And Why Do We Teach Them?

After having taught school for 30 years, I have decided that if you don’t change teaching methods with the kids you won’t teach the majority of the kids. Of course, there are some kids that will even learn if you didn’t teach anything, but these students are not the ones that worry us because they are going to achieve no matter what. The students that fall into the other category are the ones that will keep you from teaching your class so you will have to reach them or lose your class and maybe your mind (at least it increases your stress level).

I think that the major way that kids have changed over the years is the fact that they spend most of there leisure time in front of a screen, physically inactive and usually alone. This leaves their bodies with stored up energy that comes out when they are with other students and, often, in class. If you know that they have this stored up energy, and you know that they need to use it, then plan your class accordingly. Find activities that help the students learn as well as use up some of that energy and allow for socialization with other students.

One such activity is playing learning games. When studying vocabulary in classes have a vocabulary bee. Let the student that needs the most help call out the definitions to the other students. This allows that student not to be a failure by not succeeding in the vocabulary bee and also allows that student to study himself/herself while reading the definitions and correcting the students in the vocabulary bee.

There are other such learning games. I created an active, out of seat, learning game called “Go To The Head Of The Class”. It is actually a cross between “Red Light Green Light” and “Mother May I”. The “head of the class” is a student who asks questions about the chapter you are on. There is also a “class monitor” who is like the classroom traffic cop. The classroom monitor tries to keep students from sneaking up toward the front of the class. Usually this works best with about 15 students per class. If you have 30 students, it is best to make two games. This can be done outside or in a hallway. The goal of the game is to answer questions so that you can catch up to and touch the head of the class. At that time you become the head of the class and the head of the class that lost his post becomes the class monitor. Then the game starts over again. All members of the class line up with their backs against the wall (or a curb or side of a building outside). The head of the class asks the student questions one at a time in order. If the student answers the question correctly he/she gets to move forward three giant steps (as in Mother May I) and if he/she answers incorrectly he/she moves backwards three baby steps. While this student is moving ahead legitimately, the rest of the class can try to sneak up without being seen by the class monitor (as in Red Light Green Light); however, the monitor does not have to turn around-- he/she keeps watching. The goal is to allow student who can answer the questions to make it to the head of the class. If the sneaking students are seen –which they usually will be—they have to go all the way back to start.

You will find that social skills are not what they used to be. Students have to learn social skills and argue about this one cheating or that one not playing fair. That is because kids don’t really play together like this as much today. In the beginning it may take the classroom teacher to oversee and teach about playing fair. This is also an important lesson to learn and well worth the time it takes to teach it. After they get used to it, though, students will be able to control it themselves.

There is also the game played like “Hollywood Squares” in which questions are asked about the chapter you are on and a person on the panel can either give the correct answer or fake an incorrect answer and the person on the team has to agree with that answer or disagree with it.

The “Hollywood Squares” game is played in the classroom and a tic tac toe board is made on the board in front of the room. A panel of 9 professionals is chosen to sit on one side of the room. The panel member chooses his/her famous name and the name is written in the square he/she represents on the game board. The rest of the class is divided into two teams and sit on the other side of the class. In turn, each team member chooses a square by saying the name in that square and that panel member answers the question asked by the teacher. Then that panel member can answer correctly or make up an answer. Notice, this takes creativity to make up fake answers. Then the team member who chose that square has to agree or disagree with that panel member’s answer. If he chooses correctly he gets the square and if he does not choose correctly the other team gets the square unless it is a winning square. If it is a winning square the team has to earn that square.

These are fun ways for students to learn and satisfy their need to socialize and be active in the classroom. It may make for a noisy class so you may have to relocate your class to avoid bothering other classes, but you will see the results and, more important, the students will see that they are learning and study just to win the games.

Learning by playing is not a new idea. Animals have always done it and so do humans. We learn by playing as babies, why should it be different as school age children. We as teachers have to change with the students we teach. We also have to realize that even these games will not work with every class. You will have to determine what works with the students you have in each particular class. You may be able to use it in one of your own classes but not with another. It all depends on the manner of the class, but good luck trying and, remember, learning can be fun!