A Primer On Using Games To Teach

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A Primer On Using Games To Teach

by Rosa Fattahi, WizIQ

A key element to ensuring any successful pedagogy is student engagement.

However, keeping students motivated and actively involved can be difficult. Besides the basic challenges of maintaining students’ interest and participation in class, today’s teachers also have to deal with growing numbers of students and the increased distraction from smart phones and other personal devices.

One good way to keep students engaged in the learning process is by varying class exercises to include a combination of lectures, individual assignments, group work, computer activities, videos, and other pedagogical tools like games. Games are interactive, fun, and appealing to most students, and they also offer a number of specific benefits to the learning process.

Why Use Games?

In addition to improving student engagement, games contribute to student learning in many ways. Some of the benefits of using games as teaching tools in the classroom include:

Games make learning more fun and contribute to better peer relationships and a positive classroom atmosphere. Even with varied classroom activities, some students may get bored and lose interest at times. Such unengaged students can negatively affect the general learning environment in the class with interruptions or by distracting other students. Games, however, make learning more fun. Even more, they help to strengthen peer relationships in the classroom and can foster a more positive classroom atmosphere overall.

Games motivate and interest students, thereby increasing student engagement. Games draw on students’ natural competitive instincts and thus encourage participation and engagement. Also, by providing small rewards and positive reinforcement, teachers can offer students additional incentives and motivation to fully engage in the learning activity.

Games enable students to assess their own knowledge and find areas for personal improvement. As part of the learning process, it is important for students to take time and assess their own knowledge, in order to plan a course for success; some students do this on their own by studying or quizzing themselves, but not all students will. In the same way, games provide a useful means for students to assess their comprehension of course concepts, so that they can see areas for improvement or additional study.

Games allow students to receive feedback on their performance without the consequences of grades. Although students receive feedback from the teacher on assignments and assessments, it is not immediate, and not all students will prudently review and analyze feedback they receive in order to increase learning.

But a student’s success or failure in an educational game suggests their level of mastery of the course concepts therein, providing students with a kind of indirect feedback on their performance. Unlike graded assignments and assessments, however, games give students the chance to receive feedback that strengthens their understanding of course concepts, without the stress of consequences like grades.

Games encourage critical thought and help develop students’ reasoning and decision-making skills. Games invite students to think critically as they use information they have learned in the course to complete the challenge at hand to the best of their ability. Moreover, in navigating through a game, students must make a series of choices. In this way, games can help students strengthen their reasoning and decision-making abilities, skills which are useful for test-taking as well as life in general.

Games build cooperation and teamwork skills that are useful in all areas of life. In order for students to succeed at most games, they must be able to cooperate and get along with their peers. For team games in particular, cooperation is of paramount importance, and students playing such games are able to well hone their collaborative abilities. Thus, playing games in the classroom works to build students’ cooperation and teamwork skills, which are useful in all areas of life.

By providing students with a fun way to apply their knowledge, games can aid memory and help students retain course concepts. Many educational games require students to recall information and apply their knowledge to a specific situation or challenge, which teaches them to use what they have learned rather than just recall facts. Hence, in addition to helping with memory and recall, games allow students to apply learning to achieve a goal, thereby strengthening their understanding of course concepts.

Games appeal to students of different learning styles. Students learn in different ways. For example, there are visual learners, aural learners, and verbal learners. Also, some learners thrive in solitary learning environments while others perform better in more social settings. To address the many varying student learning styles, teachers can use different types of games in the classroom.

What Kinds Of Games?

There are many types of games that teachers can use in the classroom. First, there are individual games, where students complete a challenge on their own, as well as team games in which students collaborate together. With regard to the games themselves, there are many pedagogical applications.

