SIP 5.7 Using Games to Reinforce Content

Thirsty for a Strong Instructional Practice?

You have prepared the “perfect” presentation for your class; your PowerPoint includes stunning pictures, provocative video clips, music and challenging concepts. After ten minutes, your students start to move on their seats; to hide behind the student in front so they can slip unnoticed into the realm of texting; or they start to develop an unprecedented interest in the classroom’s walls and ceiling. You know you have depleted your students’ attention span and it is probably time for a game or a game-like activity!

Take a SIP of This: Using Games to Reinforce Content

Games are the ultimate “multitaskers” since they function as brain boosters while addressing a whole spectrum of learning styles, such as the visual-spatial; kinesthetic; linguistic; logical; or interpersonal. At the same time, they can be easily integrated at different stages of the lesson plan as a transition to a new topic; a warm-up; a reflection tool; a wrap-up activity, or the entire class itself.

Here are several examples of activities that can be easily adjusted for use in variety of courses and disciplines:

  1. Simulations: Let students assume the role of the writers, scientists, inventors, artists, and historical, political or fictional characters that you are studying in the course. Provide cards with simple situations to re-enact or with concepts to incorporate within their theatrical improvisation. (You can even include staging instructions, like “romantically,” “painfully, “energetically,” “in slow-motion,” etc.). Role-play is a “say it aloud” technique that forces students to retrieve learned materials while improving memory retention. Two effective role-play models would be:
    • The Expert: Divide the class in small groups and assign the role of professor to a specific student who will have the questions (you can provide the student with the answers) or who will lead the discussion. Another possibility would be to pretend to have one or two students as guest speakers to a radio or TV program where they are interviewed on a specialized topic. You can even ask your students to record the interview on their phones.
    • The Trial: Students perform a trial. For instance, a fictional or historical character goes to trial for making the wrong decision.
  2. The Fly Swatter: Divide the class in two teams that will form two lines facing the blackboard or the class screen showing terminology, concepts, and ideas pertinent to the learning unit. Give the first student in each line a fly swatter and have another student reading a definition or brief explanation. Students need to locate and “swat” the appropriate term for the read definition and then go to the end of the line.
  3. Speed-dating: Have students in two lines facing each other. Ask them a question or show them a topic on a PP slide so they can exchange ideas for 30 seconds or a minute. Afterwards, the first student of one of the lines moves to the end and you are ready to discuss a new topic.
  4. Cocktail Party: Give students a 4 column table with questions or topics in the first column. They need to move around the class gathering the answers from different students (recorded in the second and third columns respectively) as well as an image to associate with the topic (to go in the fourth column). Easy variations of the Cocktail Party would be to arrange the questions in a table to be presented as a Bingo or a Tic-Tac-Toe Game.
  5. Art Gallery: Tape pictures of paintings to your classroom’s walls (or to the hallway walls) together with a blank piece of paper. Divide class in small groups and give students a set of cards explaining class terms or topics. Students need to relate the class topics to the painting while writing a brief paragraph by the painting that explains their selection.
  6. The Quilt Club: Divide the class in small groups and hand them a card with a question or theme that they need to discuss for a couple of minutes. Afterwards, each member of the group needs to draw a picture or vignette, or to write a short poem, principle, or rule related to the discussion. Next, two groups get together and tape the individual contributions creating a “concept quilt” that can be displayed on the classroom’s walls. You can also ask students to step outside of the classroom and record a short video on their phones presenting their work. (You can get really artistic and give students colored paper or colored tape to work with!)

You can decide to keep the competitive edge inherent to the concept of “gaming.” If you play, you need to have a winner, right? Offer students a few extra points on their next exam or paper; award them with a piece of candy; give them a past issue of a scholarly journal or newsletter, or provide them with the “twisted” prize of explaining the winner’s ideas to the class.

Even if you choose not to declare a winner for the activity, give students some feedback or have a follow-up activity where you comment or read some of your students’ contributions.

Still Thirsty? Take Another SIP of Using Games to Reinforce Content

  1. Karen A. Milczynski, Effectiveness of Gaming in the Classroom
  2. Game based Learning-Best Practices
  3. Reacting to the Past Pedagogy
  4. Art in the Classroom
  5. The Best Language Learning Games (that are not online)
  6. Nigel Gopie, Kathleen Hourihan, Karen Neary, and Jason Ozubko, “The Production Effect: Delineation of a Phenomenon”
  7. Multiple Intelligences Oasis – Howard Gardner’s Official MI Site

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