As I travel around the United States presenting, I am realizing that the fun has gone out of teaching and learning in so many classrooms. With increased emphasis on standardized testing, benchmarks, and accountability, school is just not fun anymore! In the name of increased academic achievement, many school systems are even removing recess time from the students’ school day. Fortunately, other school systems are doing just the opposite. As I taught in Singapore, whose students have some of the highest math scores in the world, I noticed that students were spending time learning math and then, just as importantly, stopping math instruction for recess.
While preschool children love to play games, it is also one of the 10 activities that keep people living beyond the age of 80. There is a pertinent saying: You don’t stop playing games because you grow old. You grow old because you stop playing games. Playing games is beneficial throughout one’s life and elementary, middle, and high school students would benefit from spirited interaction in the pleasurable strategy of game playing. Not only is the strategy motivating, but it also can put students’ brains in a positive state. When the students hear their teacher say, Let’s play a game!, the stress level is decreased and the retention rate for content increased. For example, students will respond positively to something like a crossword task in class and the format of the puzzle in conducive to them retaining the information presented better. Teachers can use a crossword puzzle maker to do this.
What The Research Says
Children pay more attention to academic tasks when brief, frequent opportunities for free play are provided (Dewar, 2008-2014).
Games are not only perfect for raising the level of feel-good amines in the brain but, in the correct amounts, games can also increase cognition and working memory (Jensen, 2007, p.4)
Research suggests that the way in which children play contributes to their ability to creatively solve divergent problems, those to which there may be multiple solutions (Dewar, 2008-2014).
Make It Happen
- Play Wheel of Fortune with the class by selecting a content-area vocabulary word previously taught. Place one line on the board for each letter in the chosen word. Have students take turns guessing letters of the alphabet that may be in the word. If the letter is in the word, write it on the correct line. If it is not, place the letter in a column off to the side. The first student to guess the word wins a point.
- During a class discussion, when a question is asked, toss a Nerf or any other soft ball to the student who is to respond. The student gets one point for catching the ball and two points for answering the question correctly. If the student is correct, he or she can randomly pick the student who is to answer the next question and randomly toss the ball to that student. If the student answers incorrectly, he or she must toss the ball back to you so that you can select the next student. Be sure to ask the question of the entire class prior to selecting someone to catch the ball and answer the question.
For more examples of instructional activities that engage students through games, consult the 3rd edition of my best-selling book, Worksheets Don’t Grow Dendrites.