My Favorite Games for the Classroom and How I Use Them to Gamify My Lessons

One of my favorite ways, and one of the most simple, to instantly increase student engagement is to add a collaborative game to my daily classroom lessons, and I have a few favorite games for the classroom that my students are ALWAYS excited to play! Playing games in the classroom or in your virtual meetings allows students to practice and grow their skills of collaboration, critical thinking, communication, and citizenship.

How I Gamify My Lessons

When I’m looking for a little extra incentive for my students to participate or engage in a lesson, adding a game is one of my go-to strategies. In my experience, I’ve found that keeping it simple, and sticking to the same strategies no matter what game I’m using, is the way to go! To play, I use two different strategies: “Students vs. Teacher” or “Students vs. Students,” depending on what stage of learning we are in for our unit. At or close to the beginning of a unit, when the material or skill is still somewhat new, I use a “Students vs. Teacher” strategy, with some kind of prize at the end for beating me. Prize options can include an extra podcast episode for the day, “stinky feet” time (students get to take off their shoes), gum or candy, a few minutes of extra recess (usually 5 minutes for me), or any other prize option the students have chosen to add to our Prize Wheel. When I know the students are more comfortable with the skill or content, or I need to push them into more independent practice, I play the game as “Students vs. Students,” teaming them up based on how many teams the game we are playing allows. When playing “Students vs. Students,” the winning team gets to choose the prize or spin the wheel. However, the whole class always gets the prize in my classroom! There are many prize wheels available on Amazon, but the one that I have is linked here. Using these same two strategies allows me to save time explaining the “How wer’e going to play” part to my students, giving us more time learn and have fun doing it!

My Favorite Games for In the Classroom or in Virtual Meetings

The following games are my go-to choices, and the games that my students tend to ask for when given the choice. All games are linked in the game title. Most physical games have an Amazon listing link, but could easily be found at another store, like Walmart or Target. These games could be used by any grade level, from primary classes to high school seniors.

Otrio Digital Game
This game is one of my absolute favorite games of all time! This is a digital version with question templates of the very popular game Otrio. It’s a super-tic-tac-toe style game, requiring students to think critically and strategically and can be played over and over again. To play, divide students into 2-4 groups, or the teacher can be one team (with two colors) while the students are the second team (with two colors). All directions for play are include in this resource four options to play, including two digital question template options. This game is available in my store. Click on the game title to go grab it for your classroom!

Wheelofnames.com
This online random name picker can be used for SO MANY things. Create your own with questions on the wheel, students’ names, content vocabulary, math problems, etc. You can add some fluency phrases or sight words for students to read in lower grades, or type in your comprehension questions for your small group book. I love this for unit review for any subject!

Funnel Pong
Students bounce a ping pong ball on the table in front of the funnel stand, trying to get the ball into a certain tube, to make three in a row. Divide into groups for orange vs. white, or play so that any three same color balls in a row is a point against you, the teacher.

Kerplunk
Students pull a stick for every answer given during the lesson or group. Divide students into 2-4 teams, or play students vs. teacher. When playing students vs. students, the losing team is the team with the most marbles in their try. When playing students vs. teacher, the students win if they get all the marbles to fall (that means more participation for the lesson). I’ve included a suggestion for playing this game virtually below. In a virtual meeting, use the physical game and have students tell you a color of stick to pull when they’ve earned a turn at playing.

Jenga
I play this one as “Students vs. Students’ mostly. Divide students into however many groups you wish. Each correct answer (or really great participation or effort) earns the right to take a turn pulling a block. The losing team is the the team who knocks down the tower. In a virtual meeting, share your view of the physical Jenga tower in your meeting. Students can tell you which block to remove when it is their turn at play.

Connect Four
Divide students into two groups to play “students vs. students” or play “Students vs. Teacher” by assigning yourself a color and the students a color. Each time a question is answered, each team takes one turn. See below for digital option. There are many options available online for digital Connect Four games. Sharing this as a link for all to access and edit in a virtual meeting would allow all of your students to manipulate the board and move a piece. Playing this way in the classroom, with the game projected on the board is also a lot of fun!

Go! Gater Giant Funnel Pong
My students LOVE this one! Play is the same as the smaller version above, except that students stand a distance away and toss the ball towards the game funnels.

Hot Potato
I love this one for task card and review activities when I want every student to answer every question. Once students have been given time to answer the question(s), pass the Hot Potato around to find out who gets to explain their answer to the group.

There are so many game options available to boost student engagement in your digital or physical classroom. In my experience, adding a game to a classroom lesson means instant engagement! For me, it also makes teaching the lesson much more fun! I hope you’ve found a few ideas you can add to your own classroom. And as always, I’d love to hear about your experiences with any of these ideas. Send me a comment and I’d love for us to connect on Instagram or Twitter!

P.S. If you’d like more ideas for student engagement, make sure to click the Follow Button! And check out my other posts below for more exciting ideas for your classroom!

Test Prep Room Transformation

Can You Defeat the Puzzle Master?

This room transformation was easy, cheap, rigorous, and highly engaging! I centered the theme around growth mindset and mindulness strategies that, when used together, are the puzzle pieces to success. We’ve focused on these concepts all year long in the classroom, so it made perfect sense to “put the pieces together” for test prep. The mindset concepts I used are grit, dedication, perseverance, effort, mindfulness, strategy, positivity, attitude, commitment, confidence, critical thinking, and growth mindset. I’ve added pictures of the puzzle pieces I made and hung on the walls in my classroom below.

