Keeping Kids Engaged Using Games in the Classroom

6:00 AM

Hi everyone! I’m Lauren from Lessons By Lauren. I am a special educator who works with 3rd-5th graders. I feel so lucky to get to teach such awesome kids every day! A little about me…this is my 11th year teaching students with disabilities (5 years teaching middle school, 6 years teaching elementary, and a few summers teaching pre-school). I’ve been married for 6 years and we have two wonderful little boys (2 and 4 years old). I am so excited to be joining the great group of teachers on this blog!  
I work with small groups of students throughout the day, as well as consult/co-teach in general education classes. School is often really difficult for my students – reading, math, and writing are extremely challenging for them, as is staying focused. So, I try to create lessons that are as engaging as possible every day – often by using sorts and games! Using games in the classroom is a great way to get kids practicing concepts and collaborating with others. Even my students who try to avoid work the most get excited to play games. Plus, shouldn’t learning be fun?!   

The reasons why I like to use games in the classroom:
  • Games are engaging.
  • They keep even my most distracted/inattentive students focused.
  • They make learning fun.
  • The kids learn to work together.
  • Playing games often help to build the students' confidence with the class concepts we’re working on which helps them to be more open to learning in future lessons.
  • Games can help you assess and monitor students’ progress in a more relaxed environment, especially for those students who have test anxiety.
Here are some ways I use sorts and games in my classroom:
  • Sorts - I use these to practice and review word patterns (for both reading and spelling) – My students LOVE sorts. I use them almost every day! I usually set my students up with a partner around my room, hand them a set of topic cards with the word pattern we have been working on that day (or the previous day), and ask them to sort the words. They can work together, or you can have them do it as a competition to see who can sort the most correctly in a certain amount of time. This is also great for a center activity.
  • Memory – Memory games are perfect for practicing word patterns AND math facts! For example, I recently had my students play a memory game to practice beginning blends. The game has pairs of cards with the same blend. The kids flip over two cards, read the words aloud, and if the cards have the same beginning blend (i.e. drip, drag), they keep the cards and go again. If the cards have different blends (i.e. grip, fly), the student puts the cards back in the same spot and the next person goes. Not only does this help with reading fluency, but it is also a great way to improve their memory! You could also have your students use the same cards and just match the word pairs. In addition, memory games can also be used for math facts. Write the multiplication fact (or other operation) on one card. Then, write the product on another card. I would include about 5-7 math facts/answers (more or less depending on the needs of your kids).
  • Games with similar formats to classic family board games – I recently made a game with a similar game board to Candyland to practice blends. It’s easy to set up at center for students to play with a partner or small group. The kids always love playing it - it's short and sweet, and probably reminds them of playing board games at home with their families! You could also actually play classic board games in your class - they are great for getting your kids to work together and use their reasoning skills! You can also get a lot of good information about the students' social skills by observing them playing a game.
  • Jenga – Who doesn’t love playing Jenga?! My kids are always begging to play this at the end of class. I bought my Jenga game when I saw it on sale at Target. I then used painter’s and washi tapes in two colors, one on each side. On one side, I wrote multiplication facts; the other side had high frequency sight words. You can use different rules for the sight word side – just read the word, read the word and put it in a sentence, read the word and give a rhyming word, etc.
    • Some other Jenga suggestions:
      • Science or Social studies vocabulary – Write a vocabulary word (or definition) and the student who pulls the block has to say the definition (or word)
      • Grammar – Write questions to review nouns, verbs, and other parts of speech. What’s a common noun? Give an example of an action verb.
      • Reading comprehension – Write questions on the blocks that would easily fit any book or passage. You can assess their understanding as they play. What’s the setting of the story? What was the problem in the story?
  •  Jeopardy - Jeopardy can be used to review and practice so many things! My favorites are to practice grammar rules and math concepts. I’ve also used it to review for Social Studies and science exams. There are so many templates that can be found on the internet, or you can create your own in PowerPoint. Who doesn’t love a little competition?! My spin on the game is that every student has to try each question; that way, no one is ever just sitting around. The kid (or group) who chose the question gets double the points if he/she answered correctly; everyone else gets the amount of points the question was worth.
  • Basketball – You can make any review or skills practice more interesting by turning it into a chance to make a basket! If you’re working on a worksheet, have each child have a chance to make a basket if they get the question correct. I like to use a mini basketball and a plastic crate as our classroom basketball hoop! If you get the question correct, you make a basket to get points.
  • Card games – There are so many games that can be played with a deck of cards that are easy to play and really fun for all the kids.
    • Here are a few I like to do in my class:
      • Multiplication (or addition) war – Each player flips over two cards, multiplies (or adds) them; the higher product/sum wins the cards.
      • Place value 1 – Deal out all the cards (aces are worth 1, face cards are worth 0; each students flips over 5 cards (those are your digits). Have the students read the number aloud and then whoever has the higher value gets to keep the cards.
  • Scavenger hunts around the room – I love to do this with math, but it would also work well for other subject areas. For math, I give the students a question to solve, then they look around the room for a sign with that answer. Next to or under that sign is the next question. The kids go through the questions to find the next answer. You could have the kids start at different questions, or have everyone start at the same one.
Here is a Valentine's Day FREEBIE just for you - Multiplication and Addition 4-in-a-row game. I hope your kids enjoy playing just as much as mine do!
What kind of games do you use in your classroom? Feel free to share in the comments below. Happy playing!

by Lauren

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