Using games in the classroom serves several purposes: students naturally get excited to hear they are going to be playing games, pre-created games are easy to plan and implement for teachers, and students can engage deeply in learning (reinforcing that learning is fun!)
If you are currently feeling like you need a win – for yourself as a teacher or for creating a positive energy with students, consider embedding more games to your lesson plans. Read on for three reasons to use games in learning and for some additional tips for using games in virtual, hybrid, or socially-distanced classroom spaces. As a bonus, some sites with games that can be played in the classroom and at home are shared within!
Create Family Involvement
An open line of communication and opportunities to be involved is essential for families to support student learning and is a key factor in creating an optimal learning environment for students. Games, especially ones that have few pieces and can easily be played at home, such as these card math games, are helpful for students who are learning remotely. Playing a game is also a great alternative to homework – students practice the skills we want them to and there are no papers to correct!
Utilize Many Different Skills
The beauty of using games as a means of supporting learning is that there are many options to expand the skills being practiced. For example, while playing a math game at home, have students start by summarizing the directions to parents. Now students are practicing speaking in complete sentences, summarizing, and the math skills! Or, if students are going to play a science game in class, before they begin, ask students to estimate how many times each person will roll the dice and then figure out how far their estimates were by integers or percents. Embedding other skills into the games helps make them more comprehensive in helping students in all subject areas, yet does not take any more time to set up as the teacher!
Providing students with opportunities to think about why they enjoyed the game, whether they would play the same game again (or a different one next time), or how it reinforced the skill being focused on are all opportunities to teach students metacognition. When students are given time to pause and reflect, they are able to learn about themselves as a learner in addition to what they learned during that practice session. Some questions to consider:
- What have I just learned?
- What do I have left to learn?
- What is most confusing or challenging about this concept/skill?
- (After playing several games) Which games were most effective for helping me learn/practice?
Start with easier games, especially for in-class learning, to teach how to play. Teach skills such as turn taking, problem-solving, compromising and seeking help to increase students’ independence with games. This will allow you to use these games in more subjects with higher frequency, as you feel confident that students will execute the skills needed.
Give students a choice of games whenever possible. Try to find several games that allow students to practice the same concept in different ways. Giving students the power of choice will not only increase the level of engagement but will also naturally build in opportunities for metacognition. Help them choose well by telling students the goal/reason they are playing a game, review the game options, and then ask students to think about which game will help them meet the goal for the day. After students play the game have them reflect about how the game helped them to meet the learning goal today. Also consider how games are played and offer choices: online versus offline, games they can play individually or with a partner, or games that vary in level of difficulty.
Support students as they play. While students are involved in playing the game, move to each group (or individual) and confer with students about how it is going. Watching students play games can inform your instruction – you can see what strategies or aids students are using to play the game, how strong the skill/concept is, or what misunderstandings exist. As you move around (in-person or in various breakout rooms), consider having a clipboard with a class list on it with a blank space to take notes as a formative assessment. Provide students with positive feedback on actions that are helping them learn the concept or actions that are creating a community in their classroom. This will help students learn what to do in future activities and provide them guidance on their learning.
Make it personal. Whenever possible, use something that students are familiar with already, such as having students choose a story they’ve already written and changing it into a Mad Libs activity. Using what students have already created or are familiar with will both increase the engagement level by connecting to an area of interest and will allow them to focus on the other skills they are practicing. You can also make it personal by having students take a game and modify it to practice another concept. For example, students could take a math game they’ve used to practice addition facts and modify it to practice division facts. Older students could try taking a math game and applying it to science.
Use easy-access materials. Selecting games that have few materials, or providing take-home bags of games with all necessary materials, increases the likelihood that students will play them at home. You might also offer suggestions for alternatives that can be used at home. For example, if students need a token as a marker for where they are on a printed board, they could use pen caps, dried pasta, or coins! Providing students and families with alternatives of common household items will encourage them to play by removing potential barriers.
When used frequently, students’ learning will thrive because of games. Playing a variety of games that tap into various strategies, skills, and thinking will help students develop holistically and will allow you great insight to their strengths, understanding of themselves as learners, and social and emotional skill development. Plus, by using games as a regular part of instruction, your own workload will decrease and student engagement will increase – resulting in a winning combination!
We hope this post has been helpful. If you’d like to read more posts in the “From Surviving to Thriving” series, click here. You might also reach out to either Sarah (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Mike (email@example.com) to see how they can help your school navigate the tricky waters of hybrid and at-home learning.