These were pretty big, so they pretty much cover all of the free wall space in my classroom, which meant that I didn’t need to do any extra decorations. To me, the minimal decorations were also the right choice because I wanted my focus to remain on the work and being able to use these concepts and strategies for state testing.

I also hung some multi-colored dollar store table cloths on the ceiling to add some “pretty” to the room.

For the work, I needed mixed review of everything we’ve done throughout this year. I used the Reading Skills puzzle centers pictured below from TPT. These are just the right amount of challenging and confidence building for my 4th graders! My students also really enjoyed using them. (You could also use any other task cards or test questions for your subject.). These centers come with answer keys that could be used for self-checking, but I wanted my students to have to correct their thinking and try again, so I created Google Forms Quizzes (that showed a score and if the question was right/wrong, but not the correct answer). My students worked in pairs and had to get an 80% or higher to show mastery and move on to the next step. There were 9-10 pairs working on separate skills during the class time so the Google Forms were extremely helpful for keeping the students accountable (I get grades and know they did the work necessary for the group) and moving at their own pace because they didn’t have to wait on me to check their work.

Once the pair had shown mastery they got one of the following “treat puzzles” to put together (shown in the pics below). If the students were able to put it together completely they got the candy or treat that was referenced in the pun/riddle on the treat puzzle. I made these out of poster board that I got in the school section at Walmart for about $3.00 for a set of five posters. I made the same number of treat puzzles as the reading skills puzzles that I used, so the students got a different treat each time they mastered a skill. I did this for a little extra motivation, but it certainly isn’t mandatory.

In my two hour class, with a mini-lesson focused on each of our puzzle piece mindset and strategy concepts, my students were able to complete two to three reading puzzles per class.

To complete the transformation and theme, I gave each of my students these blank puzzles that I ordered from Amazon to design and keep. I could have had my students focus on a design that used our mindset concepts and success as the theme of their picture, but for destressing after testing (we did this part during the afternoon after state testing in the morning), I allowed my students full creative rights for their puzzles.  You can get the puzzles from the link here.

I had actually worried that it wouldn’t be as exciting to them as I hoped, but they absolutely loved these puzzles.

Creative Reading Review

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This review project is a favorite in my class!  I was looking for a way to assess my students’ fictional comprehension of ALL of the skills I teach in our fiction unit. The problem with assessments, though, is that they aren’t always fair to all students. You reading teachers know what I mean! We differentiate our instruction to make learning fair for all of our readers, so assessments should also be fair! With this project, I can assign leveled text, individually or by group, allowing me to actually assess their comprehension skills without questioning if the real problem was that they couldn’t read the passage. As the teacher, you can even choose whether you assign the pages with graphic organizers or blank pages for students who need more of a challenge.

While working on this project, my students are given free rein, meaning they are completely in control of how they show their understanding. Text dependence is easy too. With digital text, students can take a snapshot or copy/paste exactly what they need to prove their thinking. Altogether, I’m assessing their understanding, giving my students opportunities to use creativity, critical thinking skills, and their communication skills. If not being used for assessment purposes, it also makes for a great collaboration project for group assignments.

If you want to check this out for your own students click the link below.

Fiction Book Analysis Project

Giraffes Can’t Dance

giraffes can't dance growth mindset

After weeks of test prep I’ve gotten bored.  I actually realized that I was out of great ideas early last week.  My students were doing great, but we’d done so much and still had more time to keep on going.  I couldn’t make a decision.  After a few years of teaching 4th grade I’ve accumulated A LOT of great stuff from other teachers, and I was using all of my favorites, but it was time for a new challenge.  For the students … and for me.  I had a few thoughts in mind.  I wanted to get back to reading good books.  I wanted to continue the growth mindset theme I’d picked back up on.  I needed to continue the momentum we’d gained with so much time doing individual review practice, remediation and test-taking instruction.  And I wanted talking, happy students who were excited to continue learning.  So I came up with this Growth Mindset Test Prep Activity that works with any set of task cards or test questions for any subject and skill, and adds a fun challenge to your review.
It works with the book Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andreae.  Basically, I read the book (yay) and the students shared their own goals they’ve had to work on and find their own strategies for in reading.  Then, I grouped the students into trios and gave each group a small set of review task cards.  For my needs I used the Fictional Skills Review and the Informational Text Review Skills task cards from Teaching With a Mountain View, however, you could use any set of task cards or questions.  For each correct answer I gave the group a point.  Once they’d earned all of the points for their task cards, they were given a mystery word in the form of a bag of letters.   I used my growth mindset related words, but I’ve included a blank page for the option to use subject-related words.  The group had to figure out their word.  They were so excited to get to this challenge that their skill review work was amazing.  They crushed it!  (Yep, we’re also building confidence for the big day here!)  Last, they earned a fun coding reward that also goes along with the theme.  This activity worked.  It’s not completely conventional, and it’s not at all quiet.  It’s fast-paced, engaging, confidence-building, perfect for one-on-one remediation as needed throughout the activity, peer teaching and learning, and has high impact.  I’ll definitely use this one again!  If you’re interested, you can get it at  Mrs Gentry’s Class on Teachers Pay Teachers here.
thanks for reading!