Who doesn’t like to play classroom games? Not only are games fun, interactive, and social, but they’re also great learning tools for kids.
With so many demands placed on educators to always be “standards-focused,” games can seem like more of a distraction than an instructional tool; but that’s not always the case. On the contrary, 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 nine student-favorite K-12 classroom games. All of these games can be played with varying degrees 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 well 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 can 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. You can create 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, and virtually any other subject or topic.
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 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 state capitals. There aren’t as many educational memory games out there as 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 quick game. Around the World works best with a set of flashcards – they can be math, vocabulary, 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 the teacher.
Hello spelling and vocabulary. I think that aside from flashcards Hangman might just be the easiest game to play. I love to use Hangman when introducing new topics that we are going to study in class or clues as to what an 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.
Get Out of Here
Get Out of Here is a fun game I like to play right before the end of the day, 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 by rote. For 100 problems for a third grader, give them five minutes; a fourth grader gets four minutes; a fifth grader gets three minutes; and a sixth grader gets two minutes.
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. Then I put the students into small groups, and they have to search textbooks, encyclopedias, online, and around the classroom for the clues. You can also get other classrooms involved and have students visit there for clues.
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. Literally every game listed here, though, could become a student-made game. If you are worried about time or having it not being educational enough, make the game count as a formal assessment.