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Classroom Management, Teaching Tips & Tricks, Truth for Teachers Collective   |   Nov 9, 2022

24 classroom games to make student learning FUN

By Amy Stohs

2nd Grade

24 classroom games to make student learning FUN

By Amy Stohs

Looking for new ways to review learning, discuss questions, formatively assess, and be more playful with learning?

Here are 24 different games and structures you can use that will infuse laughter and joy into your classroom. No matter the age of students or context you teach, there should be something here for you!

But first — let’s talk about student impact, and the direct benefit for your students (and you!) when games are incorporated into learning.

Why play games?

1. It prevents burnout.

It seems that the general public is waking up to the fact that teachers are burned out. Some of the systems that could be changed in order to support teachers (many of which are described in this 2021 NEA article on teacher burnout) are being doubled down vs. released. When testing and data seem to rule over the day-to-day life of a teacher, we need to remember what power we do have to create the classroom we want.

For me, this is one where I’m enjoying moments with my class and reminding myself why I wanted to be a teacher. I love it when kids are laughing and learning. One of the best ways to beat burnout is to a) recognize what is within our realm of influence and focus on that and b) consider what gives us energy and do more of that. For me, that’s a lot of art, creativity, and games.

2. It meets the need for students to have fun and to belong.

In a previous article on student behavior, I discussed how the philosophy of Responsive Classroom asks you as the teacher to consider how we prioritize the needs of safety, belonging, and fun. We want all students to feel safe, like they belong, and have fun! These are needed in the classroom, not just nice-to-have. There are many things we can’t control in the classroom but there are several things still under our control.

When leading a whole class game, students can bond as a classroom community. You create a shared experience for them. These joyful moments create memories for students that also help them attach positive emotions to their learning which helps the learning stick. The games below tend not to be competitive in a “you’re out” kind of way. There are some restrictions on time which I find creates urgency and enthusiasm, but generally these are not games that will result in a heartbroken loser.

3. It reinforces academic concepts through retrieval practice.

When we think about games in the classroom, I think teachers often think about board games, card games, partner games for math, small group games that can be used as a station, indoor recess games, and so on. Below I am sharing only whole class games that enforce academic learning although some could be done with just a small group.

These games enforce academic learning because they are a method of formative assessment that is not a paper quiz. Quizzing is helpful for students because they need to learn to recall certain information and strengthen pathways in their brains in order to thoroughly learn the material. This strengthening of pathways is done through recalling information (even just attempting to recall information) which is called retrieval practice.

You can get a more thorough understanding of retrieval practice from this Cult of Pedagogy article/podcast here. These games and structures are flexible and can be done many times in many different ways without getting old. If you haven’t been exposed as much to the benefits of retrieval practice and how the brain learns, there’s so much interesting research out there especially from The Learning Scientists.

Ready to learn some game idea? I’ve organized them into three categories below:

  • Any K-12 grade level/subject area
  • Best for elementary (grades K-5)
  • Best for secondary (grades 6-12)

I encourage you to check out ALL of the ideas here so you can make a final call as to which games best fit your context. I think these are fairly flexible structures and could be adapted to meet various age groups, but I wanted to provide examples for age groups that I knew had been successful.

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Games that are adaptable to any grade or subject

1. Act it out / Show Me

Preparation: List of words or phrases for students to act out.

How to play: The teacher calls out “Show Me…” and then the word such as “Show Me a Triangle,” “Show Me the letter R,” or “Show Me something that starts with /b/ (sound)”. You can have students act out a situation with the phrase “Act out…” This could sound like, “Act out the way [character] felt at the beginning of the story,” “Act out adding 2+3,” “Act out helping a classmate.” These are quick call outs by the teacher.

Examples: When reading a poem about leaves falling and twirling, students can act out the visualization of the leaves. When reading about a character that feels frustrated, they can show that expression on their face. This can also be a mini-project such as modeling cold fronts, warm fronts, occluded fronts, and stationary fronts in weather where different people have labels like “rain”, “cloud,” “cold air,” and “warm air.” These simulations can really help learning stick.

Variation: A favorite purchase of mine for the classroom (that luckily was bought by my school with some STEM money) was Exploragons. Magformers are another favorite which stays together in shapes much better than many other magnet shapes I’ve tried. All of those are somewhat expensive, but they are super cool for Geometry. These are fantastic for showing specific shapes to partners.

I handed these out to my students and had them show me “right, isoscles triangle” or “2 similar squares” or “a right trapezoid.” You can be really specific with Exploragons in building shapes, and I think I would have been over the moon in high school geometry if I’d had these at my fingertips. They also come with protractors so you can specify “a scalene triangle with one angle at 120 degrees”.

