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Gamification of the Classroom

Everyone likes to play games. Games make things fun! Games help to pass the time! Games allow us to turn an otherwise dull task into something exciting! A lot of it might also be the competition. How else do you explain why spelling words with little wooden tiles can be so entertaining?? If you asked me to do that by myself as an assignment or task: no-thank-you! If you asked me whether or not I could do it better then someone else: challenge accepted!

I have found that incorporating play into everyday routines in my classroom has allowed my students to enjoy tasks and participate more in things that they normally would not. It has also created buy-in when it otherwise would be very difficult to achieve. The following are ways in which I have incorporated play and competition into my classroom:

Timing classes to see how long it takes to turn in their homework. I’m not sure how long it takes your students to turn in their work, but mine often drag their feet. They walk at a snails pace to the turn-in basket and then meander on their way back to their seat, chatting with every friend along the way. Rather then fight it, I decided to challenge it. I told my students that I was going to start timing them to see how long it would take them to turn in their homework. The first time, they were not that into it… until they came back the next day and saw that each class period had a time written on the whiteboard and labeled. The times were publicly posted. Everyone knew how fast (or slow) the other classes were at turning in their homework! At that point, the spirit of the game was born. The students began to exclaim: “What?! 4th period did it in 30 seconds?!?! HOW?!?!” They all had acquired a target, and they were going to beat them. They banded together, began to strategize and were hooked. Eventually they figured out the ‘secret’ to hand it to one person and have that one person turn in everyones work. At this point in the year, the time it is taking them is between 1.35 seconds (our current record) and 2.16. I love this for a few different reasons; one: it helps them to form a community as they work together to try and better their time, two: it takes a mundane task and makes it fun, and three: it really brings the focus to turning in the work. The students who typically forget, no longer forget—they need to be part of the game! Often, one self-appointed student will walk around collecting the homework from their classmates—even demanding it, at times! For something so small, they get really into it! You could implement this same tactic for many different activities when you may want your students to hurry.

Create “rules” that introduce play and some silliness when appropriate. Last year, my students became obsessed with throwing their paper in the recycling basket while imitating Kobe Bryant, often saying “Kobe” as they tried to make it in from varying distances. I recognized their interest, but also wanted to try and control the amount of students getting up to throw their papers away. At one point, I literally had about 10 boys trying to “Kobe” their papers into the recycling bin at one time. It was getting out of hand! My response: hang a miniature basket ball net above it and create a fun new classroom rule. I told my students in a playful, yet sincere, voice that I was SOO happy that they were having so much fun in my class by throwing papers (a hushed “uh-oh” fell among the small crowd). I went on to say that I would never want to stifle their creative ways of recycling their paper…. however a new rule was going to begin that day: “The Kobe Rule” (they looked at each other with confusion on their faces). The Kobe rule, I explained, is this: anyone can attempt to “Kobe” their papers into the recycling bin… but if you miss, you have the privilege of coming to my room after school for 5 minutes to pick up stray pieces of paper off the ground (“what?!” they exclaimed). You do, however, get a “redemption shot”, BUT it has to be from twice as far away (they gasped). The stakes were high and so was their level of interest. They asked many follow-up questions in reply: “Do we HAVE to try and “Kobe” or can we just trow it away?” (no, you don’t have to), “Do we have to try to “Kobe” from a specific distance?” (nope, you can be as close or far as you wish), “What if someone tries to block you or interferes with your shot and knocks it out of the way?” (they receive the 5 minutes after school as a penalty for attempting to sabotage you). They were enthralled. Of course, that first day, a brave boy strode up to the front, paper in hand and attempted the first “Kobe” under the new rule. The class watched, eyes wide open and breaths held, waiting to see the outcome. He missed! They gasped, and waited for the redemption shot. He made it! They erupted into applause! The precedent was set. To this day, they become very excited to watch someone try to “Kobe” and win the unspoken badge of honor. (Side note: Since creating the Kobe rule, I no longer have hoards of students trying to make baskets. It’s now something special and fun that only a few students participate in, but all enjoy watching when it occurs).

