Ted Martin explains why we need games in the classroom and offers some suggestions
Once upon a time, the traditional way of thinking was that students went to school, sat at their desks, paid attention, and took part in the “sit and get” way of learning — all day long. Those days are changing. As we acquire knowledge about how our students learn, it makes sense that we adjust our teaching methods. One of the different methods that teachers are finding very helpful for aiding students in learning and retaining information is the use of games. Interactive computer games, board games, get-up-out-of-your-seat games, and teacher-led games with or without a computer are but a few examples.
There are four main reasons why we as educators, if we are not already doing so, may want to consider adding games into our repertoire. First, it is essential that we pay attention to our students, who operate in the digital world. This is the generation of immediate feedback. Now that students use the internet, text messages, Skype, and video games on a daily basis, our children are accustomed to getting instant answers. Games provide a source of the instant feedback that is so much a part of our children’s digital world. Second, games can be fun. When we are enjoying ourselves, we are engaged in the activity. People can play games they enjoy for ages without getting bored. Third, as we learn more about the brain and how it works, we are finding that games can be a conduit for supplying exposure to new information in an interesting way. Some classroom games provide social interaction with peers and friendly competition. Some computer games provide much-needed practice through repetition and instant results on tests and quizzes. Students can play computer games whenever they have time, many even on a phone. This gives them the constant access and feedback that they crave. Finally, as teachers, we are always looking for more methods to enhance our skills so that we can reach our students. Games can be an integral part of our curriculum and can add a level of interest that will appeal to our students.
Here are a few examples of games that may work for you in your classroom. They are useful in most grade levels and they are not subject specific. These activities can be adopted by teachers regardless of subject, including ESL or world languages.
This is not just a game, but rather a website. Its appeal is in its instant feedback, wide variety of activities, and its range of uses. Teachers can employ it as a whole-class activity or students can use it independently whenever and wherever they have a device with internet access. A high school student named Andrew Sutherland created Quizlet in 2005 to help himself study French. He shared it with his class and they loved it so much that it grew in popularity. The site claims that over 100 million people have used it and that one million people use it daily. It’s free for teachers and students, but for a $25 annual fee, teachers receive additional features. Users can make their creations public or private. If entries are public, anyone can see and use the work. Content spans many subject areas and all levels of education. There is a mobile app, so users can access it on a computer, smartphone, or tablet.
After enrollment, Quizlet.com allows users, teachers or students alike, to input a list of words and their meanings, which they call a “set.” Once complete, the software creates a variety of online activities for the set. In order for students to access a teacher’s specific set, they need the specific web address. An easy, free, and confidential way to get such information to students is to ask them to enroll in a service called Remind.com at the beginning of the year. With Remind.com, students enroll in a class by calling or texting a specific phone number that the site provides, or they enroll by email to a web address that the site also provides. Once they enroll, they can receive one-way messages advising them of important announcements from their teacher, including a link to the Quizlet entry for their unit. This is confidential, so the teacher does not have access to individual student phone numbers and students do not have the teacher’s personal phone number.
Once inside the Quizlet set, students don’t need a password or login, and the page is divided into “study” and “play.” Under the “study” portion, there is a list of words and their definitions that a student can print. There is also a list of virtual flashcards that flip over when the user clicks on them, which also include audio. When clicking on the “learn” icon, each word appears and the user must type the definition. In another activity, “speller” students listen to words and then try to spell them using a keyboard. The program corrects answers and there’s a test with multiple choice, true and false, matching, and definitions of words. Once students complete the test, they receive their grades instantly and also find out which ones they responded to incorrectly, along with the correct answers. On the “play” side, there are two games, Scatter and Space Race. With Scatter, words and definitions appear haphazardly on the screen. Using a cursor, the student drags the word to its correct definition and the two items disappear. If the two items are not a match, they bounce off of one another and scatter. The goal is to match all words with their definitions in the shortest period of time. The computer has a timer that counts to tenths of a second how long it takes to match all of the words correctly. As students learn, their times decrease. With Space Race, a term moves across the screen from left to right. The student needs to type the definition before the term reaches the right-hand side of the screen. If the definition is incorrect, the program shows the correct answer above the term. The computer calculates a score based on how quickly and correctly the student answers.
Kahoot! is a free online site based in Norway which offers nearly a million different quizzes.
The appeal of it is in the instant results and the excitement that music and different sound effects create. The games and other activities at this site require the use of an overhead projector with a computer connection. These are whole-class games and activities where teachers create or use already existing multiple-choice or true and false quizzes for their content. There are also discussions and surveys available. According to the site, the quizzes are the most popular offerings.
The way the site works is that the teacher logs in and then can either select an existing quiz or create a new one. If she creates a new quiz, she decides the topic and creates the questions and the answers. If she chooses an existing assessment, she can just play it. There can be up to four possible answers and as few as two. The option exists for the teacher to insert video links into the presentation by dragging and dropping links or copying and pasting links. Once the quiz is complete and the teacher saves it, the quiz is ready to play. The screen that the teacher shows to everyone will have the game pin number. Using a smartphone, tablet, or computer, a student then enters that number and creates a name. Names will begin to appear on the main screen in the front of the classroom as students enroll. There will be a counter as well to keep track of how many players complete the enrollment. Once everyone enrolls, the game can start. The teacher has the option of timing the answers or waiting until everyone enters an answer. As the students answer the questions, students can hear and see the seconds tick away. The process then repeats until students answer all of the questions. The most common number of questions is ten, but there is no minimum or maximum.
