"We have so much curriculum to cover. We don't have time for games." "These kids need to be academically challenged. They don't need to be playing" "My students have significant academic gaps--I can't possibly stop teaching content to play a game."
Oh, yes… You have time. Games are important--essential, really. You don't have time to not play games with your students.
There are endless types of games, and they offer numerous and varied benefits in the classroom. While many improv games act as energizers, others offer opportunities to more deeply understand curricular content and connections between ideas. Games build class community, bringing your students together to work as an ensemble--supporting each other rather than acting against one another in a constant battle of social and academic upstaging. Games can focus a wily group, and they can teach essential principles through hands-on, meaningful engagement. A teacher with a repertoire of games under her belt is prepared to be flexible, dynamic, and provide differentiated instruction for her students. Plus…she has more fun.
Two Ways to Integrate Games
- Choose an intention: focus, energy, interpersonal connections, explore content, curricular connections.
- Use a game to fit your specific purpose, integrating it into the lesson at the appropriate moment. You might use a game to initiate a lesson or series of activities, in the middle of an instructional period to access a concept or act as a "restart", or as a closing activity.
- Experiment with discussing the purpose of the game with your students before engaging in play.
- Create a focus for the improv workshop, and use games to help build up to that focus.
- Start with team-building, connecting games; then move into games that build a specific set of skills that will be helpful for the goals of the day.
- Be flexible--have a number of games to choose from, and be ready to adjust at a moment's notice if your class needs you to go in another direction. In a workshop environment, it's helpful to include a mix of partner, small-group and whole-group games.
- Play! Act as a coach part of the time, and become a player at various points. Sometimes, offer yourself as an example. At other times, engage with the group and make mistakes as they do. They can learn from you as you muddle along with them. As your class sees you take risks and fail gracefully, they will feel safer in doing the same.
ONE EXAMPLE--GAME TO ENERGIZE AND FOCUS
I was teaching my 6th-8th-grade Science class the other day, and we had two things to accomplish: organize paperwork (going over a test, filing, and the like) and introduce key content through a PowerPoint lecture. We often have labs and/or lively discussions about relevant material, but this was just one of those days when we needed to get through some things. We certainly had a lot of material to cover, but I understood that our attention spans are limited. If a teacher doesn't work proactively to liven things up and break the potential monotony of organizing and receiving information, he is going to lose about half of his class. The "lost" kids might not be disruptive (although they could go nutso at the drop of a hat in a middle school classroom…), but they have developed creative ways of being disengaged and distracted while listening to a dedicated, well-meaning educator drone on an on and on. As I was about to launch into my all-important lecture, I could feel the tension rise…and my annoyance level begin to increase. Instead of giving the class a "talking to", I pulled them into the center of the room for a quick game.
Sometimes, I have a plan with a clear intention. At this moment, I just knew I had to do something. I told the kids we needed a quick, energizing game which could also act as a focusing exercise for the group. I asked the class if they had any suggestions, and then I dismissed the ones which would be energizing but not focusing. (Devin told me about a game called "Train Wreck", which sounded awfully fun but I didn't think would offer us a chance to regain our focus. I hope to learn it from him sometime soon.) We landed on "I Am a Tree", and we even connected to some science content during our 6-minute playing. Sweet.
I AM A TREE
I love this game. Everyone stands in a circle, and one person starts by coming into the center, saying "I am a tree," showing themselves as a tree by the way they hold their body--miming it. Another person jumps in and is something connected to a tree ("I am an apple," perhaps). A third person hops on in and is something connected to both of those ("I am a branch" or "I am a worm"). The first person says, "I'll take the _______", bringing one of the other players(the apple or branch) back with them to the circle. We are left with another beginning from the player who is left in the center: "I am an apple." And so on.
Side coaching suggestions: "BE the ______. Show us what that looks like." "(To the third person--) How can you be something that's connected to ________ AND ________?" "Wait two turns before going out again. Share the stage."
Principles of Improv: Yes, and…; Listen; Commit!
Sometimes this takes one minute, and sometimes you can sit down in a circle and have an in-depth discussion as a whole group. You can choose to journal first, connect a game to a principle of improv or two or three, or connect it to content during the discussion. Play with leading the discussion and also with being a participant on even ground with the players. Looking for a great, quick way to have some closure with the group after a game? Try this: Have your students think of the ending to one of these sentences:
"I learned _______.
I think __________. or
I wonder __________."
Toss a ball or stuffed animal to five people, end with some words of wisdom from the players, and move on. Come back to process more later…or don't. Use the game in a way that is useful to you, to your class, to the moment.