By Sarah Guthery and Amy Corp
The focus on students’ emotional well-being in schools is greater now more than ever. As teachers, we can help facilitate that by fostering community and team building—but how? Research has shown that playing games cultivates such a sense of community (Chlup & Collins, 2010).
Many of us are already using review games
, or quiz games as part of instruction; however, games also can foster a sense of community and improve class morale. Teaching games to students requires an initial investment of time, but once they know the rules, you can use them anytime with no preparation or materials required. We commonly use games for younger students on rainy days, when lessons run short, or while waiting for the bus, but they serve a purpose for older students, too. I once heard a high school teacher say they call roll because that might be the only time all day that student hears their name at school. Playing games with students sets aside intentional time to connect as a class and build openness and trust (Boatman, 1991).
Ice Breakers and Team Building
As adults, we recognize the importance of community building, and an entire industry has sprung up around corporate team-building. However, we have yet to apply that same fervor to our classrooms and our students. Icebreakers are a great way to start introducing games into your classroom. An icebreaker is a game in which the main objective is to get to know others better. As you and your students feel more confident with one another and playing games, team-building exercises are fun ways to learn about classmates and build connections.
How to Select a Game
- Start small: Choose icebreakers to ensure students know one another’s names and build from there.
- Start safe: Consider the amount of personal risk-taking involved; students are unlikely to potentially embarrass themselves in front of classmates.
- Start secure: To keep the game experience positive, choose games that don’t require physical contact or oversharing of personal information.
Games for K–4
Elementary students enjoy short, active games with lots of opportunity for engagement. The classics like 7-Up and Simon Says are always popular, but you can add new games, too, like Secret Circle. Students stand in a circle facing out with one student, blindfolded, in the middle. The student in the middle tries to listen for a noisy object being passed around, like a bag of bells, and point to where they think they hear the noise before time runs out.
Games for 5–8
Middle school and high school students love games, too, and since they are older can enjoy games with more complex rules. One of my favorite games with this age is Giants, Dwarves, and Elves. This game is a mashup of Red Rover and Rock, Paper, Scissors; the game (and many others) is explained in detail at the link.
Games for 9–12
Even though their days of playing tag are probably over, high school students still need community and trust-building activities. Playing games targeted at adults can meet this need and prepare them for working in teams in the real world. One fun game is concentric circles that rotate so everyone has a partner to talk to, and after 30 seconds the inner circle turns one place to the right, giving everyone a new partner. They introduce themselves and share one interest or hobby. By the end of the activity, every student has engaged with half the class in short conversations.
How and When to Start
If you have never played games with your classes before, starting midyear is the perfect time to introduce new life and community into your classroom. You can use the trust you have already built with students to introduce new ways to end the day. Rather than always ending on an exit ticket, packing up, or with reminders about homework, leaving just 3–5 minutes at the end of a class for a short game can transform your room into a community over time. Playing games to build community also ends the day on a positive note. Often a simple game can end the day in laughter and send everyone home happy and with a sense of belonging. Perhaps for some students, that sense of belonging may be the most important few minutes of the day.
Dr. Guthery is an Assistant Professor of Curriculum and Instruction at Texas A&M University Commerce. Her research and teaching focus on the preparation and retention of new teachers in the classroom.
Dr. Corp is an Associate Professor at Texas A&M Commerce where she teaches education courses and supervises student teachers. Previously, she taught for 13 years in public schools in four states.
Chlup, D. T., & Collins, T. E. (2010). Breaking the ice: Using ice-breakers and re-energizers with adult learners. Adult Learning, 21(3–4), 34–39. Boatman, S. A. (1991, April 11–14). Icebreakers and group builders for the classroom [Paper presentation]. Annual Meeting of the Central States Communication Association, Chicago, IL, United States.