I know that time is precious in classrooms, so any time we can find or invent games that reinforce instruction or skills, I try to pass them along. The following games are old family favorites that can be used in classrooms for a variety of lessons or when students and teachers need a break from normal routines.
Salad Bowl is a game that our family has played for years. We have tried to remember who introduced the concept to us, since we play with each other as well as guests and extended family, but I can’t give anyone official credit. When we play, everyone writes names of people on slips of paper, folds the slips, and puts them in a salad bowl—the more the better. Then, a player draws a slip and has one minute to describe the person and get someone at the table to say the name. When my mother plays, the girls learn about famous literary figures. When my husband plays, we have to be up on sports heroes. My nephew has made sure that we all know the names of World Cup soccer players. How could we modify this for classrooms?
Fill the bowl with adjectives (or proper nouns, or verbs, or another part of speech). We did this during our Summer Writing Academy, and the students loved it.
Fill the bowl with important vocabulary words from recent units. If words are put in multiple times, students just get better and better at identifying them. Trust me, it took me a few tries to remember Lionel Messi, a fact that my nephew couldn’t believe, but repetition helped me!
Fill the bowl with the names of books or characters. You will have students giving lightning-fast summaries, as well as reminding other students of books they may have missed.
Salad Bowl is one of the most fun, flexible games I know. It lends itself to all different skills, can be played by multiple ages, and can take a long time or a short time, depending on how many slips of paper end up in that bowl. If you have struggling students, you can give them more than a minute. You can also play in teams of people with different areas of expertise. Once you teach students Salad Bowl, they will help you figure out ways and reasons to play!
Boggle is a game that we enjoy in our family as well. When you play Boggle, you try to make as many words from a 16-letter game board as possible. It’s a great way for children to think about letter patterns, rhyming words, homonyms, and word morphology. To score points in Boggle, you have to come up with words that no one else thinks of. This concept can be generalized to other games that could tap into other skills. For examples, using a set amount of time, try these:
Write all the idioms you can think of.
Write all the synonyms for a common verb you can think of (walk, said, ate . . .).
Write all the transition words you can.
Write all the character traits you can think of.
You could tailor this game to any lesson you are working on. Again, this is another one that can take as much or as little time as you want to give it, but it will engage a high percentage, if not all, of the students in your room.
List with a Twist
In List with a Twist, students write down every word they can think of about a specific place, emotion, person, or animal. Then, without using any of those words, they have to describe that same thing. We give them points for how quickly they can do it, but deduct points if they slip and use one of the words on their lists. The game isn’t terribly competitive, but it leads to creative expression, unexpected figurative language, and lots of laughter.
Games offer many opportunities to laugh, but they offer important learning opportunities as well. I recommend being constantly on the lookout for ways to tailor a game into a chance for meaningful play in the classroom.