Part of every teacher’s arsenal should be the master of all deceptive learning devices – the game! Wily teachers everywhere are tricking students into learning more without realizing it. They are having fun and it never seems like hard work. These students are displaying serious side effects including enthusiasm, motivation and positive attitudes towards learning. So how can you join these cunning instructors? What is the best way to integrate games into your lesson plan?
First things first, target your audience. What type of students do you have in your class – boys, girls, younger, older? Every student has a different learning style and it pays to know what your class will respond to best. Most individuals work well with a mixture of visual, auditory and kinaesthetic learning styles (VAK) but often students learn better with one, or two of these areas.
How can you tell what your students respond to? Are they keen to move around or use their hands? These are the kinaesthetic fans. How about students who are good at drawing or respond well to imagery? Obviously, these are your visual learners. You can make some educated guesses about what might work but the best way is to just try it out. If it doesn’t work, try to figure out why and adjust for next time or bin it and try something new. Above all, variety is your friend. You’re unlikely to be able to please everybody all the time but if you vary your activities and games the students are much more likely to be on side.
Games work especially well with boys, even the disaffected ones. Quite often they will respond well to games with a competitive edge and they might even get quite carried away! Just be ready with a calming activity straight after the game and don’t forget to include less competitive games to ensure you don’t alienate the shyer or less competitive students in the class.
What else do you need to remember? Make sure your game is within your students’ capabilities but don’t make it too easy. Go too far in either direction and your pupils might lose interest. Also be careful when you schedule your games. You don’t want to get students too excited at the wrong time of the lesson. A good rule of thumb is to use games to consolidate knowledge, after some of the hard work has been done but you can also use them to introduce new ideas or to recap from the last lesson. So, what games can you play with your class? The possibilities are endless, but here are some examples to get you started:
Lots of students love quizzes but you might find some who roll their eyes at the thought. Jazz up your quizzes with music and make the most of what is out there on the Internet. Who Wants To Be a Millionaire is a great quiz format with the added bonus of having great tension music. The game uses some excellent lifelines for when the going gets tough and students love multiple choice quizzes as everyone can have a go. There are lots of Millionaire PowerPoint templates available on teacher resource sites with the music already integrated into the file. All you need to do is insert your questions and answers and you are ready for an exciting game with your class.
The Weakest Link is another quiz that can be really fun for students but be careful not to use this with those who might not cope well with the elimination voting system. Templates are also available online and this can be lots of fun with the right class.
If you have the space and want to reinforce the knowledge of a younger class who like to move around, pac man is a great favorite. Position some of your students at different corners of the classroom and ask a question. The first to raise their hand (or press a buzzer if you’re well-equipped) gets to answer the question and if they get it right, they can move one space and eliminate (or eat) any student occupying the square. It’s a simple idea but younger students especially love it and even those who are not involved in the game love to watch and listen. The winner is the last student standing. Obviously if you have rewards or prizes to give out then this will add to the excitement.
Splat is a great game for 2 – 4 players at a time. It can be played at the board or at desks with the whole class for a quick-fire consolidation exercise. If played at the board, a group of pictures or answers can be displayed. The teacher then asks the question and the first student to touch or hit the answer gets the point. Students can use their hands but it’s even better if you can provide a special ‘splatter’ for the purposes of the game. You could use a fly swatter, a feather duster or something else. When played at the desk, the game follows the same principle. The answers are laid out on cards and when the teacher reads out the question, the students should try to touch the right card (a bit like a game of snap). The second version can get quite lively and could spark arguments so choose your class wisely.
Even the most disaffected students like to match cards placed on their desk. There are lots of ways that you can use this in your lessons: you can match phrases, equations, questions and answers, pictures and words, pictures and pictures and so on – the list is endless. How you treat this game is also open to interpretation. You could give the students a time limit, ask them to work alone, ask them to work in pairs or have them working in groups with different cards. You could give one group the questions and another group the answers and get them to work it out or give them entirely different tasks to do within their groups. You could make a jigsaw or similar puzzle that they have to work out using the matching cards or you could have a conversation that they have to put in the correct order, an equation or a paragraph of text. You could also give them text phrases with gaps (cloze) and an envelope containing the missing words to match up. These are great activities to use, especially at the start of the lesson and students seem to love them.
This is another game that works well with students who like to move around the classroom. There are a number of ways to do it but the basic premise is this: there is a piece of information on the wall somewhere inside the classroom or outside the door. Students are in teams and, one at a time, each team member must go to the source to memorize some of the information to relay back to their team. The person running back and forth to the source of information is not allowed to write anything down at any time. The team that finishes first is the winner.
There are also many ways in which you can vary this task. The information could be text, numbers, images or an audio recording. The students could simply be asked to relay all of the information on the source to their team or they could be sent away with a question to find the answer to. If using questions, the team could be required to show the teacher the correct answer before they unlock the next question (if the questions are written down on cards) or the teacher could simply give them the entire list of questions on a task sheet at the beginning of the game. The game could be made more complex by adding other information sources at different locations inside or outside the room.
This is another game that can get quite lively, but all of the noise produced will be the result of students thinking and cooperating with their team. With the right classes it is a great game to try.
Some students really enjoy games where they are required to carry out an action. This includes games like Simon Says (great with modern language classes), miming games (great with any subject) and drama games. Or you could play a game whilst students are doing their normal work by giving them a code word or a noise that they must listen out for during the lesson. Every time they hear this word they must do a particular action. This can really keep them on their toes!
Students will often tell you that they have terrible memories but as soon as you ask them to participate in a memory game this all changes! You can test their powers of observation and memory by flashing up a picture for a short time and then asking them to write down everything they remember. This works well with any subject. Another idea is to have terms or words on the board. Ask the students to close their eyes and then remove one. When they open their eyes again they must tell you what is missing. A variation on this game that younger students love is using objects or flashcards. Ask one student to leave the room and then remove one item. When they come back they need to tell you what is missing. The rest of the class will love knowing what the item is and waiting to see if their classmate can guess it correctly.
Lots of students like playing board games but how do you find one that is relevant to your subject area? Get the students to make one and then allow them to play it afterwards. Just be sure to have plenty of dice available for the students to use. A variation is to make a giant board game as a class project and then get students to play it using their bodies as the marker.
These are great games for physical or problem solving subjects. There are lots of games ideas online where students have to work together to solve a problem. Some of these games have only one answer to the problem and others have various ways of reaching a solution. Think about what you are trying to get the students to learn and search to see if there are any relevant games for you.
Try sitting students back to back and asking one of them to describe a picture for the other to draw. This can be done in a foreign language for maximum effect.
Make up a mystery with clues for your students to solve. You could go completely CSI with crime tape, chalk body outline and evidence bags – students will love it!
This is just a small selection of games that can be used in class. The possibilities are endless but one thing is certain; if you use games in your lessons, your students will thank you for it.