|Consider what makes your favorite games so fun.|
There are a few elements which I think can make student learning more "game-like" and thus more fun.
Here are some elements that I believe to be the most important when playing games in your classroom. I'll be doing a blog post about each of these:
- Friendly Competition
- Social gaming or collaboration
- Having choice
I am a competitive person which is probably one of the reasons I love to play games of all kinds. Competition can energize your classroom, and importantly, it can help keep things fresh for you, too. We know that competition can bring out the best in humans - that's why so many world records are broken in the Olympics, after all. But, as teachers we also know it can sometimes bring out the worst in our students, too. How do you avoid creating a toxic classroom environment where everyone is trying to one up their peers? Here are some ideas:
- Before you play anything, talk to your class about competition. I always begin the year by reminding my students that ultimately our goal when we play a game is to make our learning as fun as possible. If we take the competition too seriously, it stops being fun for everyone and if that happens we might as well just review in a more traditional way, like doing a worksheet. The students generally all agree that this is significantly less fun.
- Add an element of randomness or luck. Dice rolling, wheel spinning, shooting baskets all add an element of luck which can help avoid the same team or player always winning. For example, a spinning wheel or a dice roll might take a team back to zero points or conversely give a team a giant point boost.
Here is a magnetic spinner I use on my dry erase board for when I want to add some randomness to a game. In this case, the spinner was for "prizes" when a player answered correctly.
Click to see this spinner on Amazon
I also use magnetic darts in a similar game. Points are earned or lost by tosses of the dart.
Click image to see darts for sale on Amazon
Finally, I just ordered another cool mini game item that I'm excited to try called Crocodile Dentist. Students push down one tooth at a time. If the crocodile bites down, then they are out or lose a turn.
- Game time differentiation. Teachers do this naturally in the classroom while they are teaching all the time. For example, you ask questions at levels of difficulty that you know that students can be successful. Similarly, you design classroom activities for students to practice that are appropriately challenging for both your highest and lowest students. And as the "game master" you can do this, too. Just be careful that you don't give the impression that you are being unfair lest your uber-competitive students may rebel.
- Level the playing field. Do you have a team or player that is always dominating the dojo and causing the other teams to lose their motivation to play?
Kramer dominating the dojo
As an example of this technique, think of the "skip" and "draw 4's" in the game of Uno. They are designed to slow down the game and make it more difficult for a player who is about to win.
Another excellent example of a game that is designed for a level playing field is Mario Cart. It is designed so that players of all skill levels can play and have fun. When I would play this game with my preteen son, he was so much better at it than me that I would usually fall far behind - winning seemed impossible, and I probably wouldn't have played long before I became frustrated and lost interest. (Incidentally, the psychology works both ways, too. My son would have soon become bored from beating me badly over and over.) However, Mariocart is adaptive in that it is designed to give the players furthest behind the best "power-ups." In my case, it was usually the rocket, which boosts you quickly back up with the leaders.
Use your creativity to design your classroom game with its own built in power-ups so that even teams in last place can have an opportunity to compete.
- Variety is the Spice of Life. My students and I love Kahoot, but if I played it every day, the kids would get bored of it. Vary your games so kids stay energized and excited to play. Sometimes you can even take a great game like Kahoot and play it in a new way, and it adds a whole new flavor. For example, Kahoot can be played in teams, in ghost mode, or even head to head. (See p. 117 of Michael Matera's book Explore Like a Pirate for a clever way to do this.)
Quizizz, Quizalize, and Quizlet all have fun online games that can allow you to play with your class to provide some variation. Each has some pros and cons - read this blog for an excellent comparison. Some my other favorite online games/apps are Sumdog, Prodigy, and Math Champ.
- A game doesn't have to be "high tech." In fact, sometimes low tech games are the most exciting for students. Using game items like spinners, dice, cards, darts, bells, buzzers, basketball hoops, golf balls and putting cups and anything else you can dream up can be used to make your games more kinesthetic. It's the ultimate in 3D gaming!
For example, my students love to play a super simple review game called "eraser slide." All it needs is an eraser and a chalk tray. After questions are answered, students slide the eraser in the chalk tray for points written on the board. They love it!
What are your favorite ways to foster friendly competition in the classroom? Tell me in the comments.
For more on this topic, read Playful Learning - Part 3 Fostering Collaboration Through Social Gaming and Team Building