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TL v59n1: The Transference of Knowledge via Games
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Tennessee Libraries 

Volume 59 Number 1



The Transference of Knowledge via Games


D. Jackson Maxwell, Library Media Specialist
 Library Media Specialist
Memphis City Schools


School library media specialists are in a unique position to introduce, create, and utilize multimedia research-based interactive literacy games in school learning environments (Jones & Maloy, 1996). Information professionals’ collegiate training and practical experience as educators provide them the skills to recognize and develop age and subject appropriate activities that will challenge all learners. By working with teachers, librarians can further schools’ academic goals by developing innovative learning tools and concepts. Gaming emphasizes different types of intellectual and social skills that otherwise are often difficult to stimulate (Nicholson, 2008).

Gaming is a powerful strategy for increasing student performance and enhancing learning on all levels (Gee, 2004). Further, games give students motivating reasons to read, learn, and achieve. Whether it is in cyber or hardcopy format, all one needs to do is observe students playing a high quality, high interest game to appreciate their value. Within this gaming environment, “games exhibit intrinsic motivation and a high exploratory frame of mind--qualities known to optimize the learning experience” (Myers, 2008).

Activities such as The Kwanzaa Game encourage hesitant readers to conduct research and attempt reading through the incentive of competing to discover correct answers. Library media specialists with their professional knowledge and skills can create intriguing learning experiences that meet both students and teachers educational needs (Maxwell, 2005). Additional resources in book and online formats (such as those found at the end of this article) provide students choices, connections, and challenges that relate to the story and game to further enhance educational opportunities (Bronzo, 2005;McCarty, 2004). The activity presented here is a very basic research game. However, it could easily be turned into an Internet hunt, crossword, or word search puzzle using a tool such as Puzzlemaker (  It is important to note that gaming is a powerful motivational tool, especially for today’s game oriented students (Prensky, 2007). 


The following is a simple example of a game that acquaints students with Kwanzaa. The story is about the people, objects, and historical events that are integral to the annual Kwanzaa celebration. The game tests what has been learned about Kwanzaa through reading and exploring the online resources. Once finished, participants check their responses using the answer key to determine their overall knowledge.

The Kwanzaa Story

Dr. Maulana Karenga created Kwanzaa in 1966 as a way to celebrate African Americans common heritage and to help forge new traditions through an annual holiday. Dr. Karenga, a university teacher, hoped the holiday would increase awareness of African American history, culture, and develop ongoing family ties with connections to the past. To this end, Dr. Karenga studied the diversity of African cultures from which African Americans were taken. Based on this research, he created a celebration that carefully considers commonalities found throughout Africa and seeks to build an enduring sense of community based upon the experiences of many African Americans.

Kwanza is the Swahili word for “first” and in a larger sense stands for the first fruits of harvest time. The extra “a” in the word Kwanzaa was added because the holiday is celebrated over a seven-day period (Kwanzaa is seven letters)--from December 26th through January 1st. It is based on seven principles with each day highlighting a different principal called Nguzo Saba. The principles serve as a guide for Kwanzaa. As each is introduced, a new candle is lit. There are three red candles, three green candles and a black candle placed in the center of a handmade candleholder (called a Kinara) set on a decorative straw mat as the centerpiece of the table. The seven principles are listed here in order of celebration:

  • Umoja means Unity. Unity focuses on togetherness of families and with it the first candle (black in color) is lit.
  • Kujichagulia is an African term for self-determination or for being yourself. A red candle is lit and the ceremony ends with the shouting of the Swahili word Harambee, which means “Let’s pull together.”
  • Ujima is the theme for day three of Kwanzaa and means working together to further develop the community.
  • Ujamaa stresses shared economic benefit; a cooperative spirit to build African-American owned businesses and entrepreneurial endeavors.
  • Nia means purpose. On this fifth night of Kwanzaa, a green candle is lit, goals are discussed and set for the future.
  • Kuumba or creativity encourages the use of ingenuity to make the world a better place through imagination, crafts, cooking, and other traditional means of expression.
  • Imani means faith or believing. This is the final night of Kwanzaa. The last candle is lit and discussions tend toward contemplating family, ancestors, teachers, leaders, and the future.

Kwanzaa is a celebration of heritage, community spirit, personal responsibility, individual achievements, respect for the past, and hope for the future. African style clothing, books, gifts, discussion of leaders and ancestors, feasting, family, friends, and recognition of commonalities are what make Kwanzaa meaningful to participants. Additionally, many of the unique decorations and trappings on display during the Kwanzaa remembrance are homemade.

Traditional gifts such as jewelry, masks, mats, pottery, paintings, and similar crafts show that the giver has taken time to create these items. Clothing includes colorful robes, wrap around skirts (lapa), long decorative shirts (dashiki), head wraps (gele), and caps. These are either homemade or bought from boutiques specializing in African style dress. Food is mindful of cultural heritage and often includes muhindi (ears of corn), mazao (traditional vegetables and fruit), benne (sesame cakes), and the kikombe cha umoja (unity cup) from which all participants drink. Often, presents include the bendera or flag of red, black, and green to represent the blood of Africans, the color of the people, and hope for the future. Marcus Garvey, a businessman and leader who advocated a back to Africa movement, created the bendera.

