In my years of teaching, I have learned two things:
- Learning must be meaningful and
- Learning must be fun.
Put both together? Even better. If students don’t feel connected to their learning and aren’t enjoying what they’re doing, they aren’t going to “buy into” the learning process. As teachers we’re always striving to make learning both meaningful and engaging, but in an era of higher standards and greater demands on students (and teachers), sometimes the fun part of student learning goes right out the window.
But there’s good news! It doesn’t have to be that way. Yes, maybe the standards are changing. Yes, maybe the pressure is on. And, yes, maybe we have to rethink our teaching, but we shouldn’t let our students suffer. Learning CAN be meaningful and fun again. And it’s simple… play learning games in your classroom!
I started my blog The Classroom Game Nook because I wanted to provide ideas, tips, and inspiration on how teachers can use games to create and maintain a classroom where learning could be just that — meaningful and fun. So, today, I’m bringing you four games that every elementary classroom should be playing. Each game can be adapted to meet the needs of your learners.
One game designed to allow kids to learn on the move is a game inspired by the classic school carnival game: Cake Walk. The game is easily and quickly adapted to a variety of skills and age levels. I created a fun version for practicing rounding to the nearest tens where you simply create several cards with numbers (10, 20, 30, 40… 100) on them. Tape these cards to the floor in a large circle. You’ll need at least one card in the circle per student. (Repeat cards are OK).
Next, put on your favorite classroom musical jams and have your students walk around the circle, stepping on each card as they pass it. When the music stops, the students stop on a number. The teacher calls out a number 1-100 (ex. 93). Any student standing on the number 90 gets one point since 93 rounds to 90. Of course, you’ll want to allow the students to determine if they are on the winning number before awarding any points.
The game can continue for as long time allows. The player(s) with the highest number of points wins. As another alternative, download these freebie “Piece of Cake” coupons. Award students with a coupon each time they land on the winning number. Kids can use their “Piece of Cake” coupons for a free answer on a math test or skip two problems on a homework assignment… etc. Just click the picture below to download now!
Not teaching rounding right now? No problem. Adapt the game to practicing vocabulary words, any math operation or skill, literary terms, and more. You can play the game all year by just changing up the skill! Be prepared to hear squeals of delight when you announce you’re playing “Cake Walk.”
I love this next game from Mary Beth at Brain Waves Instruction. Her FREE Back Up Plans resource encompasses all things fun and meaningful! In the download, she’s included a fun game called “Stump the Student.”
Students have to come up with their own question that comes from their learning (Meaningful? Check!) and then exchange their card with another student to try to “stump” them with their question (Fun? Check!). You can use this activity anytime, anywhere! Oh, and you can even extend the Stump the Student game into a full-on classroom quiz show!
Let’s talk bulletin boards, shall we? If there’s one thing a teacher loves, it’s a pretty bulletin board. Am I right? But, let’s be honest for a moment. WHO are we really doing the bulletin boards for? Ourselves, because they make our classrooms look pretty? Or for our students, because the bulletin boards actually serve a functional purpose? Unless we teach our students to use bulletin boards to support their learning, it’s likely the bulletin boards go unnoticed a lot of the time. Why not turn bulletin board displays into games? Problem solved.
The concept is pretty simple, and the preparation is quick!
- First, you’ll want to come up with a secret word (for younger students) or phrase (for older students) that students are trying to decode.
- Create an activity sheet that includes several questions where the answers can be found using the bulletin board. You’ll need one question per letter from your secret code. In the example, students are trying to find the letters to the word voyage so you would need six questions total. You’ll also want to include letters on the board that are NOT included in your secret code, just to be tricky!
- Write the letters on sticky notes and place the correct letter next to the answer on the board. When students read the question, they’ll look for the answer on the bulletin board and write down the letter that corresponds with the answer.
- If students answer each question correctly, they’ll “crack the code” by placing all their letters together in the order of the questions. (Option: To make it even more challenging, place the letters out of order on their activity sheet and have students unscramble them to identify the secret code.)
Students love the excitement of trying to be the first person to “crack to the code!” You can find even more ideas about how to turn your bulletin boards into games by checking out this blog post I wrote for Minds in Bloom.
If you’ve got construction paper, markers, and some tape, then you’ll be all set to create this next game at a moment’s notice! Want your students to review important historical figures? Characters in a recently read novel? Literary terms? Vocabulary words? Pretty much ANYTHING can be reviewed by playing a game of “Headbands.”
Prepare a class set of headbands with the names of characters, vocabulary words, or historical figures… basically anything you are studying. Then, fasten a headband around each students’ forehead. Make sure he or she doesn’t know what’s written on the headband. Then, have students take a walk around the room asking their classmates yes or no questions about what person/word/term etc… might be on their band: Questions might include: “Am I a boy/girl?” “Am I a noun?” “Was I a Patriot?” (a question that could be asked for the picture example above) and so on.
There are so many ways that games help to cultivate a meaningful and fun learning environment; the cornerstone for student success. Games don’t have to be time-consuming or even expensive to make. When students are engaged in their learning and with each other, real connections can be made and students take ownership of their learning.
Rachael Parlett is the Teacher-Author behind the The Classroom Game Nook Blog. She is blessed to be a stay-at-home-mom to her 1-year old daughter while still maintaining her Teachers Pay Teachers store and collaborating with other teachers. You can stay in touch with Rachael on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, or Instagram!