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.
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?
Not every game will garner the best results. There are some rules to making the most of playing games in the classroom.
- Keep it focused. Make sure the games you play directly address the lessons you are teaching.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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.
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?