Digital Age Teaching and Learning

Why I Teach with Games (and Maybe You Should Too)

Why I Teach with Games (and Maybe You Should Too)

Teaching to an engaged audience is rewarding for both the educator and the learner. One of the best ways to capture the attention of any group of students is to make lessons interactive. At any age, games bring people together and get even the shiest of the group to participate.

In this article, I will share the many merits of introducing game play to your classroom and some excellent ways to get started.

Everybody Wins

Studies show a 20 percent growth in student achievement when academic games are a part of the learning environment. (Haystead, M. W., & Marzano, R. J. (2009)) The introduction of a well-planned game into the classroom invites an atmosphere of fun, and offers students the opportunity for active learning.  Teachers get the opportunity to make the subject matter come alive for students, students are able to internalize the lessons and get immediate gratification for engaging with the topic.

Using games that involve at least some movement will wake everyone up and prime them for better learning. See this post about movement and reading for more information about the benefits of movement in the classroom.

An excellent by-product of using games in my classroom has been the after-effects; students continuing to discuss the topic after class time ends, both with each other and with their families when they get home. Who doesn’t want their lessons to take on a life of their own?

Set Rules

Not every game will garner the best results. There are some rules to making the most of playing games in the classroom.

  1. Keep it focused. Make sure the games you play directly address the lessons you are teaching.
  2. Fair play is fun for everyone- make sure everyone gets a chance to participate, not just your serial volunteers; change up groups each time you play so new bonds can be formed.
  3. Allow for students instructing other students. Competition is a great motivator, but if you’ve ever watched kids playing video games you will notice something else, they love to share what they’ve learned. Whether playing with their best friend or a complete stranger, most kids enjoy showing each other their tips and tricks for winning. Let your kids strategize and discuss best practices.
  4. Use inconsequential rewards. Remind students this is only a game, the real reward is what they learn from the process, however, using small rewards can increase engagement. A points system can be set up if you plan on using games regularly, allowing students to bank points to use toward something bigger or cash in right away for a smaller but immediate prize.
  5. Debriefing is essential! After game play discuss what they learned, ask your students what was difficult and what was the most fun. Allow students to revise or rewrite the notes they took before the game, adding or clarifying what they gained from the games.

Game On!

The choices are endless for what games to include in your lesson plan. Video or electronic games are a familiar favorite for today’s students, but finding the right game for your class, and finding the funding for the equipment can be a challenge. Games can be individual or group activities, quiet or active. Here are some games that have been successful with my colleagues and I. There are many resources online for classroom games but I like to use the things I have available and make up my own.

Reading/Spelling/Vocabulary Game

Build your own crossword- this can be an individual or group activity. As a multiplayer lesson, you can use puzzle mats (or construction paper) with letters on it and use the floor as the play area. Have the kids use the vocab word as the base word and build a crossword puzzle around it using horizontal words as synonyms and vertical words as antonyms.

“Bring me something” – Have children bring something from the classroom to the front of the room that has the first same letter as the word you’re spelling, continue until the word is spelled out in objects.

“Did it happen?” bingo – create a bingo cards with various events from a story.  As kids read the story, they put a chip on each event that happens. The first to make bingo gets a prize.

Adding up to fun- math games

Board games using dice, money or both are perfect. Play a shortened version of monopoly.  Have an auction and let kids use play money to “buy” dream objects. Have a jump rope contest and count the number of jumps for each child, add up the group jumps, add the class jumps, divide, find average numbers of jumps etc.

Hysterical History

Bring history alive by playing a game of “Who am I?” –assigning students a historical figure to act out using clues you supply brought new life to this old favorite in our classroom.  This can be expanded into what year is it, what decade, where do I live etc.

You can also ask kids to look through picture books and ask them to identify objects that were or were not available to the historical figures or times they are studying.

These are just a few ideas to set you on your way. If you can, teach kids games they can duplicate with their families at home. Sending a little “games we love” instruction letter home to parents with advice to reward students for educational games with time off from chores or an extra story before bed can jump start home learning fun too.  Do you use games in your classroom? What works? What challenges have you faced? Do your students have a favorite game?



