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The Dreaded Rainy Day
Uugh, another rainy day full of bickering and frustration among students. It was wet, thunder was rumbling, and 26 little people were stuck inside. I often wondered what made these days so much harder for my students, and always came to the same conclusion: They were restless and needed to be outside.
It Turns Out, I Was Wrong.
They didn’t need to be outside. Sure, being outside has heaps of benefits, but surely missing this wouldn’t cause the drama that I was seeing. So, I observed some more. I paid attention, I spoke to my students, I asked them what they liked and didn’t like about rainy days.
Do You Know What They Said?
They were bored, they had nothing to do. And, as I looked around the room at the computers, books, and games, I suddenly saw it. I had provided all of these fun activities, but my students had no idea how to actually use them for fun. Turn-taking and sharing were skills that they just hadn’t developed independence with.
Cue The Light Bulb Moment!
So I made some major changes to my classroom. I changed the weekly schedule to include a one-hour session on social skills. I added simple games to my literacy and math centers, we talked about the skills needed to play games, how it feels to win, how it feels to lose, and what a good winner or sore loser look like. Before long, games had become a central part of my planning, and were being played in my classroom on a daily basis.
Here’s What I Noticed
I started noticing changes in most of my students. There was a shift in friendship groups as students vied to play with the students who excelled at a particular game. Students that I had never before considered to be leaders were instructing others how to play, and the bickering had stopped.
The Ground Rules
Like all good games, there needed to be some ground rules. Firstly, the games I selected needed to have an identifiable educative purpose (even the games reserved for rainy days). Secondly, if a student already knew how to play a certain game, they needed to teach others. This rule really helped a lot of students find their voice within my classroom. Next, each game needed more than one player to play. We’re not developing those interpersonal skills if we’re playing solo! And finally, because I wanted my students to develop their interpersonal skills, I decided to stay away from video games.
- Increased motivation and engagement – students started asking to play games, and when they were playing, they stayed on task.
- Controlled competitiveness – what better way to encourage a little competition? We set up classroom tournaments, we had mini-competitions (who doesn’t love a little ‘teacher vs students’?!)
- Different students had the opportunity to succeed – suddenly, the non-athletic or not academic students were able to excel. They were winning, and they were loving it!
- Positive interactions – students began supporting and encouraging each other.
- Incidental learning – students are not only developing their interpersonal skills; they’re also reinforcing concepts taught throughout the year.
- Improved attention – this benefit surprised me, but I noticed that my students were able to stay on task longer than they had previously. The reasoning behind this is quite simple – in a fast-moving game, students need to maintain focus. If they disengage, then they miss their turn or lose track of where the game is at.
- Interpersonal skills – this was the benefit I really wanted to see. My students were cooperating, supporting, sharing, and problem solving. They were working in teams, and talking through any challenges.
What Games Did We Play?
Short answer: Any! As long as the game ‘fit’ my Ground Rules, then we could play it. We had board games, movement games, spelling games, memory games, number games, games that needed equipment, and games that didn’t. I found that after we’d been playing games for a few weeks, my students began introducing their own games. By the end of the year, my students were even creating their own games!
Do you play games in your classroom? What games are your favorites? Drop a comment below to let me know!