2. Simon Says

Preparation: In order to play this as an academic game, you need to come up with a set of movements that correlate to the vocabulary words you teach. While this may seem like a primary activity, it can work well with older students.

How to Play: Students move to the motion when you say “Simon Says” (or you can use your teacher name “Ms. Stohs Says”) and do not move when you don’t say the magic words.

Examples: My favorite version of this was an idea I got from a colleague that I elaborated on over time. I actually called it “Sun Says” and it was for astronomy. I was the sun, but later I chose students as the leader. The directions were all specific to our astronomy unit: rotate was spinning around yourself, revolve was walking in a little circle, rotate and revolve was doing both, day was facing me, night was facing away, tilt was showing me the tilted earth, etc.

I also taught them seasons, so I had them tilt their body and show how the northern hemisphere was in summer if it was tilted towards me or if it was fall or spring if they were flat towards me but still tilted. I also added in sunrise and sunset. A teacher in a professional development class of mine did this for architecture terms related to his tech ed class (tension, balance, facade, etc.). He found that he could refer to the movements to help students learn the terms after the game and it helped the terms stick.

3. Flip It with Whiteboards

Preparation: Students need individual whiteboards and dry-erase markers. You can have them work as partners if you want them to talk it out with someone, but I like this as a formative assessment tool.

How to Play: I call out a math problem, a word students will mark up within our phonics program, a vocabulary word attached to an image (polygon, quadrilateral), and then students flip their board to me and show me their answer. I do this with mental math, phonics work for words, and drawing for things that can be visualized (triangle, acute angle, something alive, something that weighs more than a pound, a closed figure, etc.).

I like to keep it quick and simple so that students can quickly show their work, get feedback, and move on to the next one. I just give students a thumbs up if they’re good or I’ll spin my finger in a circle to say “try again.” I keep this to a quick activity so I don’t run out of things to say and start pausing too long or let the kids get tired of it.

Examples: Open-ended prompts work well for this too (an ordinal number, a president, a word with a blend, a word that rhymes with play, a rational number, etc.).

Variation: Back-to-Back Game

Instead of students facing their board to me, students stand back to back with a partner. I can give a definition for a vocabulary word, a number sentence, or something else with a definitive, short answer, and then students flip their whiteboards to face one another on my count as opposed to flipping it to me. This is a great way for them to check their work with a partner. I can then provide the correct response just in case, and they turn back to back again.

4. Charades

Preparation: Select vocabulary words, people you’re studying, characters from books, geometric shapes, and symbols, shapes of letters, etc. You’ll need to put these on slips of paper preferably and into a container or bowl of some kind.

How to Play: An individual student selects a paper and tries to act out that word or phrase. I like to allow them to request a friend to help them act it out since this can create a  little bit of buy-in. You may also allow them to share which unit of study or book or general topic this word came from before they start acting. Then, other students can call out guesses or raise their hand to make guesses.

Examples: If you have a 5-minute buffer, someone can act out an idea, people can guess, then we can move on to the next activity. It can be a great time filler and break since charades can feel quite long if you play for more than a few rounds.

5. Beach Ball Questions

Preparation: You will need some kind of large ball to toss around. Beach balls are great for this because they won’t cause injury to people or stuff if they get tossed too roughly. You will also need to consider a topic to review with students.

How to Play: Students pass the ball around in a circle and when you get the ball you say something related to the category: “List words that have to do with geography”, or “List number sentences that add up to 10”, or “List synonyms for good”. It can help to establish a pattern of the ball for students by saying names and tossing the ball around randomly.

Just start with yourself and say “Good morning/afternoon _____” then pass it to them. They do the same for another student until the ball makes it back to you. Then, have students point to the person they threw it to. That’s what they need to remember. The second time try to recreate the same pattern with only names. This way you can make sure that everyone gets the ball once, everyone is included, and the ball gets passed more efficiently.

You can repeat the pattern with an introduction of names, a sharing of their favorite candy or tv show, etc. This is great for building community, and then it can be used to share academic information.

Examples: Have students share one thing they learned that day as a closing, list one thing out of a category that you’re learning about (elements from the periodic table, Civil Rights icons and leaders, compound words, etc.). If you keep the categories broad enough, it will allow lots of students to share before you need a new category and it will also serve as an assessment tool for you.

Variation: Students can also share 2 things so that the person they toss to needs to match it. For instance, I could start by saying ½. The person I toss it to needs to state an equivalent fraction. They might say 2/4. Then, they can switch to 2/10. The person who receives it after them can say 20/100. Then, they’ll pick a new number ⅓.

