Anything Can Be a Game
I am a huge fan of academic games! My students engage in playing academic games almost every day. Games are fun, captivating, and educational—exactly how school should always be for students. When I sit down to plan daily lessons and think about the activities in which students participate, I frequently ask myself, “How can these be games?”
Below I'll explain why academic games are beneficial and how I incorporate them into my daily instruction.
Games are fun
First and foremost—academic games are fun! What child doesn’t love to play games? When students are amused and fascinated, they are more open to learning. They are also more likely to stay focused for longer periods of time. It is extremely important to me that my students leave school happy at the end of each day. I want them to love school and learning. Providing them with engaging learning experiences, such as academic game playing, helps me to achieve this important goal.
Games can be used to practice old skills or learn new ones
Most importantly, games help us learn. You may use a game to introduce new content or to let students practice what they've already learned.
I love to use Bing-O to present word families, sight words, or vowel patterns during word study time. I’ll continue to use these games throughout the school year to reinforce these skills.
An academic game can also be used as an “early finishers” activity. If students finish their reading work, they may have the opportunity to play sight word Bing-O with a friend. If they finish their math work, they have the option to play a math game that corresponds with the math concepts we are currently learning. This can be as simple as rolling two dice and solving the addition problem on a whiteboard.
Games support differentiated instruction
Academic games are naturally differentiated. First, students need to be placed in partnerships or in groups. You may decide to create homogeneous groups so that all students are on the same level. Or you may decide to spread out your more vulnerable learners among higher-level learners, and create heterogeneous groups so that students can benefit from their peers. This approach also benefits our stronger learners in that it gives them an opportunity to teach and explain concepts to others. Either way, your groups should be chosen thoughtfully, not arbitrarily.
After you create your groups, you can invent different games for each group. For example, if you are creating a math game to practice addition facts, you may decide to use larger numbers to enrich your more advanced students and smaller numbers for those students who need more practice. You may additionally choose to use dice with dots on each side for students who need the counting support, and dice with numbers on each side for those who don’t need counting support. Another option is that if you are creating a sight word game or phonics game, you can change the word difficulty in that game based on what the group needs.
Games consequently access multiple learning styles and needs. They especially provide a hands-on learning experience for our kinesthetic learners! Throughout my teaching career, I have found that a hands-on learning experience is remarkably beneficial for my more vulnerable learners. Not only does it create a high level of interest, but it also helps them to learn new concepts.
When your students are focused on a meaningful task, you can easily circulate around the classroom and monitor student learning. You may decide to spend a few minutes with each group to listen in on conversations and track their learning.
This is also an excellent opportunity to meet with small groups for remediation or enrichment. After circulating, you may resolve to pull a small group to reteach the concept. Or you may plan a group ahead of time based on data and observations from previous lessons. Either way—we teachers must actively monitor and make in-the-moment decisions that benefit our students’ learning.
Games promote cooperative learning
Not only does game playing help our students academically, but it also teaches them important social skills. In order to successfully play a game together, students need to know how to collaborate and work with others. They must understand how to problem-solve and to agree and disagree respectfully. At the beginning of each school year, my students and I discuss and practice what it means to work together. As a class, we decide what it looks like and sounds like, and then we make a corresponding anchor chart.
We live in a world where teamwork, collaboration, and communication are at the forefront of college, careers, and success. Although my students are only first graders, I firmly believe that it is our job as teachers to teach, support, and pave the way for cooperative learning skills for the classroom and in life. We need to start now!
Academic game essentials
The following items go a long way in an elementary school classroom!
Dry erase sleeves: With this amazing tool, you can make anything into a dry erase board without having to laminate it. You simply slip a piece of paper inside. I use these every day and they are by far one of my favorites! It is a step above from the next item on the list.
Clear plastic sleeves
Dry erase markers
Dice (with numbers, letters, word families, etc.)
Counters (virtually anything that can be used to mark a space)
Magnet letters or letter cards
Examples of games
The possibilities are endless when it comes to creating academic games! Here are some examples of game templates that I either slip into dry erase sleeves or clear plastic sleeves. Gather any necessary materials from the list above and your students are ready to play!
Create your own game
You can take your academic game playing to the next level with this exciting class project: create your own academic game! Your students can create their own game and then teach it to other students. This is also an excellent opportunity to engage in how-to writing and presentation skills.
Please see below for a sample game- planning template.
When people (not just children!) have higher interest and are more engaged, they are more likely to learn. If you tell a student, “Today we are going to practice writing word families” or “Today we are going to play a word family game,” which is more appealing? The game!
Images via Allison Tallman