Using Classroom Games to Achieve Your Aims
Games + skilled and experienced teacher = magical results.
It is easy to see the value of specific educational games in the classroom; maths, games, spelling bees, phonics games, for example. However I want to focus on a valuable aspect of classroom games that may not have been considered before or considered fully.
Every teacher has to work hard at class and behaviour management. One of the hardest tasks for the teacher is to establish a classroom environment in which focused productive work can be accomplished. From this point of view, games are often used as a reward for good behaviour. There is nothing wrong with this but perhaps a more pro-active approach would be to use games as a means of establishing good behavior or rather a good working environment.
The Starting Point of a Successful Classroom Program
Games can be the starting point of a successful classroom program, not ‘the carrot on the end of the stick’ or the last desperate attempt to avoid chaos and get students on side. In developing “The Games Box” my wife and I spent some time in working out what the categories for games should be. We felt they must be meaningful and practical; categories that teachers could use to structure a program that include games with a specific focus, a specific goal to be achieved within whatever unit of work they were attached to.
Let’s look at those categories and identify how they can be best used within the classroom context.
Classroom Games Categories
Action Games - are exactly that; games full of action; games that can be used to channel the boundless energy of students. One of the key aspects of this category in “The Games Box”, as opposed to other high energy games like tag games and some of the team games and elimination games is that they are non competitive. This is an essential distinction because if you have a class that is prone to negative interactions whenever there is any competition involved the last thing you want to do is introduce competitive games before dealing with those issues first.
Concentration Games- are absolutely marvelous. They have the potential to calm storms, cool down hyped up classrooms, develop excellent self-control and discipline among students. Some games like Truth and Lies teach students how to control body language, and vocal expression and tone to achieve a particular aim.
Blindfold Games – not only achieve the same results as concentration games, they introduce students to the power and potential of their other senses; once our most dominant sense of sight has been eliminated. Students learn to appreciate the value of sight and discover the use of hearing and touch as a means of navigation. They gain an understanding of what it means to be blind.
Elimination Games – challenge students to use all their powers to stay in the game; teaching students to focus and release energy swiftly and effectively in order to stay in the game. These games often allow those unfortunate students who are frequently the last or the low achievers in other activities to shine in an activity that suits their particular skills and abilities. A game like Wink Murder for example teaches students how to conceal their true motives by using vocal and facial expression as a strategy to disarm, re-direct attention or avoid detection and elimination from the game.
Icebreakers – are excellent tools to establish good communication between students and quickly get rid of the discomfort of a new and unknown situation by finding acceptance within a group. They help students to develop the confidence to initiate conversation. They can also provide students with strategies to initiate conversations with strangers.
Partner Games – can be used for a range of purposes. Primarily they are in a category of their own because it is important, in order to develop a cohesive interaction in the class, that students work more intensively with other students individually rather than always in small groups or the larger group. It is very important to give some thought as to who should be paired with whom and when and for what game. Simply identifying your aims in creating the right classroom environment and dynamic should give clues as to the right pairings for each task.
Interaction Games – mostly require students to respond verbally to a specific situation. These are particularly good games to use if you have a classroom of students who are ESL students or shy or who do not know each other very well. They are the next step along from Icebreakers. Students gain confidence in interacting verbally and in other ways with the rest of the group.
Tag Games – are of course the simplest of games. There are many variations to the basic game of tag but the value of tag games is that they do not require thought. They are a great way for the class to ‘cut loose’ after an activity that requires intense concentration and a lot of mental activity or at the conclusion of an activity that requires students to remain still for long periods.
Team Games – require students, in a variety of ways, to learn the art of cooperation. The importance of team building is already clearly understood in all aspects of life. Team games provide a range of different ways to complement whatever else is in place in your program to achieve this.
Word Games – are great tools to develop vocal interaction, explore new language, develop creative thinking and problem solving. They can be used as a precursor to creative writing to stimulate the imagination.
Trust Exercises – are activities designed to help groups bond more deeply with each other. They should never be used with a group whose members are new to each other. They should never be used if there are new students in the group. They should be used at a time when, after a prolonged period of exposure to Interaction Games, Team Games and Partner Games, the group has a pretty clear understanding of each other and it’s time to take them to a new level of trust. These games can be very challenging for some students but the value gained in doing them outweighs the problems of taking students out of their comfort zones. They are great tools for personal development.
How to Use Classroom Games
For example - you have a lethargic group of teenagers. You want to get them energised so that oxygen filled blood flows to the brain and you can get some quality work out of them. You know however, in their current state, they are never going to respond enthusiastically to an action game. You can however move towards the desired class dynamic by degrees. You could start with a concentration game, then a blindfold game, followed by a low energy team game, then finish with a high energy game. Of course you don’t want to exhaust them, just energise them.
Another example may be to use games to counteract the effects in the classroom of extreme weather conditions. High energy games at the start of a cold day; blindfold games to counteract the unsettling effect of really windy days. (As long as you have a space that seals out noise from the outside. If not, concentration games may achieve the same effect). Turn a rainy day, bright, through the use of word games that can be conducted in the classroom, in desks if necessary, when you are not able to access your large game space.
I’m sure I have stimulated some ideas of many ways classroom games could be used to create the working environment you desire in the classroom.
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