A teacher I know did this by matching WWII leaders and countries. I say “Germany” then the person I toss it to needs to say “Hitler.” Then, they can say the name of another country such as the United States. Allow students to have a lifeline if needed to reduce pressure. If you prompt kids to raise their hand if they have an idea, then the person holding the ball can toss it to anyone with their hand up.

6. Concentric Circles

Preparation: Prepare a set of questions for students or a set of images you can project for students to discuss. These can be as quick as would you rather questions for fun (or would you rather math prompts) or it can take a little longer with a thinking routine such as See, Think, Wonder or a number sense routine prompt such as WODB or Same but Different.

How to Play: The way to get this set up is to split the class into 2. If there is an odd number, you can participate. Once everyone is assigned 1 or 2 have 1s stand in a circle facing outward. Then, have all 2s go stand in front of a 1. If kids purposely go to their friends, it does not matter because they will move anyway. Choose if you will always have students go to the right or left. As long as you stick to one direction, you can alternate whether the inner or outer circle moves.

I like to change it up, so I might start with inner circle moving 1 to the right then outer circle moving 2 to the right then inner circle 2 to the right and close with outer circle moving 3 to the right. This keeps them guessing who they will talk to and forces a lot of connections that might not otherwise happen.

Examples: Students could also hold quiz questions they ask one another, share book recommendations, their highlights of the day, or goals for tomorrow.

7. Speed Dating/Line Dance

Preparation: Similar to concentric circles, this is best done with short prompts. Prepare a set of prompts either on cards students will hold or ones you will project on a screen. If your classroom makes it difficult to have everyone fit in one long line, you could do this activity in a hallway or outdoors which could be fun.

How to Play: The setup for this is to create 2 groups. Have group A line up in the largest span of space you have. This also works in a hallway. Then, have group B find a person to stand across from. Pick one line to stay and one line to move. If line A is moving, the farthest person at the end will walk all the way back to the beginning as everyone else slides down one person. It’s easiest to keep one line in order to maintain the places where partners should stand. The very first person or two might need a little guidance from you but otherwise, even young children can catch on quickly.

Examples: Because students could end up talking with anyone in the class, I find it’s best to keep the questions opinion-focused so that it lowers some stress, especially at the beginning of the year. The opinions might be content focused as well such as, “Do you think [this character] is being helpful or are they more annoying?” You might also select literal comprehension questions such as “What is the setting of the novel?”

Variation: You can use a Kahoot! quiz without the computers and allow them to chat about the answers until the timer is up. This could be fun as a practice quiz.

8. Museum Statues or Tableaus

Preparation: Consider a scene or character or famous figure you’re studying that you can use as inspiration for a statue. Using a famous painting or sculpture might help for guidance. Splitting up a book into specific moments of conflict may also be helpful. You may want to gather some props to add a bit to the scene; maybe see a theater teacher to borrow a few things!

How to Play: Split the class into groups for this activity. You can give each group a scene from a book, a painting to recreate, an idea to represent, etc. Then, allow students to create a statue or tableau. One way to do this is to have one student be the statue. Other students in the group can give guidance as to how the statue should look, can use props provided to add depth to the scene, and work as a team to help the one “statue” be the best model they can be.

Another way to do this is to give each group a scene to create together. This is a tableau where the group creates a whole visual scene together. Usually, with tableaus all of the parts are touching so each person has a hand on another person to connect the group together. This requires a certain amount of trust in the classroom community; it looks really cool when it comes together!

Variation: Depending on class size, you could have the entire class or half of the class try to create a tableau within a time restraint. You can give them 30 seconds or 1 minute to work together to create a scene that shows “hope” or “fear” or a scene that’s been discussed in class. This doesn’t have to be an ideal scene; it’s a fun way to be playful and experiment with how you view a situation or feeling.

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Games best for elementary grades

(Scroll down for secondary games)

9. Stand Up/Sit Down (This or That)

Preparation: There are so many ways to use standing vs. sitting, so this is a go-to game for me. I can use this game on the spot without prep to fill time or give a movement break. Assign one type of response to standing and one type of response to sitting. You also can pull out one response for standing and then anything else that doesn’t fit that is for sitting. You just need to decide your two categories.

How to Play: Studying two different people? Stand up if the fact is about George Washington. Sit down if it is about Abraham Lincoln. Studying different sounds for phonological awareness? Stand up if the word has a blend. Sit down if it doesn’t. Stand up if it’s a short e sound. Sit down if it’s any other vowel. Studying even and odd numbers? Evens stand and odds sit.

