The daily musings of a substitute teacher in East Central Illinois.

Teaching Strategies: Games

Following the topic I used yesterday, I have decided to devote this week to discussing different teaching strategies, which, for my purposes, are being differentiated from pedagogical methods. Yesterday was the use of videos, particularly those found on YouTube, to complement and/or supplement classroom lessons.

Today I’ll be talking about using games. Believe it or not, this was actually a major focus of a unit of student in one of my curriculum and instruction courses during my last year at the University of Illinois. Each class was begun with a student sharing a game that can be used in the classroom. Games have many different uses. Through my work with the Illinois Teen Institute and Operation Snowball, we regularly use games as a teaching tool. As the saying goes, we strive to have fun with a purpose. Every game, every activity, every silly song we sing shares the purpose of helping those involved progress toward the goals of the program. And so it is with the use of games in the classroom.

Some games are used as ice breakers. They help the class get comfortable with one another or to get to know each other. Some games are used as energizers. No matter how exciting the lesson may be, there are times when the students are going to start dragging. They need something to get them up and moving around. Other times the students are too wiggly and they just need to expend some energy. There are also the games used as closers, although they are not used as often in the formal classroom setting. These allow the group to prepare to move on to whatever comes next.

But there are two categories of games that are most important, in my opinion. They are the team builders and the self-awareness builders. Team building activities have been around for a long time. I love them because they allow those involved to learn to trust each other. As an educator, I strive for a classroom that is truly a cohesive unit. I want my students to rely upon each other, to help each other, to teach each other. This is very much an aspect of my egalitarian views of education. Team building activities provide opportunities for small successes, which in turn set the stage for improvement through scaffolding and supports.

Those activities or games that develop self-awareness are not used as often, but I find that I use them most often when it seems like the class is not paying attention. My favourite is the hand on the chin activity.  This is how it goes:

I tell everyone in the class that we are going to do an activity, and I need everyone to stand up by their chairs. Everyone stands.
I tell the class that I want them to follow my directions as I give them. They give consent, wondering what I’m going to have them do.
I tell them to extend their right arms, and I show them what I mean. Everyone extends his or her right arm. (If someone uses the left, I will point this out, and they switch.)
I tell them to take their thumbs and index fingers of their right hands and make a circle. Again, I model this, and they follow.
I then tell them to slowly bring their arm in and place the “O” on their cheek. As I do this, I slowly bring my arm in and place my “O” on my chin. 9 times out of 10, every person in the class will do exactly as I did. Occasionally I will have a student who catches what I said and chuckles. The rest of the students are standing with their hands on the chins wondering what is so funny.
I repeat the last instruction. Slowly, realisation dawns: the chin is not the cheek. My response to this is that it is important to follow directions and to listen closely. We need to be aware that those in our lives may say one thing and do another. We should be confident enough in our classroom setting, and in our lives, to stand tall doing what is right, even if everyone else is doing the wrong thing.

I love the change that comes over the classroom when we do this. For a brief while, I have a room of students who are paying attention, working hard, and helping each other. And I’ll admit it: it is really funny to have a room of 25 boys and girls all place their hands on the chins after being told to put them on their cheeks.


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