Pulitzer Prize:

A Geographical Competition for Young Reporters

A board game for ages 11 to 14

By Sharon Jones, Nancy Pickett, and Maria Rodriguez, graduate students in San Diego State University's Educational Technology Department.

Instructional Objectives


The learners are 6th and 7th grade students in the San Diego Unified School District. The game is designed to be a supplemental in-class exercise in World Regional Geography; it could also be used in Physical Geography and Civilizations of the Americas.

Because of its journalism theme, this game could also be used as a light "school-to-career" activity. Students will, by playing, become familiar with some of the lingo of the journalism world (such as "dateline" and "scoop") as well as the obstacles that face foreign correspondents on deadline.

The game's questions could reflect a recent lesson, but it was designed to be played by students with no prior knowledge. The "Dateline" cards contain questions about countries, capitals and landmarks that students can find by studying the board.

This game should make the study of geography more interesting and relevant. The competition will increase motivation.

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A board game is an appropriate format for this subject. Learning geography can be boring for some students, but its fundamental learning tool -- the map -- can easily be made into a dynamic, educational board game environment.

Students would certainly be bored if the teacher told them to memorize all the capital cities in the Americas. If they play this game, though, they will begin learning the capitals of many countries without even trying. The game itself will provide incentive and motivation to study the map. Because the game is fun, students will probably want to play it more than once; the practice should help move newly gained knowledge of capitals and locations of countries from short-term memory to long-term memory.

Unlike a lecture or a drill-and-practice session, the board game would allow learning through different modalities. Students will be stimulated by pictures, interaction with other players and movement of the playing pieces around the map. For these reasons, the game will activate parts of the brain controlling vision, hearing as well as language. This will help them better recall the knowledge later.

By focusing on the Americas, this game allows students to become more familiar with countries closest to the United States. This familiarity will enable students to build mental models of the geographic region to help them understand historical or current events and to put them in a geographical context. There is also a social-political reason for familiarizing students with the Americas: many children in U.S. schools were born in countries south of the U.S.-Mexico border. Having their peers know where they came from may boost their self-esteem.

A reporter scenerio was selected because it enabled students to have a reason to travel the continents with goals and obstacles. This scenerio adds intrigue, competition, and motivation in discovering where capital cities, countries, and certain landmarks are located. As a foreign correspondent, the students learn about journalism as they are learning geography.

Pulitzer Prizes are annual awards for achievements in American journalism, letters, drama and music. The prizes have been awarded by Columbia University in New York City since 1917, on the recommendation of a Pulitzer Prize Board. Fourteen prizes are given in journalism. The award is named after Joseph Pulitzer, American newspaper publisher, who endowed the journalism school and the awards. In real life, the awards are only given to journalists working for U.S. newspapers but we have changed the criteria for the awards in designing the game.

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Rules/Equipment/Game Playing

Object of the Game: The the object of the game is to build a portfolio of stories (Dateline Cards) from North, Central, and South America and to be the first to arrive in New York City to receive the Pulitzer Prize.

Time and number of players: Two to four people may play at the same time. The game will take about 45 minutes to an hour to complete.


Game Preparation:

  1. Shuffle the Scoop Cards and the Dateline Cards and place them face down in their respective spots on the board.
  2. Each player takes a Portfolio Case.
  3. Each player chooses a playing piece and places it in the square containing the capital of any country. If there is a dispute over which country a player wants to represent, players can roll the die, and the player with the highest number gets first choice.
  4. Each player picks up one Scoop Card from the pile, looks at it, and places it face down in front of him/her.
  5. Each player shakes hands with the player on his/her left, as that person is his/her Editor who will be giving them Assignments (to be read from a Dateline Card.)

Playing the Game:

  1. The youngest player goes first, followed by the person on that player's left, moving clockwise.

  2. The first player's Editor picks up a Dateline Card and reads the assignment and the question about the destination to player. The editor must be sure to hold the card so the player can't see the answer.

