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  • Writer's pictureDonna Gerard


Updated: Oct 6, 2023

“In every job that must be done

There is an element of fun

You find the fun, and snap!

The job’s a game.”

(from Mary Poppins)

One of the greatest parts of teaching is incorporating fun into the classroom. What’s fun is definitely in the eye of the beholder, which means each teacher gets to decide what the fun in their classroom will be. Are you a gamer, an artist, a singer or musician, or maybe an athlete? Perhaps you like variety and want to incorporate all sorts of projects, games, and other learning experiences into your teaching. The things that float your boat might also resonate with your students. If there’s a path you really don’t want to go down, avoid it to your heart’s content.

In this article, I’m going to furnish a very incomplete list of learning ideas that can be used (or not) depending on your idea of fun and what your class can handle.

· Teach students a craft and let them practice that craft when they are finished with their work. I know a teacher who taught her class to knit. One might be tempted to say that knitting isn’t very likely going to be on standardized testing or in any curriculum. As a teacher in a bilingual program, she used her craft to use English with her students. Students could also use knitting time to practice speaking to each other in English. For any student, knitting is a very grounding activity that can give restless hands something to do while listening to a book being read, either by the teacher or recording.

· When I taught a cross curricular unit on the Middle Ages, I taught the class how to write cinquain poetry. They made ink from strawberries and quill pens from cafeteria straws. I also taught them a little bit of calligraphy, so they wrote their poems with homemade ink and pens in calligraphy, in somewhat of an approximation of what medieval monks did. They were getting art, language arts, and history at the same time.

· Teachers with the ability to teach drawing can have students apply this art to any number of diagrams in science, social studies, or even math.

· Allow students to bring in craft items from home to embellish their posters. You may want to think twice about allowing glitter, but glitter pens are fine. As long as the core grade comes from content, it’s good for students to learn to take pride in their work and to apply a little showmanship to their finished product. Requiring students to do the artistic part only after the subject content and/or writing components are approved might be an impetus to step up their production efforts.

· In social studies, let students research games from the culture you are studying. When, for example, studying ancient Egypt, let the students make Senet boards from a piece of cardstock or cardboard and recycles playing pieces from other boardgames. Mancala (an African and Central Asian game) can be made from egg cartons or paper cups. There are many variations that students can research and construct, giving them the opportunity to read game rules and figure out how to play their version.

· Time to review for a test? Let students make up board games with questions that will help them study for a quiz. Let them work in groups on their own game, and then the groups can rotate to play their classmates’ games.

· Play Jeopardy with virtually any subject or mixture of subjects. You can load the board with your own questions or let each kid write one answer/question. There are websites that make this an easy job, JeopardyLabs — Online Jeopardy Template.

· Use board games like chess, checkers, and Othello to practice thinking skills.

· Scrabble and Upwords are just two examples of great word games that develop spelling skills and vocabulary.

· To practice question writing skills along with content learning, let students make a trivia game based on your subject.

· Make teams compete against each other for mundane parts of a school day. Give a sticker to the group who is seated first, or whose floor area is cleanest, or who all have their pencils out (or laptops).

· Just like in Mary Poppins, any task can be made into a game. Home by myself and faced with a kitchen to clean, I will set a timer and challenge myself to finish in 15 minutes. In a classroom, I would set a timer and challenge the class to finish their math problems in 15 minutes. Or give them 5 minutes and challenge them to find and fix 5 grammatical/spelling errors on their paper.

· Use music to help your aural learners. If you go on youtube, you can find all sorts of songs to help your students learn anything you need to teach, from the alphabet to chemical bonds.

· Do your students like sports or physical challenges? Pair students up and ask them a question or give them a problem to solve. The winner gets to shoot a mini basketball into a garbage can. Teaching prime and composite numbers? Have a treasure hunt for numbers written on index cards. Have them bring you only the composite numbers, or only even numbers, only multiples of 6, or pairs of numbers that add up to 100.

People love to play more than they love to work. The trick is to make work game-like. Gamifying schoolwork is more fun for the kids, and more fun for the teacher. Have a blast!

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