- Anything used to inspire children to read/write
- Using movement in the classroom to promote health and learning
- Innovative ideas for non traditional learners
- Games as learning tools
- Avoiding teacher burnout
- Incorporating technology while staying connected to individual students  
- The importance of teaching children how to take tests
- Addressing classroom conflict and bullying
- Making the most out of field trips
- Building better teacher to teacher relationships
- Letting kids teach
- Building self esteem and character in students
- Homework assignments that engage 

My interest in reaching out to teachers began when I was working as a nanny. The eldest of my charges hated reading and could not be persuaded to sit down with a book. He was bright and an excellent storyteller but his grades suffered. Over the years we developed various ways of helping him learn material without actually spending much time with books, however, we reached a real hurdle when he was forced to read Hamlet in high school. He tried. but for a non-reader Shakespeare is a tall order. Nothing we did would convince him to sit down and read. I considered the problem and decided to try something new. 

I told him I was watching a new television series and it was really interesting. I began to tell him the plot of Hamlet, only slightly modernized. He was hooked, I brought him to the edge of his seat and when he was desperate to know what happened I told him there was only one way to find out, read the book. We read it together, I needed to interpret some parts for him but he made connections and stayed with it. 

His younger sister attended my biology classes and labs with me when I got my degree from the time she was in 4th grade. She adored science and could not wait to get to her own biology class in high school. The summer before the class she talked often about her excitement. Sadly she got a terrible grade on her first exam. When I checked her paper I found her answer was correct, her teacher simply did not understand the material as well as she did. The teacher knew what the textbook told her and nothing more about the subject, Michaela understood much more and gave a full response, one the teacher had never heard and so marked it incorrect. I reached out to her teacher and explained the situation, instead of being impressed at Michaela’s depth of knowledge and excited to have such a motivated student in her class she became defensive and did not treat Michaela well. This soured the child to the entire field, she dropped the class and never took another elective science course.

This was the beginning of a long road for me of interest in ensuring the educators to whom we entrust our young minds have the tools and dedication to do their best to reach each student. In subsequent years I became a tutor to students from third grade through college seniors. Watching the light turn on in someone’s eyes when they finally. truly grasp something that had previously been a frustrating mystery is addicting, I can't imagine a better feeling. I would love to inspire more educators to chase that moment at every opportunity. 

I will share something completely off topic as I believe I have already shown you my passion for the subject at hand. When I was a senior in college, only 3 months away from receiving my B.S. in Biochemistry with minors in Physics and Psychology, I fell from a retaining wall and broke every bone in both feet. I was told, within an hour of the accident, that I would never walk again. 

After the first surgery to put pins in the foot with lesser damage I spent 3 weeks in a rehab center waiting for the swelling to go down in the other. A very close friend, one of my professors, did not visit. Everyone else did but he stayed away. Finally a few days before my second surgery he appeared at my door, tentative and looking as if he might bolt at any second. 

I coaxed him in and made him laugh as I showed him the trapeze act I'd perfected in order to move from my bed to my wheelchair. He confessed he’d stayed away because he was afraid I'd be too emotionally broken, too sad and he couldn't bear to see me that way. 

I shrugged. He wasn't wrong to assume I'd be dramatic, I’ve been known to throw a fit or two.  What point would there be to any of that? My mind was still in excellent working order, I'd have fantastic parking for the rest of my life and could now roll over the toes of anyone who annoyed me and they wouldn't say a word. 

A year after multiple surgeries I asked my doctor to send me to rehab, I believed I could walk again. He  refused, saying it would only give me false hope. Instead I waited until no one was around and practiced pulling myself up using the kitchen sink. I taught myself to stand, then to walk with crutches, then a cane.

Two years after the surgery I was running on a treadmill an hour a day, losing 100 pounds and in the best shape of my life. 

Life gives you challenges. It's your job to figure out what the lesson is inside those challenges.

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