Having fun is psychologically and neurologically beneficial to learning. When students and teachers play, the brain produces a concoction of “happy chemicals”, namely dopamine and endorphins. Oxygen levels even increase.
When there is an opportunity for collaborative risk and reward, learning is far more likely. The novelty created by play also helps students’ brains catch and hold onto the material more efficiently.
For those reasons, games should be considered for use when appropriately reinforcing a desired objective. Here are some great games to use in English or foreign language classrooms that will enhance learning and make your classroom a certified fun zone! But, you have to be OK with noise and a little organized chaos.
Many high school English teachers have implemented word-building games like Scrabble, Boggle, or Bananagrams. Consider putting students in teams to play games that require specific skill sets like these so those who struggle in that area do not feel unduly stressed during what is intended to be a fun learning activity.
Scrabble and Bananagrams could be helpful in teaching and reinforcing spelling and recalling multi-syllable vocabulary words. Just remember that these games can be very difficult for bad spellers so go ahead and make using the dictionary legal - what’s it going to hurt?
Boggle is similar, but only require players to create 3 or 4 letter words. The trick to this game is that students have to think fast.
Balderdash can be a lot of fun, and students will learn vocabulary words without even realizing it. They will also practice creating credible definitions based upon word parts and the sounds of the words.
A twist on Balderdash, Krazy Words is a game that you might not have heard of before. Players are given a card with a word on it and several tiles to put on their tile rack. The tiles are used to create an inventive synonym for their word.
Then, everyone's cards are mixed up and displayed in the center of the table. Players look at each other's synonyms and vote on what real words they think the synonyms apply to. This game is great for discussing why a nonsense word sounds like it might have a particular meaning.
Scattegories was a popular party game in the 90's that you may have forgotten about. A letter die is rolled, and a topic card is drawn. Then each player creates a list of words for that topic that start with the letter on the die. Points are given for words that nobody else thought of.
Hedbanz is a fun way for students to review and discuss characters from literature studied in class. This game was intended for play where every player wears a headband across their forehead, a card is placed in the headband without the player seeing what’s on it, and the other players all shout out clues to help the player guess what is on the card.
This could easily be done with 2-4 teams if you want the whole class to play. To use it as a literature review, create your own cards with names and settings from the literature your students have studied and go from there.
What teacher hasn’t used some form of Jeopardy in their classroom? But if we’re honest, most of us have worked into the wee hours of the morning creating questions and a perfectly aligned gameboard (old school, on a posterboard or chalkboard; techies, on the computer) - only to decide that we are never doing that again!
Make it easier on yourself: hand out 3x5 index cards and have the students create the questions. Assign categories by row, then have the rows work together to determine the point value levels of the questions.
If you have more than one section of the same class, have classes make questions for each other.
Creativity & Higher Level Thinking
DiXit is a game in which players are given a hand of beautifully illustrated cards with very creative images on them. Upon a player’s turn, the player becomes the storyteller; he or she selects one of their cards and without showing it to the other players, creates a clue (could be one word, a sentence, a cliche’, a song/movie/book title, etc.).
Then each player selects one of their own cards that they think best matches the clue and passes it to the storyteller (also without showing it to the other players). The storyteller shuffles them, then shows them all, and players cast votes, guessing which card belonged to the storyteller.
Points are doled out accordingly. There is a board with player pieces (bunnies), and there are several expansion packs.
To play the game In a Pickle, each player is dealt five cards, then four additional cards are placed in the middle of the playing area in a plus shape with the arrows pointing away from the center. Each card has a noun on it.
On their turn, each player will place a card from their hand onto one of the cards in the plus sign; the word on the card must be something that can either fit inside or is larger than one of the outermost cards in the card formation. The player who plays the fourth card in a stack gets to keep the stack.
The directions encourage players to be creative, think about multiple meanings of words, and consider both conceptual and logical fittings. There are even directions for how to challenge an answer and vote on it.
Codenames requires students to work cooperatively in two teams, red and blue. 25 cards, each with one word on it, are placed in the center of the table in five rows of five. Each team selects a Spymaster.
The two Spymasters share a coded card that identifies which cards represent red spies, which cards represent blue spies, which are bystanders, and which card is the assassin (the assassin is the equivalent to the eightball in billiards). Spymasters take turns providing their team with a clue to identify their spies.
Clues can only contain one word and the number of cards to which the clue applies. The goal is to be the first to correctly identify all of your team's spies. There are several variations of this game, some of which use picture cards rather than words.
Quick Filler Games
If you are the type of teacher who wants to keep all your classes on the same page and occasionally find yourself with 5 to 10 minutes extra in you classes that move a little more quickly than the others, the following games can be used as quick gameplay that is still relevant to your content.
Most of us remember the thrill and excitement of the Scholastic Book Fair setting up in the school cafetorium, and right in between the price point of your favorite Little Apple book and the puppy dog bookmark was the Mad Libs collection. You will probably also remember having to ask someone what an adverb is (more recent Mad Libs do have the hint: “word ending in -ly”).
These can be so much fun to do with a class. They review the parts of speech in a non-threatening way, encourage creativity, and often result in belly laughs (which are not often heard in most high school English classrooms).
You could just have the class call out words, pull names to give words, or even have the books (or photocopies) out for students to use if they finish assignments early (with a note on the cover not to write in the books).
Take it a step further and create an enrichment activity in which students create their own Mad Libs using a text they recently studied, an essay they have written, a lesson that was taught, or a current event.
You've probably played Catchphrase before and can see how it could be easily adapted to classroom play.
Divide the class into two teams. Turn on the Catchphrase disk (or purchase the game as an app on your mobile device), and a word will come up on the screen. The team will select a clue-giver who can use verbal clues and physical gestures to get their team to guess the word. It's a race, so as soon as the word is guessed, the disk is passed to the other team. The point goes to the team not holding the disk when the timer goes off.
While you could try and buy multiple copies of any of these games and have the whole class play the same game, it might be more feasible to have one of each game and set up stations allowing students to choose which game they are going to play. Just be sure to call time early enough so students have time to put the games away correctly, and consider having a student in each group responsible for making sure all the pieces are accounted for (you could go so far as to have an inventory checklist for each game).
Board games could also be introduced during a unit on procedural texts. Students could be placed in stations with a game they have never played before. Have them take a few minutes to figure the game out without the instructions.
Then hand out the instructions and have them read them as a group and attempt to play the game. As a final task, have each student write out their understanding of the instructions at the end of class (for enrichment, have them create an original game with the game board and pieces).
After this activity, the games can be brought out at any point in the year without much time spent on how to play.