  3. If the player answers the question correctly, the Editor gives the player the Dateline Card.

  4. After answering a question correctly, a player picks up a new Scoop Card to keep in front of him/her until it is needed. Then the player rolls the die and begins to move the playing piece toward the assigned destination. A player must complete an assignment before getting a new one.

  5. Players can look at the map to answer the Dateline questions. But if they can answer the question without looking at the board map, they may move twice as many spaces as on the number of the roll.

  6. If the player answers the question on the Dateline Card incorrectly, that player's turn ends.

  7. If an Editor picks up a Disaster assignment, all players must drop their assignments and head toward the disaster location. The first player to reach the disaster location can spin the spinner to see if they earn the Disaster Dateline Card. Once someone wins the Disaster Dateline Card, other reporters return to traveling to their original destinations.

  8. Each player is allowed only one roll of the die for each turn, unless they are otherwise instructed to "take another turn."

  9. After using a Scoop Card, players must return the card to the bottom of the Scoop Card pile.

  10. Players can move any direction -- including diagonally -- and can cross bodies of water.

  11. Players don't need an exact roll to land on a destination.

  12. If players are sent to a country or a landmark, they are considered at the destination as soon as their playing piece lands on a square touching any part of the country or landmark.

Earning a Dateline:

  1. Once a player has arrived at the assigned destination, the player can spin the spinner to try to earn the Dateline.

  2. If the spinner lands on one of the spaces that allow the player to collect the Dateline, they can file their Dateline Card in their Portfolio Case. At their next turn, they will receive a new assignment from their Editor.

  3. Players can use Scoop Cards in their possession to overcome the obstacles presented by the spinner and collect their Dateline.

  4. If a player doesn't have a Scoop Card to overcome a spinner obstacle, the player must wait until his/her next turn, then spin again.

  5. A player must keep using turns to spin the spinner until a Dateline is achieved unless another player uses a Scoop 'Em card to trade places with them, or unless a Disaster Card assignment sends everybody to another location.

  6. If the spinner lands on a line, the player should spin again.

  7. If a player has a Scoop 'Em card, the player may use that card to snatch another player's dateline immediately after they successfully spin the spinner. A third player could also play a Scoop 'Em card to take the Dateline away from the second player. The player who lost the Dateline Card must wait until his/her next turn to receive another assignment.

Winning the Game:

  1. To win, a player must fill their Portfolio case with at least three earned Datelines, including the following:
  1. Once they fill their Portfolio case, players head to New York City to receive the Pulitzer Prize, rolling the die at each turn.
  2. The winner is the first to arrive in New York City with a completed portfolio.


To simplify the game for beginners, the game could focus on capital cities of the countries in one of the three continental areas and to establish fewer requirements for the completed Portfolio.

Another variation would be to concentrate on one continent at a time. For example, all the cards having to do with South America may be drawn from the decks and used for play, and all the other cards may be set aside for future use.

For more advanced learners, the game could be augmented by the creation of Dateline Cards which include the cities, countries, and current events being studied in a particular class.

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Board design

The board game has an graphical representation of the Americas, with the names of countries, capitals, and landmarks clearly marked. Countries in North America are all shades of red, countries in Central America are shades of orange, and countries in South America are shades of green. Capital cities are identified by stars. Landmarks are presented by illustrations, wherever possible. A spinner is in the lower left-hand corner, and there are spots to hold the Dateline and Scoop Cards on the upper right. A legend box contains information supplementing the spinner.

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Card design

Dateline cards:

Back of Card

Scoop cards:


Back of Card

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Design Process

This game evolved from an in-class exercise created by SDSU EdTech Professor Bernie Dodge. Dodge asked groups of students in our 670 class, Games and Simulations, to brainstorm ideas about a board game that would teach middle-school students the capitals in North and South America. Pickett and Rodriguez were intrigued by the challenge and came up with the metaphor of having the student-players act as foreign correspondents on assignment. Jones, a veteran journalist, joined the team after the dynamic duo started asking her questions about the newspaper business.

