Candy Land, Solitaire, Fortnite.
What do these three things have in common?
They’re all games, they’re all fun, and they can all help your students learn.
Does that last one seem like a stretch? Actually, it isn’t. We have always known that games are a fun and fantastic motivator in the classroom. Students of any age live for those magic words: “Let’s play a game.”
And we also know that games engage students and make them feel smart, and they’re an excellent way to keep the class’s attention if you have a few minutes to kill. After all, the classic “review game” when prepping for a test or quiz has always been a staple of our teaching repertoire.
But did you know that games are a legitimate learning activity all on their own?
Here are all the surprising benefits of incorporating games in your classroom, along with some practical suggestions to make it happen.
Why Every Educator Needs Teacher Games
Games are more than just a fun pastime. They have real educational value for your students. Here’s why.
They Maximize Student Engagement
Most of us already know that games are engaging. But especially in today’s culture, the value of engagement in learning should never be underestimated.
As a culture, we have become accustomed to instant gratification and constant entertainment.
So, if a lesson gets boring, even for a minute, you risk burning out your students’ limited attention span.
Games are hands-on, competitive, interactive and just plain fun. That means your students will find it easier to pay attention and they will learn better, too.
Games Teach Strategy and Problem-solving
If you’ve ever plotted to sink someone’s Battleship or to score exactly the right number in cribbage, then you know that games are more than simple entertainment. You have to anticipate your opponent’s next move, weigh the potential risks and benefits of your decisions and come up with a winning strategy.
And guess what? These are all skills that your students need in order to master your subject area, and actually, to master life itself.
So, the more they get to practice these skills, the better.
They Encourage Teamwork
Problem-solving with a partner or in a group is excellent practice for any real-life situation. Your students will have to learn to recognize the strengths and weaknesses in their group and to honor what each individual brings to the table. A winning strategy means that all voices are heard, but without getting bogged down in too many details. Teamwork is a life skill that will serve your students well no matter what they do in the future.
Games Create Positive Memories
Your students may easily forget long lists of facts and figures…but they will never forget how much they laughed when a classmate got frozen in a weird position during a game of Freeze Dance, or how good it felt when their team came in first in a Jeopardy competition.
Reflecting on such enjoyable moments will help solidify the content in your students’ memories.
If you’re a foreign language teacher, you can build upon these positive memories and engagement opportunities by adding FluentU to the classroom.
Unlike other programs for teaching and learning languages, FluentU draws upon real-world material of your target language. This doesn’t only create an authentic language-learning environment, it gives your students a glimpse into the interests, culture and everyday life of people speaking the target language. Instead of spending hours memorizing unnatural dialogues and completing grammar drills, your learners can improve their language proficiency by watching clips from popular movies and TV shows, listening to pop songs, exploring interesting documentaries, reading news articles and more.
The possibilities are endless! Sign up for FluentU today and enjoy a free trial. You’ll be surprised just how effective it is at teaching languages, especially when combined with the strategies below.
So, now you’re convinced that games are not only fun, but valuable. Now how do you use them successfully in your classroom?
Strategies for Successfully Using Games in Your Classroom
There’s just something about video games. Almost everyone loves them…especially your students.
While they may think they’ve hit the jackpot if you introduce video games as a classroom activity, in fact, it’s helping them learn.
Many popular video games like Minecraft can be easily adapted to the classroom. For example, kids can import 3D digital models of famous monuments like the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris or the Chrysler Building in New York into the game, allowing the opportunity to explore and learn about them. In addition, students can be put into teams, which teaches them to collaborate respectfully and effectively.
Unlike other war games (such as “Call of Duty” and “Battlefield”), Valiant Hearts focuses on the stories of the characters. Students have the opportunity to learn about WWI from the point-of-view of various protagonists who are affected in different ways. It also teaches them about the culture of this time period. After they’ve played the game, try having each student write a narrative or even a dialogue from the point-of-view of one or two of the characters.
If your students are novices at 3D modeling, Blox 3D is a great place to start them on their journey. Students can unleash the full power of their imaginations in building objects or even entire cities. With the help of a 3D printer, they can bring their creations to life and present them to their classmates, reflecting on their creative processes.
Another fun building game is Bridge Constructor. It’s an ideal game for students that are well-versed in the laws of physics to put their skills to work in a hands-on way. Students build bridges through a process of trial and error. Afterwards, you can have them come together in groups to discuss what methods worked and what didn’t.
As more and more classrooms now have 1:1 access to devices, video games have never been easier to implement.
Adapt Familiar Games
It simply requires a little creativity to take a beloved board game and adapt it to your content area.
Familiar games like Tic-Tac-Toe or Connect Four can be re-created with questions about the content area included within them.
And card games like Go Fish or Snap can be used to practice anything from grammar to math skills.
Encourage Student Choice
Games are most effective as a learning tool when there is an array of them from which students can choose. This gives them a sense of ownership in the learning process.
Consider equipping several different “stations” in your classroom with a variety of games available for students to choose from.
To take it one step further, ask students to design some games of their own and present them to the class. This will get them thinking deeply about the qualities of a good game and how it helps them learn.
Are some of your students a bit melodramatic at times? Channel that drama with role playing games, improv activities and pantomimes. They can act out a scene as a specific historical figure and ask their classmates to guess who it is.
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Are you stumped for ideas about specific games to play? Here are a few of our favorites.
The principles are simple. Divide the class into two teams, give one player from each team a word or a phrase, and have them pantomime that word or phrase until their team can guess what it is.
It’s a great way to practice new vocabulary words in any subject.
It also gets students out of their seats and physically involved with their own learning by getting them physically involved in building a deep understanding of vocabulary words.
Another winning choice for vocabulary practice, this one is similar to charades, but instead of pantomiming the phrase, players must draw it—no words allowed! This is a great choice for those students that you always find doodling on scrap paper when they’re supposed to be paying attention.
If your students need help spelling unfamiliar words, a classic game of Hangman is the way to go. Place a blank space for every letter of the word and ask students to guess letters. Each correct letter is written on the appropriate blank until students spell the entire phrase or are able to guess what it is.
Traditionally, a different part of a stick figure body is drawn to represent the “Hangman.” When all parts of the body are drawn, the guessers have lost.
You might consider using an alternative (and less graphic) image, such as building a snowman or creating a “spaceman.”
Learning is always better if you don’t have to sit around all day!
This app offers up a selection of interactive whiteboard games involving music and dance.
It allows you to incorporate movement into any lesson at all, whether it’s math, languages or science.
This game couldn’t be simpler, and yet it’s distinctly compelling.
All you have to do is draw a bull’s eye on the whiteboard, with point values assigned to the circular rings surrounding the target.
Then ask your students questions from a prepared list. If they get the question right, they can try to hit the target with a Hacky Sack or a softball.
So, go ahead and ditch that old-fashioned mindset that games are just a waste of time. By choosing the right games and employing some creativity and planning, you can make games the heart and soul of your students’ educational experience.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to teach languages with real-world videos.