By Teachers, For Teachers
Who doesn’t like to play classroom games? Not only are games fun, interactive, and social, but they're also great tools for learning.
With so many demands placed on educators to always be "Standards-focused," games can seem like more of a distraction than an instructional tool (especially to principals passing by). I know many teachers who shy away from games completely because they don’t want their principal to walk in and say, “Umm, Mrs. Pak, why are your students playing around instead of learning?”
On the other hand, classroom games add flair and student engagement to more tedious, yet necessary tasks like teaching math facts, grammar rules and vocabulary, reviewing for tests or even completing lab experiments. Adding an element of competition motivates and energizes students.
Here are my nine student-favorite K-12 classroom games.
All of these games can be played, with varying degree of difficulty, with younger kindergarten-aged kids to older high school students. It’s the subject matter and the materials that are used that make the difference to the students who are playing the games.
This is such a fun game. There are already lots of middle and high school teachers who utilize Jeopardy!-type games. And why not? It’s great to use as a studying tool before a big test. It also works so well for when preparing for the end of a unit, midterms, or finals.
There are plenty of free Jeopardy! templates for teachers available online. This helps make prep time for this game more manageable.
If you play Jeopardy! enough times, you could actually make it a project for small groups of students to create their own component of Jeopardy!, under a certain heading, and have the whole class play together. This game is perfect for studying social studies, the arts, science, history, novels … the list goes on and on.
There are literally countless ways to use bingo. I created an award-winning bingo game based upon the people of American History. The boards have people’s faces on them and the clues are all standards-based facts.
What about math bingo– the boards have numbers and the clues are problems that the students have to do mentally (or with scratch paper)? Bingo can be used for phonics, vocabulary, spelling, even sounds of letters.
The other great part about bingo is that you can make a game specifically designed for what your students are learning. Go to any store and buy a bingo game, or make it an end of unit activity to create a bingo game in small groups – and then play that game in class. To make it free and easy, print out blank bingo cards and have students randomly fill in answers from the word/number bank before you start.
Memory can really be looked at as a simplified version of bingo. This works great with phonics, simple math expressions, for ESL students (think images and words), spelling, and states with capitals.
I don’t think there are as many educational memory games out there as are bingo games, so it might take some time on your part to do the construction. But once you make it and laminate – BAM, you have it forever.
Around the World
This might be my favorite time-filler, quick game. Around the World works best with a set of flashcards – they can be math, vocab, sight words, or spelling.
You have all your students stand up, the first student stands next to the student behind them. You show a flashcard, and whoever is the fastest to say the correct answer moves on. The idea is to be the best in the whole class.
For a bonus, if a student makes it all the way around the room, then they get to go against me. They LOVE this. “What, beat Mrs. Pak?!!?” Since I’m the teacher and I know the answers faster, I give them three tries to beat me. If they beat me, then the next time we play around the world they get to be the “Teacher.”
Hello spelling and vocabulary. I think that aside from flashcards, Hangman might just be the easiest game to play. And it’s a fantastic time filler.
I love to use Hangman when introducing new topics that we are going to study in class, or clues as to what the assembly is going to be about. I also like Hangman as a way to get to know students, or to tell everyone book titles of upcoming stories. So easy and so fast.
Plus, you can just as easily have your students come up to the board and have them pick the word. I haven’t met a student yet who didn’t want to do that.
Get Out of Here
Get Out of Here is a fun game I like to play right before the end of the day, right before recess, or lunch. I stand in the doorway with either a set of Trivial Pursuit questions or flashcards.
In order to get out of my classroom, you need to answer three questions correctly. If not, you head to the back of the line and start over.
For students who answer those questions correctly, they can get out of my room earlier than others. And who doesn’t love that?
This game consists primarily of giving students 100 simple math problems and a limited amount of time to use them. I use this daily with my elementary students and tutoring students.
The whole idea is to get your students to understand these math problems so well that it becomes rote. For 100 problems for a 3rd grader, give them five minutes; a 4th grader gets four minutes; a 5th grader gets three minutes; and a 6th grader gets one minute.
This same idea can be applied to pronunciation of words. With two students, give one a timer and the other has 100 words that they have to say correctly. The same time structure applies too. It’s quick, it’s easy, and it’s a great way to work on a skill.
Scavenger hunts are a lot of fun, but they definitely take some planning to get set up. The great thing is, they can be used for nearly every subject.
I like to set up a scavenger hunt for when starting new social studies, science, or reading units. I go through the material beforehand and I create questions, fill-in-the-blank, pictures, dates, people – anything that I want my students to really know before we get into the unit. And then I put them into small groups and they have to search the textbooks, encyclopedias, online, and around the classroom for the clues.
If I’m really on my game (meaning I’ve had enough coffee), I try to get other classrooms involved and have students go to visit there for clues. It’s so much fun. I’ve tried doing scavenger hunts when doing nature units – but that does present the logistics on keeping an eye on all students, so plan accordingly if you decide to go that route.
Who doesn’t like to showcase their skills, knowledge, or talents? Everyone does. Which is why it is so much fun to see your students get to shine when they create the games that are used in class.
This is something I normally don’t start to do until after the winter break; mainly because I want the chance to utilize a variety of games in my class long enough that my students really understand how to implement their own versions.
But, literally every game listed here could become a student made game. And, if you are worried about time or having it not being educational enough – make having your students make the game count as a formal assessment.
Oct. 8, 2019
This article was written by Rosshalde Pak. She is an Education Entrepreneur based in Portland, Oregon. You can find more of her writings and projects at her blog, Education Shortlist.