Rethinking Games in the Classroom

Why can’t students learn their multiplication facts? There’s only 144 to learn, right? It’s not a complicated chart and it seems relatively easy with a little practice. Further, many children around the world can memorize 1,015 Pokemon characters and facts about them without any problem! So why do you think this is? It’s because of they are interested and what makes them interested? Games. It’s time we rethink games in the classroom.

This image contains a background of mini Pokemon characters in rows and columns to fully cover the entire background. Then in the center of the image is a light blue circle that is somewhat transparent that says Rethinking Games in the Classroom.

We know that playing games can make us feel challenged, competitive, relaxed, and accomplished. And sometimes we enjoy playing games because it can help us practice strategic thinking. I’m sure we have brought games in the classroom as part of centers before but have you considered the benefits of games and how we should be using games in the classroom a lot more than we do?

The Benefits of Games

When we bring games in the classroom, we are providing numerous benefits that can enhance learning, engage students, and create a fun, collaborative environment. Here is a list of benefits that games have in the classroom:

  1. Engagement – I had to put this one at the top of the list. Students’ interests are captured and they are motivated to participate actively. Have you ever seen a child put their head down during a game and not want to participate? Exactly! They enjoy games and that leads to better retention and understanding of the material. See paragraph one of this post.
  2. Increased Skills – Games often involve problem-solving, critical thinking, and strategic planning, which can help students develop and reinforce important cognitive skills.
  3. Make Skills Manageable – Often games can facilitate learning of complex concepts by breaking them down into more manageable, interactive tasks.
  4. Promotes Collaboration – Many games require students to work together in teams or groups, promoting collaboration, communication, and social skills.
  5. Healthy Competition – Games introduce an element of competition, which can inspire students to excel and challenge themselves. A competitive environment can drive students to push their boundaries and strive for continuous improvement.
  6. Adaptable – Games can be tailored to suit various learning styles, abilities, and curriculum requirements. This flexibility allows you to differentiate instruction and create customized learning experience for your students.
  7. Immediate Feedback – Games often provide immediate feedback, allowing students to quickly understand the consequences of their actions and adjust their strategies accordingly.

These are just a few benefits. We know that games also encourage students to think creatively, reduces their anxiety, and creates a risk-taking environment for them. Games in the classroom are more than just sitting around having fun.

What is the Difference Between Game Based Learning and Gamification?

You may have heard of gamification or game based learning. These are two distinct approaches that involve the use of games or game elements to enhance the learning experience, but they do differ in application and experience. Below you’ll find an image that helps you see the difference between the two. Ultimately, gamification involves incorporating game-like elements into the learning process to increase motivation and engagement, while game-based learning utilizes actual games to teach specific concepts or skills. Both approaches can be valuable tools, depending on your goals and the context which they are applied.

In my Teachers Pay Teachers store, you’ll find that I have both games for game-based learning and I also have academic badges that students earn for gamification.

Bringing Games in the Classroom

Keep in mind that not all games are board games. In fact, there are ways to use games to create high-level thinking with your students. For instance, games like Tetris can build spatial-thinking skills. There are also numberless games that you can play that can create a lot of discussion and critical thinking such as Nim.

In Nim, students take turns taking pieces from a pyramid. For instance, if player one takes one from the bottom row, then player two takes the top one, next player one takes the two middle row, and then player two takes the one from the bottom row. All that leaves left is player one with the last one in the bottom row. The player who takes the last piece loses.

Students are working in partnerships to find a winning strategy to a game with 6 pieces. After you have let the students play the game enough times, students may start noticing patterns. Have them work together to determine if there is winning strategy. Then as a class create a list of these strategies, or conjectures.

Have students pick a conjecture from the list that was created as a class and either prove it or disprove it. Then students will take anchor chart paper and create a poster explaining their conjecture and why they believe it works all the time. For instance, one partnership may believe that player will always win. They will need to use their paper to prove this.

Next, have students hang their posters and create a gallery walk so students can look at everyone’s conjectures and proofs. You could even have students write thoughts on post-its to put on the proofs. This activity is a great way to get students thinking and they are still playing games in the classroom.

Games in the classroom are a powerful way to get students learning and to use mathematical reasoning. I would definitely make it a part of my routine, not just in math, but in all areas.


Click here to grab a FREE math quest game to get you started!


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