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Teaching with Games

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One of the most frequent questions I’m asked is if I am able to incorporate my love of gaming into my love of teaching. I personally love using board games as a teaching tool, and do so in two different ways. The first way is I use board gaming as a tool is to help students understand difficult concepts, the second way is I use board gaming as an incentive for positive behaviors in the classroom.

I teach English and History, which have a surprising amount of board games that can be utilized in the classroom to help teach a variety of skills. For example, two games I have used this year in the classroom were Ultimate Werewolf and Once Upon a Time.

I used Ultimate Werewolf to introduce my students to the Salem Witch Trials this year. If you know middle school students, you know that in games like Werewolf they take on a mob-like mentality, rather than careful deduction. The werewolves won the first game,

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which led into an interesting discussion about human nature and bling accusations. We were then able to read about and discuss the Salem Witch Trials and how the accusations lead to the deaths of many people. It was a great introduction activity and the students were engaged throughout the entire unit. They continue to ask to play Werewolf anytime we have free time.

I used Once Upon a Time as a introduction to public speaking. My students were preparing to do a 7 minute career speech, so I wanted to help them break the barrier of speaking in front of their peers. I gave each student a Once Upon a Time card and one student the ending card. Their challenge was for every student to put down their card without any pauses. The silly nature of this broke down the student’s hesitation about speaking in front of others. I followed this activity by having students play the game with actual rules in small groups. Finally, then I had students complete a story with their hand of cards in front of the class. This story had to be more than 2 minutes long. The fantasy nature and support of the cards for topics made it easy for students to do these speeches.

Some struggles I find in using board games as teaching tools though are the cost and the time. There are many games I would love to use in my class, but do not have the money to acquire enough copies to accommodate all 30 of my students. While I have sought out grants, many providers do not see the benefit of games in the classroom. I also have tried using stations, but that leads to my second struggle…time. It can be difficult to use games in the classroom because they take up more time than classes. In History, I only have 40 minutes, while in English I have over an hour. Students do not have the time to play a full game in stations.

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stead I often use games as an incentive. In order to earn a game day students have to get a certain number of points, based on behavior and being prepared for class. Students love this, because they feel they are working towards something social, and that they have choice in what they play. I bring in a variety of student friendly games that I can teach in 5 minutes or less, and allow students to play games. What they do not realize is they are still building important educational skills such as communication, critical thinking, and collaboration. I have also increased student’s interest in one another’s culture with this. I have one student who did an entire Genius Hour presentation on Santorini after the class loved playing it. He felt so much pride in his culture and the other students were really excited to hear more about it. Currently I have another student working on a similar presentation after playing Sagrada.

Board games as a teaching tool has increased engagement in my class tenfold. Is anyone else using board games as a teaching tool as an educator or a home schooler? Do you have any favorite stories to tell about your student’s reactions? What games do you like to use?

One thought on “Teaching with Games

  1. This is very cool! I always love seeing teachers who bring games to their students. Sure, they require time (both in preparation and execution), but they can give students a much very direct, hands-on experience which complements the abstract theoretical classroom instruction.

    Liked by 1 person

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