Timing When talking. I have a timer that I usually carry with me or have out on my desk. When my students get too chatty, I time them. Whatever time they acquire is how long I keep them after class (a modification to make for extremely chatty classes would be to only hold them after class if they get over a certain amount of time. Example: they are ok until they get over 30 seconds on the timer, any time past 30 is what they will ‘owe’ you). When using the timer, I always count down from 5; if they are still talking once I have reached zero, I time them. If they have acquired time and are silent before I am done counting down, then I subtract those seconds from the time they have (a good incentive to be quiet faster). This is very effective, but it’s also fun. When they get too chatty I will often become very animated by loudly stating “It’s so loud! Where is my timer?!” as I pat my pockets down or ‘run’ to my desk. A student will inevitably hear this and warn the others: “Shhhhhhh! The timer!!”, making it a race between the class and me. They usually win, and feel instant pride over their ‘victory.’ It’s fun to see them get into something like this. They don’t realize that they are doing exactly what I wanted them to in the first place: be quiet! 

Play review games! Reviewing concepts can be tedious and often boring for students.  By turing the review into games, you will automatically have that buy-in that is usually missing for these lessons; plus, the information is more likely to be remembered by the students. There are a few games that I have really enjoyed being part of my teaching repertoire.

“Pass Code”. Pass code is a game that I learned from a former colleague. One of the best things about this game is that is needs almost no prep work (always a bonus for busy teachers, like us!). You simply have a student come to the front (voluntarily) for the start of the game. They stand directly in front of the white board (almost touching it), you write a vocabulary word above their head and they call on classmates to give them a one word clue. Whoever is the last person to give a clue before they guess correctly, is the next person to stand at the front and guess. If that person does not want to stand at the front, they can pick someone to go in their place (this way, they shyer students can still participate without the fear of having to stand in front of the class if they give a good clue). Feel free to make your own variations to this game, like splitting the class in half and have them take turns sending someone up; adding varying levels of competition always makes it more fun!

“Classroom Relay”. This type of game takes something that can be very mundane and makes it much more engaging. Why? Three reasons: speed, competition, and prizes. I think this type of game works really well with any time of computational review (but, you could use it for almost anything). I like to use this game for practicing/reviewing/assessing density calculations at the beginning of the year, balancing equations later in the year and physics calculations toward the end. Every time we play, the students love it and work faster then when they do worksheets! For setup, you just print out questions and number them. Then you cut out each numbered question and put them on a counter/table somewhere in your classroom (I choose the counter in the back of my classroom). Then, you put the answers on the opposite side of your classroom so they really have to move around (I have the answers hanging on a sheet at the front of my desk). To play the game, the students work in pairs and take turns getting a card from the back and checking their answer. They must work at their table and cannot move on to a new question until they get the one they picked correct. Speed is the main factor of this game and they must work together and show their work. For each version, I have between 35-40 problems and it definitely takes them the entire class period. It’s hectic and crazy, students are running around and get very into this game. It’s fun to see them try really hard to figure out what they did wrong when they don’t get an answer right. Typically, they would not try so hard to correct themselves, but when it’s a game with prizes and bragging rights at stake, all of the sudden they are completely invested in doing well! Warning: It gets loud, it gets crazy and sometimes (depending on the age) they may try to sabotage each other by pushing their chair out to stop someone walking behind them to try and get to the cards faster. Yes, they really do get that into it! It makes me smile every time.

Have your students make their own games! Does the idea of your students running franticly around the room make you feel uneasy? That’s fine! Put the students into groups of 4 and have them create their own game based on the concept you are teaching! This has worked really well every time I have done it. It’s like a mini-project (and even an mini PBL aka: Project Based Learning). I typically give them one week to completely create their game. They come up with the concept, design it, create rules, create the board, cards, game pieces etc to play with. I usually also have them create a box to keep it in (shoe boxes and pizza boxes work great!). Once they are done, we take a day (or two) to play the games. They set them up at their tables and I give them time to play each game through rotations. It’s a wonderful way for them to have various experiences of reviewing which gives them feedback instantly as they play (they either win or lose). They are also really good at giving thoughtful feedback to the game “designers” after playing. I have kept many of these games (I wish I could keep all of them, they are surprisingly good!). It’s really cool to see what amazing ideas they come up with and to see them all enjoying playing each others games.

I hope that reading this has inspired you to try integrating games into your day-to-day teaching. Whether it’s with your classroom procedures or with content material, it’s such a fun way to mix things up and keep your students engaged. What’s next? RPG! I will be spending the rest of the school year and next summer developing a classroom based RPG (role playing game) to help my students dive into the classroom and learning process with an entirely new spin! Stay-tuned for more on that.

-The Ardent Teacher

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