One of the strategies I have used to engage my students and to encourage academic growth is the use of games. Everyone plays games: young kids, teenagers, adults, and the elderly. Whether it’s a game of pinochle, solitaire, video games, board games, or puzzles, I’ve never anyone who didn’t game in some way.
However, we all know those a-type personalities who have to win no matter the cost and need to show off that victory every time. Thus, I have instituted some rules to game play in my classroom to ensure cooperation and maintain proper discipline in the classroom.
Firstly, any game we play has an academic purpose and focus. If I’m not using the game to learn or review course material, then I am wasting the students’ time. As much of every minute of every class should be devoted to the course (in my opinion), and I want to ensure my students have fun but learn simultaneously.
Secondly, we do not compete against one another, not really any way. Typically, I set a class goal for a score and we try to reach that goal. Or, I set a high score a previous class has earned, or I let the kids know how each class did. But, I never have the students truly competing against one another in the room. I don’t like the chance for a division in the room, and my very competitive students can lose focus. If the students do compete in groups, I still set the goal score, but I never give the top scoring group more than another group. The goal, after all, is to learn or review the material.
Thirdly, the reward is never bonus points or something that affects the students’ grades. I don’t really believe in extra credit, but allowing an activity that is essentially a practice to boost a student’s grade goes against my belief that grades should reflect mastery.
Additionally, I never want to allow the perception that one student gained while another lost in the grade category simply because of a game we played. The purpose should always be on the learning. What is the knowledge with which I want my students to exit the game? This is the focus.
Fourthly, I ask my students to keep paper and pencil at the ready in order to write down any information gleaned from the game. If the goal is to increase academic knowledge, why not let the students record what they wish to remember?
Lastly, I always have my students take 2-3 minutes at the end of the period (on a sticky note or a note card) to jot down what course content knowledge they learned during the game or what they were forced to remember. I like to know this, and I want them to process one more time. Plus, I usually ask the kids to tell me what would make the game better the next time. They normally provide some great ideas/suggestions.
If I do provide prizes, everybody gets something. Typically, the prize is a piece of hard candy or something of the sort. It’s always small and something easily shared around the room. I really like using the mixed bag of hard candy where the students get to choose; any choice seems to increase the excitement, appreciation, or engagement of my students.
Maybe this week before I leave for my conference I’ll post a few games I play with my students. No matter what though, play games and make learning fun!