are: 1) game board with pockets (see Table 4 for a basic diagram of the set-up), 2) Adjusting Entry cards, 3) a list of possible transactions to be drawn from the game board and (4) journal page for each player. To play, the game facilitator should insert one game card into each pocket. A beginning player should choose a card from a pocket and read the transaction information aloud to allow other players to find the entry on the accompanying worksheet. The player should (1) identify the basic type of adjusting entry (i.e., deferral or accrual) and (2) write the correct journal entry on the board or overhead projector. Each correct entry is worth one point. If the player gives an incorrect entry, other players may have the opportunity to win the point by giving the correct entry. The player with the most points wins. This procedure helps students to understand the type of adjusting entry they are dealing with, which guides them to the entry itself.

It is important to provide each student with a sheet of transactions that might be chosen from the game board pockets. The game has proven to work better, at the suggestion of the students, when they are allowed to make the transaction on their own journal page while the chosen player attempts to get the point by making the entry on the board. The list of transactions is an extra study tool for those students who might want to go back later and practice with the entries used during the "Adjusting Entry" game session.

Both games have been used as practice tools and as test reviews. When used as a practice tool, students tend to find the games more difficult to play because they are still in the process of learning the material. Students generally respond more readily and play more easily when the games are used as a review tool. The games usually are played in small SI groups of about 10 to 12 students. It is feasible, however, to play these games with larger groups in an SI environment or in regularly scheduled classes when time permits.


Several students have offered positive comments on the games, which included the following: The games "helped review in a fun way and made learning easier," "good review before the test," the games "made you think about the answer," and the games "spiced things up and made it much more fun."

The main objective of using these games is to give the students an opportunity to think about the material and derive the answer on their own. Students are benefited when they are given the opportunity to actively apply key concepts and principles. The more frequently they are allowed to attempt this application to different situations, the better the chance they will be able to remember and use those new concepts (Davis, 1993). Many times during class and study sessions, students sit and "absorb" the material as an instructor lectures and makes other presentations of the material. However, that is not usually the most effective learning environment. It is important to present the material in a way that is meaningful to students. By relating important material to something already meaningful or relevant to the students, they are more likely to comprehend and retain the material (Davis, 1993). Applying difficult accounting material to simple and familiar games gives the students this type of learning opportunity.

Effective course learning objectives, which involve complex cognitive learning skills, require teaching methods that promote active learning on the part of the student (Bonner, 1999). Often there is rarely class time to apply the material being taught other than doing homework and ultimately responding on exams. Playing the games gives the instructor an opportunity to address student questions that arise during the course of answering a game question. In the process of playing these games, opportunities arise to help with individual problems. Addressing a small dilemma of one student may prove to be even more help to others in the group. These games give students individual opportunity to comprehend, through a different medium, the information learned in the classroom or read from a textbook. At the same time, it can make learning more interesting and fun.


Beets, S. D. & P. G. Lobingier. (2001). Pedagogical techniques: Student performance and preferences. Journal of Education for Business, 76(4), 231-235.

Bonner, S. E. (1999). Choosing teaching methods based on learning objectives: An integrative framework. Issues in Accounting Education, 14(1), 11-39.

Case, J. & K. Carney. (1996, February). Fun ways to learn about P&L. HR Magazine, 80-83.

Davis, B. G. (1993). Tools for teaching. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, Inc.

Harris, K. (2000). What works at work: Six lessons for the classroom. Review of Agricultural Economics, 22(1), 228-236.

Hilton, R. W. (1999). Managerial Accounting (Fourth Edition). Boston, MA: Irwin/McGraw-Hill.

Kimmel, P. D., J. J. Weygandt & D. E. Kieso. (2000). Financial Accounting: Tools for business decision making (Second Edition). New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Knowles, M. (1988). Adult education. In G.Dixon, (Ed.), What Works at Work (pp.102-11). Minneapolis: Lakewood Books.

University of Missouri Kansas City's Center for Supplemental Instruction homepage. Retrieved August 1, 2002, from

Kimber Rhodes, Stephen F. Austin State University

Aileen Smith, Stephen F. Austin State University
Table 1--Financial Statement Bingo Card Example


Expense              Revenue             Long Term Liability

Revenue              Property, Plant &   Current Asset
Expense              Full Disclosure     [??]
Stockholder Equity   Revenue             Going Concern
Expense              Current Asset       Current Asset

Expense              Intangible Asset    Current Liability

Revenue              Current Liability   Economic Entity
Expense              Current Asset       Property, Plant &
Stockholder Equity   Current Liability   Intangible Asset
Expense              Revenue             Cost Principle

Table 1 Caller Card Examples
Term on Bingo Card: Current Asset
Term on Bingo Card: Stockholder Equity
Term on Bingo Card: Revenue
Caller Card would read: Cash
Caller Card would read: Common Stock
Caller Card would read: Ticket Sales

Table 2--Conceptual Statement Bingo Card Example

Relevance         Reliability           Comparability

Neutral           Conservatism          Material
Verifiable        Feedback Value        [??]
Full Disclosure   Economic Entity       Relevance
Material          Primary Qualitative   Consistent

Relevance         Consistent              Timely

Neutral           Predictive Value        Faithful Representation
Verifiable        Going Concern           Time Period
Full Disclosure   Cost Principle          Reliability
Material          Secondary Qualitative   Comparability

Table 2 Caller Card Examples

Term on Bingo Card: Relevance       Caller Card would read:
                                    Ability of information to influence
                                    a decision

Term on Bingo Card: Conservatism    Caller Card would read: When
                                    preparing financial statements,
                                    choose the method least likely to
                                    overstate assets or income.

Term on Bingo Card: Comparability   Caller Card would read: Financial
                                    statements ability to be examined
                                    across two or more companies.

Table 3--Managerial Accounting Bingo Card Example


Opportunity Cost     Cost            Cost Driver

Inventoriable Cost   Period Cost     Prime Cost
Variable Cost        Indirect Cost   [??]
Raw Materials        Expense         Finished Goods
Indirect Material    Marginal Cost   Manufacturing Overhead

Opportunity Cost     Direct Cost         Direct Material

Inventoriable Cost   Product Cost        Fixed Cost
Variable Cost        Sunk Cost           Work In Process
Raw Materials        Direct Labor Cost   Indirect Labor Cost
Indirect Material    Conversion Cost     Controllable Cost

Table 3 Caller Card Examples

Term on Bingo Card: Fixed Cost
  Caller Card would read: A cost that does not change in total as
  activity changes.

Term on Bingo Card: Work In Process
  Caller Card would read: Partially complete products that are not yet
  ready for sale.

Term on Bingo Card: Indirect Cost
  Caller Card would read: A cost that cannot be traced to a particular

   Table 4--Sample "What's The Adjusting Entry?" Game Board


   Sample Transactions from "What's the Adjusting Entry?"
   The Supplies account for AG Corp. shows a balance of $1,500,
   but a physical count shows only $300 of supplies.

   On June 1, AG received $1,200 from Jones Company who is renting a
   building from the company for 6 months. AG credited Unearned Rent
   Revenue. Make the entry for June 30.

   "AG's accountant discovered that AG had performed services for a
   client totaling $900, but has not yet billed the client or
   recorded the transaction.
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