A game in the classroom? You just have to dare!

‘Uhm, I just want to try something out…. You’re the first group I’ve done this with.’

Full of apologies, I set up a game in an online group. I know that the students like it, because every survey shows that they value games and active exercises highly.

Yet I find it difficult, because a lot can go wrong. Especially online.

As I pondered this, it occurred to me that I only use games when I feel confident. Sure enough about the group to let go of the reins (that sounds strict, but as a teacher / trainer you are in charge of the lesson). And sure enough about the material to know that a game fits in the learning process here, in this place.

A book and a written exercise are ‘easy’ forms of work to fall back on. They are also familiar to everyone. Moreover, it makes the transfer easy (done: p. 23-27 + grammar on p. 235), everyone knows where they stand (do p. 28 + 29) and it is easy to test (learn the irregular verbs). A game is more difficult to ‘grasp’ and therefore makes it exciting to use for higher groups, (young) adults and serious subjects. Why?

It requires quite some organisation

You have to make groups, explain rules, distribute materials, perhaps set up a game board, etc. So it requires quite a bit of organisation. So it requires quite a bit of organisation. Especially if it is the first time you are using that particular game.

But then again, so does a new teaching method. The first time I gave a lesson to a new client, I spent about a week preparing. That mainly consisted of understanding how the book, the teacher’s guide, the worksheets, the extra worksheets, the online environment and the digital learning environment related to each other. Looking back on those first lessons: 2.5 lessons – 25 hours of preparation. Add to that the first fumbling with Zoom (‘We can’t hear you, you’re on mute!’) and you’ll understand that I didn’t use any games back then.

Does everyone understand what they have to do?

I myself always find it a bit difficult to handle the rules. Especially because you often don’t know what everyone’s ‘game level’ is. One may have only played quartet at home, the other regularly plays complex board games. It is always nice if you can link a new game to something familiar: ‘This looks like monopoly, only you don’t buy streets but …. Or: ‘This is a combination of Dominion and Carcossonne.’

If you put an existing game on the table, the student who already knows it is worth his weight in gold. He can explain it again after your first explanation (because of course there will be questions). Or you can let him/her explain the whole game. Great practice for speaking skills, logical thinking and instructing. And for a quick overview, you can always use this quick rules with the game.

Are things going well in the groups?

When a game is played, a lot happens! But what exactly is happening? That is not always easy for you as a teacher to see. Moreover, it can be different in each group. You really have to let it go. A game appeals to both knowledge and skills. Also, a game often involves much more than just the subject you have in mind. Here you can read the example of teacher Yoeri. He notices that playing abstract games not only has a positive influence on the maths grades, but also on the social skills of pupils.

How did it go in your group?

Ideally, you want the game to be a strong learning experience. But how do you measure that? Good question. For the Teaching By Games project, we asked teachers and trainers how they measure the results of a game. The highest scores were for ‘a moment of reflection’ after the game, whether or not in the form of a group discussion. This is of course a very good thing, because students can share their experiences and new knowledge and you can immediately compare these in plenary: is it the same for everyone? Are there other experiences or findings?

Incidentally, the second most frequent comment is that teachers do not measure the outcome of games. Also understandable, because it is complex to measure the outcome of a game. Trainers, teachers and lecturers who regularly use games unanimously indicate that playing games mainly exercises ways of thinking: abstract, creative and strategic thinking, but also, for example, causal reasoning.

If everyone helps to clean up!

A concern I regularly hear: it never fails to keep that game complete! I don’t know if this concern applies to primary education more than to secondary education. But it is a fact that a game must remain complete in order to play it well.

Zelf ben ik al bij I have visited many schools with games and my collection is still complete. I make a list of the contents of the game and stick it on the inside of the lid. I also plan time for cleaning up. And I indicate in advance that the group is responsible for the game they are bringing. Well, some wear and tear and traces of use give a game some extra charm.

How do you do it?

What about you? What do you consider to be the pros and cons of using games in the classroom? What is easy to organise and what makes it complicated? I am curious to hear about your experiences.

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