Playing Games in the Elementary Classroom

AlsoAll teachers want their classrooms to be a place of inquiry, excitement, learning, and fun!  There are loads of ways to engage students in order to practice and review learning concepts and playing games is definitely at the top of that list.  But if not done carefully, playing games to learn can turn into utter chaos!  So how do we ensure playing games in our classrooms will be a fun learning experience for all?  Check out these tips for implementing game-playing in your classroom!

playing games

Use Clear Expectations

I always tell teachers to pretend that they are explaining the game and expectations to someone who is from another planet.  Every detail needs to be discussed and the expectations need to be explicitly clear.  This goes from everything from the directions of the game to the teacher’s expectations of voice level, problem-solving, early finishers, and more!

Knowing that playing games is going to be a big part of our classroom culture, I always implement game playing into the first few weeks of school.  We use this opportunity to model and practice game-playing expectations together, what to do and what NOT to do, create expectation anchor charts to display in our classroom and work on problem and solution experiences that may arise.  By doing this together and towards the beginning of the year, we are embedding these expectations into our classroom culture and environment.

My ultimate advice is to think through every possible scenario that could go wrong and ensure that you have a solution in place and have done all you can to prevent the said problem.  This will set you up for the utmost success.

Always Pre-teach the Game

Unfortunately, it’s sometimes an assumption that students know how to play common games OR that they can pick up on how to play a game with simple and quick directions from the teacher.  If you want your game-playing experiences to be positive, don’t assume this!   You want to make sure that there is no possible confusion on how to play on the students’ end.

So yes, this takes time, but it’s very important for the teacher to pre-teach or model how to play the game before allowing the students to play independently.  What I like to do is embed the game into one of my upcoming lessons as a whole group activity.  This allows us to practice the objective of the lesson in a fun way but also allows the students plenty of time to understand and experience how to play the game.  This doesn’t take up extra time as the game is a part of my actual lesson for that day.  Then not long after that lesson, that game becomes a part of their reading stations or rotations.

Again, you always want to set your students up for success, especially when working collaboratively.  This means leaving no question unturned and the easiest way to do this is to pre-teach the game!

Looking for some fun and easy games to implement in your classroom?  Check out these print-and-go games for Math, Grammar, and Phonics!

playing games

Assign Roles for Full Participation

One of the worst things teachers can do when allowing students to work collaboratively is to create too much downtime.  This can be before the game begins or even afterward, but the worst of all is during the game itself.  What does this mean?  Downtime during the game is when students are taking turns playing the game and while waiting for their turn, they have nothing to do – aka downtime.

This can potentially be an issue for multiple reasons.  One, it allows students to stop their focus on the game.  When their focus lacks, their minds wander, and outside conversations begin.  This is when students easily become off task.  Also when they become unfocused due to waiting, they are not paying attention to the game and therefore not learning from the other students’ answers.  Their only ‘practice’ during the game is their turn.  This creates a lot of wasted downtime.  But how do you get around this as an issue?

You can easily avoid this problem by creating roles for students while playing the game.  The role can be as simple as ‘everyone must solve the problem’.  Give all students a whiteboard or pencil and paper and have all students act as if the current problem of the game is their problem to solve.  Tell students that this helps them all practice more and it helps to check the answer of the person whose turn it currently is.  You can also go a bit deeper with student roles by giving specific assignments for each student in the group.

If you have a group of 4 playing a game, you can have one student be the answer checker, one student be the timer, one student be the materials manager, and the final student be the encourager.  There are loads of other roles you can assign.  The point is that everyone has something to do to keep them focused on the game and no downtime is created.

Ensure an Obvious Learning Objective

Think about it.  What’s the whole point of the students playing the game in the first place?  Of course, it is to practice a specific learning concept.  Do you think students could play a game and not know what they are practicing?  Seems unreal, right?  Oh but it is!  Not only can this happen when students are playing a game, but it also happens in our day-to-day lessons.  This is why it is very important that the game (and your lessons) have a very clear learning objective.

I always love wording my objectives in ‘I Can’ statements since they are simple and clear for students to understand.  Also, I use plastic photo frames from a dollar store and a dry-erase marker to write in the I Can statement and post it near the group.  I also encourage students to start by reading the objective out loud with their group to ensure they know what they are practicing.  Believe me, it’s a game-changer!

Two Final Tips for Playing Games

Before we go, I’ll leave you with these two final tips for playing games in your classroom.  The first is to find games that have multiple versions or teaching concepts.  Using repeat games helps your students become more familiar with the games and requires less teaching and explaining time.  My grammar, math, and phonics games above would be a great example.

The final tip is to ensure you incorporate a wrap up discussion after the game.  Make sure your students have time to process their learning, understand the objective, and can share and ask questions if needed.

I hope you found a tip or two that can help you incorporate more games into your classroom!  Make sure to pin the image below to save this post for later!

playing games


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I’m a wife, a mommy of 3, blogger, and a full time teacher author and presenter. I love to read, shop, and spend time with my family! My hands are always busy, but my heart is so full!

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