Kwanzaa has been celebrated as a holiday for over 40 years. Today, more than a million African Americans take part in the annual celebration. While Africans have come to America by many different means, the largest percentage were forced aboard ships by Europeans and enslaved. Dr. Karenga created Kwanzaa to remind African Americans of their common heritage by celebrating ancestors and ancient traditions through a holiday that is solemn, reflective and festive.

For additional information checkout these online resources:   

The Kwanzaa Game

Answer the following questions and use the Answer Key to determine your knowledge of Kwanzaa. 

1. Who is the founding father of Kwanzaa?
2. In what year was Kwanzaa first celebrated?
3. For how many days is Kwanzaa celebrated?
4. What is the candleholder called that holds the candles lit on each day of Kwanzaa?
5. Every day a different principle of Kwanzaa is celebrated. What are these principles called?
6. Name the principle focusing on economic development.
7. What does the Kwanzaa principal Nia mean?
8. List the three colors of Kwanzaa candles.
9. Today, how many African Americans celebrate Kwanzaa?
10. What is the bendera?
11. Name the African American leader and businessman who created the bendera?
12. What is the name of the unity cup from which Kwanzaa participants drink?
13. Lapas, geles, and dashikis are all traditional types of what?
14. What type of food is muhindi?
15. Name the colors of the Kwanzaa flag that represent the blood of Africans, hue of the people, and hope for the future.

The Conclusion

Gaming is an extremely effective tool to motivate students to seek knowledge, engage in extended learning activities, and judge competency (Gee, 2004). Librarians can easily learn to create games via a bit of research and practice. Once proficient, librarians can go a step further and teach students to create their own games in hardcopy or virtual context. Librarians can offer programs teaching students game design that integrate storytelling, art, research skills, and other areas that promote the acquisition of emerging literacies through effective and entertaining mediums (Myers, 2008). An added bonus of longer engagement and higher quality work can be achieved by having students write, share, submit, and play games using the computer (Prensky, 2006). In the end, students gain from the challenges and the newfound knowledge to successfully solve intellectual puzzles that the gaming process presents. In the end, gaming is a provocative strategy school library media specialists should employ to motivate students and enhance their academic performance.  


Brozo, W. G. (2005). Avoiding the “fourth-grade slump.” Thinking Classroom, 6(4), 48-49.

Gee, J. P. (2004). Situated language and learning: A critique of traditional schooling. New York: Routledge

Jones, B. L. & Maloy, R. W. (1996). Schools for an information age: Reconstructing foundations for learning and teaching. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers.

McCarty, D. M. (2004). Thepower of a good in fourth grade social studies. The Social Studies, 95(4), 177-180.

Maxwell, D. J. (2005). Kids stuff: fun and games with children’s authors. Library Media Connection, 24(2), 48-50. 

Myers, B. (2008). Minds at play. American Libraries, 39(5), 54-57.

Nicholas, S. (2008). Reframing gaming. American Libraries, 39(7), 50-51.

Prensky, M. (2006). Adopt and adapt: 21st-Century schools need 21st-Century technology, Edutopia, 1(9), 43-45.

Prensky, M. (2007). Simulation nation. Edutopia, 3(2), 34-39.

Answer Key:

1. Dr. Maulana Karenga; 2. 1966; 3. Seven; 4. Kinara; 5. Nguzo Saba; 6. Ujamaa; 7. Purpose; 8. Red, Green and Black; 9. Over one million; 10. A flag; 11. Marcus Garvey; 12. Kikombe cha umoja; 13. Clothing; 14. Ears of corn; and 15. Red, black, and green.  

Suggested Reading

Chocolate, Deborah. Kente Colors. Illus. by John Ward. Walker and Company, 1996.

Chocolate, Deborah. My First Kwanzaa Book. Illus. by Cal Massey. Scholastic, 1992.

Ford, Juwanda G. K is for Kwanzaa: A Kwanzaa Alphabet Book. Illus. by Ken Wilson-Max. Scholastic, 1997.

Freeman, Dorothy Rhodes & MacMillan,Dianne M. Kwanzaa. Enslow Publishers, 1992.

Goss, Linda & Clay. It’s Kwanzaa Time! Illus. by Various Artists. G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1995.

Hoyt-Goldsmith,Diane. Celebrating Kwanzaa. Illus. by Lawrence Migdale. Holiday House, 1993.

Johnson, Dolores. The Children’s Book of Kwanzaa: A Guide to Celebrating the Holiday. Aladdin Paperbacks, 1996

Livingston,Myra Cohn. Festivals. Illus. by Leonard Everett Fisher. Holiday House, 1996.

Medearis, Angela Shelf. Seven Spools of Thread. Illus. by Daniel Mintor. Albert Whitman & Company, 2000.

Washington, Donna L. The Story of Kwanzaa. Illus. by Stephen Taylor. HarperCollins, 1996.

About the author

Dr. D. Jackson Maxwell is a National Board Certified Teacher and Information Specialist for Memphis City Schools. He has received numerous awards including ING’s Unsung Heroes Award for creative programming, Rotary Academic Teacher of Excellence, and Innovative Library Media Award for educational excellence. Maxwell has previously published hundreds of articles in magazines, books, newspapers, and journals and is a regular speaker at educational conferences.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to the author at:

1643 Eastmoreland Avenue
Memphis, TN 38104


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