Whether you’re playing a whole class game, small group game, or individual game, games in the classroom provide great learning opportunities for students. A former principal of mine constantly reminded the staff that we were not there to entertain students, but to educate them. He saw fun activities as a waste of valuable learning time. Pish posh! Boredom is not good for the brain. Games can be a great approach to increase student engagement and get students more practice with concepts. Furthermore, when playing games students often show a bit more willingness to take risks and even make mistakes, essential for learning.
Guest post by Rachel and Theresa from Idea Galaxy Teacher
8 Do’s and Don’ts for Using Games in the Classroom
Sometimes fear holds teachers back from playing games in the classroom. What if they lose control of the classroom? Who has time for games with all the learning that has to be done- and aren’t games just riff raff anyways? By following these 8 do’s and don’ts below, you will ensure that your students are getting high impact instructional time while also having some fun.
Do encourage healthy competition, without pitting students against each other
Playing games gives students an opportunity to develop “soft skills” like collaboration and interpersonal skills in addition to academic skills. This is a perfect time to talk about sportsmanship in the classroom- how will we react when we win? How will we react when we lose?
When monitoring game play, be sure to keep the focus on the trying and effort, not on the winning. Consider having students compete against themselves by keeping their own score, or turn the competition into students vs. teacher where they are trying to reach a goal you’ve set. Healthy competition can be motivating and get students energized, but pitting students against each other can lead to shutting down, bragging, and other unsavory side effects. By being mindful and encouraging healthy competition when setting up games in your classroom, your students will strive to perform better while still being able to root for their peers.
Don’t have only a few students doing the thinking
Games can give students a great opportunity to get a lot of high quality practice, but if they’re not set up properly some students may end up doing the thinking while others are off the hook. With simple adjustments, all students can be involved at once. For example, instead of having a few students answering a question in class Jeopardy, have one student choose the problem but all students answer each question for their own points. Or, play $25,000 Pyramid to review vocabulary by writing words on the board. Have every student play in a partnership with one student facing the board and giving clues, and the other facing away from the board answering questions.
If students are playing a partner game, having both students work the same problem, rather than alternating answering questions, keeps all students doing the thinking. For example, when students play tic-tac-toe, the student whose turn it is completes the problem for a chance to win a square. But, rather than having their opponent sit and wait for a turn, they can also do the problem to check their opponent’s work (you may even allow for stealing squares if their opponent gets the wrong answer- that’s up to you).
Do play the same type of game more than once
Each time you play a game with your class, you’ll spend a fair amount of time setting it up. Students need to learn just how to play the game, plus what your expectations are of them when playing. So do yourself a favor and find a few class favorites you can play again and again. The class will get into game mode quickly and you can get right to work. Familiar games can be great for quick sponge activities or center work.
Don’t allow too much unstructured time
One of the fears that can keep teachers from playing learning games in class is a worry about classroom management. Will students just get completely out of control? The best way to combat this fear is to prevent students from having too much unstructured time. Keep the game moving using timers, short rotations, and regular check ins. As the students move from one question to another, they won’t have the time to let their imagination wander and get into mischief.
Do mix up the types of questions asked
Playing games provides a great opportunity to mix things up and ask questions outside the typical multiple choice format. In addition to more traditional question types, why not throw in questions that ask students to justify their answer, explain their thinking, or ask them to illustrate a concept with a quick sketch. To get some inspiration, think about making a twist on classic games like Pictionary, Cranium, Go Fish, Scategories, Family Feud, Battleship, Connect Four, and more. Here are some other options of question types to ask:
- Put items in order (of importance, of value, or chronological order)
- Use manipulatives- Have students plot on a number line, show on a graph, use a number chart or place value manipulative, letter tiles, white boards, etc.
- Sort into categories
- Inject an element of chance. Students get excited when there’s an element of “danger”. Perhaps it’s risking all of their points on a final double or nothing challenge question. Or maybe they roll the dice to determine the next task they will face. Perhaps they can choose between three questions, two of which offer extra points, but one will take points away.
Don’t forget to keep the learning objective central
It seems there’s never enough time to do everything we want with students. Keeping the learning objective central to planning and playing a game will let you kill two birds with one stone- students will have fun, and you’ll be confident that class time is well spent. When planning a game, always start with the learning goal. What do you want students to be able to understand and do as a result of this activity? From there it will be clear which type of game will be best to meet your learning goals.
Do debrief the game and connect to the overall learning
While your students are busy having fun, they may not naturally see the connection to the learning work they’ve been doing. Be sure to explicitly link the work they did during game play to their overall learning goals. Ask them to connect what they did in the game to previous learning. Help them see how they are closer to their goals of mastery after their efforts during the game. A quick exit ticket or class discussion for closure can easily accomplish this goal.
Don’t forget about incorporating individual accountability
Even while playing games can, and should, be super fun, how do we make sure that all students are getting a good learning opportunity? Something as simple as using a record sheet when playing games gives you as a teacher an invaluable artifact. It sends a message to all students that they have a job to do while playing the game, increasing on-task behavior. But more importantly, at the end of the game you have a low stress formative assessment which can give you great information about any misconceptions students may have, or if there are individual students who need more practice. Below is a simple game card I used in my math class for each student. While we played the whole class game, students did their work on this page, circled their response, and kept track of their points as we played. Each ghost figure corresponded to a different question, as they appeared in a random order during the game. This scorecard has been a simple yet powerful tool in maximizing the learning of students as we have a little fun with games!
How do you use games in the classroom? What tricks of the trade help you and your students learning while having fun? Which of the eight do’s and don’ts listed above do you find most important- and which ones would you add? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.
As a gift to the Education to the Core community I’ve designed a new Math Game Sampler FREEBIE! You’ll find a math tic-tac-toe game, puzzle, and maze reviewing upper grades math concepts, so I hope you check it out! Also, I’d love for you to check out our blog, Idea Galaxy Teacher, where we talk about middle grades math ideas and strategies. Also find us on Pinterest and Instagram for more ideas!