Games. Only useful for indoor recess and those endless days before a school vacation, right?
Games are perfect for learning every day. They cover everything from math to reading, from solo strategy to group work.
There are some games that every teacher, from grade 3 up, needs to have in their classrooms. I’ll break it down by category, but first let’s look at why games are good for learning.
Games are fun. Board games, card games, video games, role playing games, choose your own adventure books (games). These are fun! And kids like them!
Kids get to use their imaginations during game play in a different way than during regular classroom time. They experiment with different ideas, work cooperatively, and practice academic skills on the sly.
Let’s start easy: Monopoly. The classic game revolves around money: counting, adding, subtracting, collecting, paying. Students need to use all of their basic math and accounting skills just to stay afloat. In addition to just the math part, players also need to think strategically. Which property to purchase? When to buy it? Should you go ahead and buy the whole set? This is a thinking person’s game!
Connect Four: seems easy, right? But it’s math and strategy. To win at this game you have to anticipate your opponent’s next move, then determine where to put your pieces, and keep track of the patterns.
Whether you play the classic game, or invent your own, Dominoes is an awesome math game. With little kids, you could simply match up like numbers. Older kids could add or multiply the two ends that touch.
Simple is the best, and Scrabble is one of the best word games around. The game is as easy or hard as the players want to make it, and can be ultra competitive or super relaxed. To customize it, you could challenge students to only use their word study list or vocabulary from the current units.
It can be tough to understand similes and metaphors, or even just comparing two things. Apples to Apples (Junior for those in grades 2-7) is perfect. One set of cards contains nouns (people, places, things, events, etc.) and the other contains adjectives. Players are presented with an adjective, and must choose a noun in their hand that best fits. You could expand this by using just the adjective cards and having students come up with nouns that fit. Or you could dump all of the cards and have students work on sorting them into adjective categories.
Another great way to practice grammar is MadLibs. These wacky fill-in-the-blank stories are sure to elicit peals of laughter from your students as they wrack their brains to remember what an article is or to create the plural form of octopus. You can use these for a whole lesson, as a review, as a literacy center, or just as a fun end of the day activity.
All Around Learning
Most games use more than one skill set, and Settlers of Catan is no different. As players conquer more land, they must make careful calculations about who to create alliances with, how much they want to extend their empire, and when to make the final push for domination. Since there is a whole new board set-up each time, there are endless possibilities for play.
Risk is another game on the same lines at Settlers of Catan. In this game, you must move your armies to completely control the entire world. This game can stretch for hours on end, but there are quick play rules to help keep this within your time constraints.
When we think of Clue, a lot of times it is brushed off as a kids’ game. And it is, but it is also a really complex game. Players need to use multiple problem solving strategies to be successful at this game. They also need to know how to interact with and gauge the emotions of other people.
More Than Boards
Beyond these classic board games (perfect for substitute days, read-ins, or rainy afternoons), there are thousands upon thousands of computer games and teacher-created games available online for free or at a low cost. One awesome place to find cool board games is Teachers Pay Teachers.
For online literacy games, I really like PBS Kids Island: an interactive phonics based FREE web-based game. Using popular PBS characters, kids work through phonics and early reading skills. The program tracks their progress and parents/teachers can view their progress.
Online math is Khan Academy all the way. No, it’s not your typical “game” mode but the points and avatar make it feel fun to the kids, which keeps them interested. And that keeps them learning!
How do you use games or play to teach and learn?