We made the scenario created by Dodge into a constraint. For this reason, the map is limited to the Americas, and the content is restricted to geographical locations, with an emphasis on capitals. We debated adding longitude and latitude and opted not to since teaching longitude and latitude wasn't an instructional goal, and it seemed way too complicated to make it one.

The biggest challenge was to figure out how to best utilize the journalism metaphor and build in enough obstacles and competition to make the game fun to play.

First, we needed a journalism-related goal that would determine the winner. We decided on making the Pulitzer Prize the goal because it is, realistically, the goal of many ambitious journalists. It also is something that students may have some familiarity with; each year there are news reports about Pulitzer Prize winners just as there are stories about Nobel Prize winners.

'The biggest challenge was to figure out how to best utilize the journalism metaphor and build in enough obstacles and competition to make the game fun to play.'

Then, we had to figure out what players had to do to win the Pulitzer. Since the focus of the game is geographical locations, we knew the board itself had to include a map. We looked at "Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego," a popular geography board game, and several other games for ideas.

Pickett and Rodriguez decided the players would travel the board while "on assignment." Then we needed to design a way of documenting that players had been in a number of places. We considered having students fill out a log with the names of the capitals that they visited while on assignment. But this isn't something that a journalist would do. However, journalists do collect copies of their stories in portfolios, and every story has a Dateline, with the name of the city and the country in which the story is based. We decided to have players collect Datelines in a Portfolio.

Next we had to determine how players would collect the Dateline. Should they have to answer questions? Should they roll dice or spin a spinner? After much discussion, debate, and trial and error, we decided to make them answer questions when they first received their assignment and to use a spinner to determine if they earn a Dateline. We decided to expand on the journalism metaphor with the spinner, by making every possible landing an outcome of either filing a story or encountering an obstacle to prevent filing the story.

We debated several versions of Dateline, or Assignment, Cards. One version had the Dateline as the answer to the question. Another version described a news event or story, and then had the players figure out at what location the story was unfolding. We decided to require that the dateline should be related to the question, but not necessarily the answer to the question.

The Scoop Cards serve as shortcuts or Help Cards since they help players obtain Datelines faster. We debated building shortcuts into the board itself, by designating several squares where the player must pick up Call the Editor Cards. These cards, as proposed, would have been 60 percent shortcuts and 40 percent obstacles. We opted not to include the Call the Editor feature into the game because of concerns that the game was becoming too complicated.

After testing, though, we decided we needed to build in more shortcuts because the game took too long to play and was relatively slow moving. At the recommendation of one of our testers, a fifth-grader, we decided to give the players incentive to memorize the names of capitals and landmarks, by doubling the distance they could travel on the board if they answered the assignment questions by memory alone. Another tester, a middle-school teacher, suggested that students should be allowed to visually read the question instead of just hearing it read. We decided that this culd be accomplished by having the Editor cover up the answer and letting the player read the question themselves if they so desired. Testing also revealed that we needed to color code North, South and Central America so players could learn distinguish between the three while looking at the map.

To shorten the playing time, we reduced the number of Datelines needed to win from 10 to a minimum of three. We considered making players only earn Datelines from two continents, but ultimately we decided it was important to make each player go to each continent. We also considered having special Transportation cards that allow a player to jump to his/her assigned destination, but opted not to include this feature because we didn't want the game to get overly complicated.

In the design process, we took into consideration Keller's ARCS model and other motivational instructional strategies from course readings. For example, players' "confidence" came up the first time we really played the game, and Rodriguez collected four dateline cards in her first four turns while Jones and Pickett struggled to reach the countries to which they had been assigned. Special Scoop 'Em Cards were added to vary the pace of the game, add interest, and aid those players who were progressing more slowly than others. The Scoop 'Em Cards enabled one player to trade places with a player who was "ahead" of him/her.

The resulting board game is explained in the Rationale section above.

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Last updated by Sharon Jones, Nancy Pickett and Maria Rodriguez in November 1996.

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