For example, some are best for memory and recall, some require more application of knowledge, and some are tests of speed and efficiency. For the sake of variety and maintaining student interest, as well as appealing to different learning styles, it is a good idea to include a range of educational game types and formats in your pedagogy, such as:

  • Trivia Games: Online teachers can pose course-related trivia questions to students, who can answer individually or in teams. These games help students with recall and memory, and they are a good way to review for tests.

  • Hypothetical Games: These games work best when done in teams. After dividing e-students up into small groups, teachers can present a hypothetical situation and challenge each group to come up with the best solution. Such exercises incite students to not only recall course concepts, but to also apply their knowledge to solve a problem, cooperate with peers, and use reasoning and decision-making skills.

  • Racing/Timed Games: Teachers can ask individual students or teams to complete a task or any other challenge in the least amount of time, and games that challenge students to race against a clock are especially good motivators. Nearly any kind of game can be made even more difficult and exciting by adding a time limit or rewarding those with the best time, whether done as individuals or teams.

  • Information Scavenger Hunts: Teachers can send students, as individuals or as teams, on a scavenger hunt. The search can be for objects or information, with the goal being to successfully find a certain number of items in the least time.

You can find specific ideas, templates, directions, and tools for countless educational games online.

When Should Games Be Used?

Games are a good part of any planned agenda, and most students will enjoy the break from standard lecture or coursework. In addition, it can be very helpful to have some game ideas and needed tools on hand to use as needed.

For example, when there is a clear lull in student participation or interest in the material being presented, introducing a game on-the-fly can revitalize the classroom and encourage student engagement. Or, if there is some extra time at the end of class, a game is a good way to effectively use the additional time for supplementary learning, while at the same time giving the students a chance to have some fun.

How Can Games Be Used In eLearning?

The online classroom environment does present some challenges for teachers who want to include games in their pedagogy. However, with an online educational platform and virtual classroom that enables synchronous learning activities— it is possible to facilitate a variety of game types. Here are just a few examples:

  • Trivia Games: During a live class session, online teachers can pose course-related trivia questions to students, who can answer using a tool such as a polling feature or via live audio and visual communication.

  • Hypothetical Games: Using a platform with a tool like Breakout Rooms, online teachers can divide students into groups and even move between the rooms to confer with each group. For these, as well as for individual challenges, students can use an interactive whiteboard or screen sharing function to present their solutions for the class.

  • Racing/Timed Games: A versatile online platform with live audio and video communication and tools like a polling feature and/or Breakout Rooms makes it possible to make nearly any game or exercise a timed “race” for added motivation and excitement.

  • Information Scavenger Hunts: A platform that enables real-time, “live” class sessions can easily facilitate online scavenger hunts. Students can quickly search their notes or the internet for the information needed, and then return to the online class platform window to give their answer. If the platform has an interactive whiteboard or similar tool, teachers can give students the control to display their findings on it. Platforms with live text chatting tools are also very useful for these kinds of games.

With the right learning platform, it is possible to use all kinds of games as teaching tools in the online classroom. Overall, educational games are effective and useful pedagogical tools that offer a wealth of benefits—and a lot of fun— for students and the classroom as a whole.

A Primer On Using Games To Teach

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  • Mike Petty

    I would add that games can have these positive benefits, but they can also be a distraction from deep learning. It is easy for students to let the fun get in the way of the objective. I’ve found reflection on the learning is necessary to be sure students don’t miss the point.

    Also the ability to quickly get a class vote with classroom response systems (CRS or “clickers”) opens up many new possibilities that previously would have been too time consuming or impractical. I use them for creativity games or games where players try to predict opinions of others or the group. Several variations on these ideas are available (for free) on my blog:

    Critical Thinking Games:
    http://classroomgamesandtech.blogspot.com/p/critical-thinking-games-and-activities.html

    Creativity Games:
    http://classroomgamesandtech.blogspot.com/p/creativity-games-and-activities.html

  • Ingrid Beaty

    Thanks- I plan on sharing this with my 5th graders on Tuesday. They are designing games based on the early explorers to pitch to an educational company.