This is a whole-class game. Its appeal for students is in the excitement of instant results, point value, and visual appeal. Most students have seen the television version and are familiar with the game. The appeal for educators is in its flexibility.
There are many versions available for free download, and the options for the games vary widely. Some have sound effects and music. Versions exist that include directions on how to customize the game and maneuver around within the different slides. The premise is the same for all versions. The teacher creates the categories, the answers, and the questions. There are five categories and five questions per category. The questions have an ascending point or hypothetical dollar values. Let us use points for the purpose of this explanation. The difficulty of the questions increases as the point value increases. If students answer correctly, they receive points in their total score. If they answer incorrectly, they lose points from their total score. There can be a daily double, where the student can bet any point value up to the highest point-value question. After the class exhausts all of the questions or time is running short in the period, there is a “Final Jeopardy” question. All students with a positive point value can bet up to their total scores. Students with a negative balance may not participate.
Ideally, access to a projector, whiteboard, or large television will enable the whole class to see the game board, including the categories and the point values. While creating the game ahead of time, the teacher can make questions or answers for each of the items in the categories. In regular Jeopardy! the answer appears first, but as this is the teachers’ game, they can do whatever they want. After creating the question or answer for the item, the student responds either orally or in writing, and the teacher then shows the correct answer for all to see. The scorekeeper adjusts point totals and the class moves on to the next question. The last part leads to another area of flexibility. The teacher may allow every student to participate in every question by passing out mini whiteboards and whiteboard markers or scrap paper. Students then hold up the boards with their answers. Teachers can also divide classes into groups of two, three, four and so on, with one whiteboard or paper for each group. They can have one group at a time answer each question or allow all groups to answer all questions. They can allow one group to answer at a time and then allow another group a chance to steal if the first group gets it wrong. When the teacher allows more than one group to answer, responses in writing work best. The limit of options is the imagination of the teacher and students.
The Ladder Game
This is a whole-class game that I learned from a colleague who took grad classes at Wilkes University in Scranton, PA. It is a review game that teachers can use before a test, a quiz, and to reinforce material at any time. Materials required are chalkboard and chalk or whiteboard and markers. Also, five to six pieces of poster board and ten to twelve large magnets are props that encourage originality.
In this game, students divide into teams that the teacher or students create. The size of the group depends on the amount of students in the class. Each team draws a ladder on the board with eight steps or rungs. Students go to the board and write their answers on the lowest available rung of the ladder. If the answer is correct, it stays, and the next student in the group records the next answer on the next rung. If it is incorrect, the student has to erase it. Once the group has a correct answer on the rung of the ladder, it remains there until the end of the game. The first team to answer eight questions correctly on the highest rung of their ladder wins. To deter students from looking at each other’s answers, fold a large poster board in half and then again about an inch on the bottom of each side to make feet. Hold the poster board in place by its feet with one large magnet on each foot of the poster board.
Variation opportunities abound, and preparation time may vary depending on the teacher. The teacher decides what to ask. In order to be prepared, teachers need a list ahead of time of at least 25 items from which to select. This will ensure that there will be enough material for the game. Teachers can use this game to assess almost anything, including spelling, facts, translations, answering questions, etc. If there is a person in the class who cannot walk, the teacher can give each group a mini whiteboard or scrap paper and the groups can record their answers there and hold up the answers. In that case, the teacher keeps a count on the board to record the score. It can be a game where one individual can answer without help from their group or a group of students can put their heads together and give a consensus answer for their group. The teacher can also make it into a race. Students stand in their groups in the back of the classroom. The teacher reads the question, and the next student in the group runs to the board without discussing the answer with the group. The first student who answers the question correctly gets to keep their answer on the board for the group. Again, the variations are endless. The teacher decides all of these things before the game begins and explains the rules to the class.
There is no one best way to teach or perfect way to reach every student. Rather, as educators, we need to use a variety of activities. We need to get the attention of our students in order to teach them anything. By providing explanations of several games and activities in great detail, I hope to encourage other educators to try them. If we add these and others to our repertoire of things that we do, we will watch the enthusiasm for our classes grow. I did not mention it in the earlier game descriptions, but nominal rewards for game participants, such as stickers, mechanical pencils, or fruit snacks can spice things up a bit, too. Games are a way to encourage learning, kindness, and good sportsmanship. We can remind our students about our subjects by repeating correct answers in a variety of ways. Games are one of them. In this age of instant feedback, games fit right in, because students receive results in ways that make sense to them. They get them on the computer, on the telephone, from their peers, all right now. As we saw from the explanations, preparation times may vary. On the websites Kahoot! and Quizlet, there are thousands of topics already divided into groupings that may make sense for our classes. Jeopardy has a multitude of options available to download. The Ladder Game requires no technology and is also easy to set up and use. The old days of “sit and get” teaching are changing. Games and technology help our students learn, so let us use them to our advantage. We do not have to add all of the games at once. Add one this month or the next. There is no time limit when it comes to making our classes more lively and interesting. It is when we step outside of our comfort zones that we have the best chance to grow.
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Ted Martin is a Spanish Teacher at Northampton High in Northampton, PA, a town about 65 miles northwest of his native Philadelphia. Martin graduated from Penn State and has a MEd from Wilkes University. He studied in Salamanca, Spain and has been teaching Spanish for 15 years.