Examples: Sometimes I will do more complicated, planned versions of this. For instance, I compared metric vs. customary units in this slideshow for my sixth graders. I also compared customary units of measurement with my second graders in this slideshow. You can use these as a template and make a copy of these slides and just swap out the comparisons for whatever you wanted. You can change the comparison or question more easily each time with slideshows like these since the left vs. right determines the standing or sitting not the content itself. If you’re worried about students memorizing a pattern, just switch the order of the slides around by dragging them.

10. Musical Chairs

Preparation: First, you need some kind of music. Then, you need a list of discussion questions or prompts for students. You also can prepare physical pieces for students to use that require interaction but are not actually questions (3-digit numbers, words, etc.)

How to play: Students should understand that every time you stop the music, they need to find a partner. I do this as a greeting for morning meetings with the 2nd grade often, and kids love it. If students have a card, they also need to use that card when you stop the music.

Examples: You could give students cards with 3-digit numbers. When the music stops, they compare their card with the person closest to them and decide whose is larger. You can hand out base words and suffixes. Then, their job is to try to make a real word out of the cards they have with their partner or small group of 3 if you’re worried about them finding the right pair.

Another option is to give everyone numbers or expressions. If every kid has a 2-digit number they are holding onto, then they can add or subtract their number with the number of their partner. In these cases, students keep their cards and the quizzing is more synchronized.

Variation: You can plan ahead to differentiate which number or word is for different students. For example, a student can have the number 10 or 20 and still participate confidently each time, but if a student has 83, that might be more difficult for them as they meet up with partners. It will create different challenges for different students.

11. Human Calculator

Preparation: You will need to decide the range of numbers for play. Are you working on 0-10, 0-100, adding, subtracting, fractions? You will want to decide if you will state just a number or fraction or if you will require students to do a computation problem to play.

How to play: Students treat the low floor to standing up tall as a scale. You can also have students literally calculate numbers. I suggest keeping lower numbers towards the floor and higher numbers towards the ceiling. If adding numbers up to 50 where 0 is at the ground and 50 is standing tall, say, “Show me 10. Show me 45. Show me 30.”

Examples: You can give students chances to respond on a 1-10 scale for a variety of things (how much they understand, how much more time they need, how strongly they agree or disagree with a statement). You can call out “15 divided by 5” and then students show you what 3 would look like. You can use this to practice fractions such as “Show me ½” or “Show me “1/10”. The responses of students will really show you who is able to do this number sense activity independently and fluently.

Variation: Play Human Protractor if you teach angles. Students can move their bodies to show you a 90-degree angle or use their arms to create angles. You can use vocabulary such as “acute” or give specific degrees (60).

12. Pictionary or Building in Partners

Preparation: If your students cannot yet read fluently, be sure you’re using picture support and words you know they could decode, or maybe skip this one. You’ll need to decide if students will be using some kind of math manipulative, building blocks, play-doh, whiteboards to draw, or different coloring utensils and paper. You can also decide if students will have different options available, but I would avoid giving too many choices since this is a timed, whole-class activity.

How to Play: You as the teacher will SHOW a vocabulary word, a famous leader you’re studying, a geometric shape, criteria, etc. I suggest having students sit with one student in a chair facing you at the front and one student facing away from you towards their partner. This way you should see the faces of half of your class and the other students are facing away from you. If you require a group of 3, I’d have 2 guessers facing away from you. The person facing you will be drawing or creating clues. The person facing away from you will be guessing.

Get the attention of all of the people who are clue-givers (you can encourage others to cover their eyes to reinforce they shouldn’t peek) and show them a word or image that they need to draw or create. Only show it for a few seconds and then let them get started. You can decide if you’ll want to time them for 1 or 2 minutes. Another strategy is to have both partners raise their hands when they “got it” and then you’ll know the progress of the whole class. If someone is stuck, you can ring a bell or use an attention-getter to reveal the answer and move on.

Variation: Instead of having students draw or build, you can play this like Taboo. That’s great if you have older elementary students. You can put the word that students are trying to get a classmate to guess, they have to use words to describe it to a friend until they understand the concept, but they can’t use ____word to describe it.

This whole activity would not even have to be a timed competitive game. Have students choose a word to represent in a sculpture, then they can share with their table group/someone nearby. Aluminum foil is also cheap and great for building.

13. Four Corners

Preparation: Choose a category that you will use for formative assessment. The questions should have 4 answer choices. These can be the same 4 choices each time where students have to sort options between them or you can change the 4 answer choices. If you have a quiz already prepared that has 4 answer choices, that can be used too. Assign one corner of the room to be A, one to be B, one to be C, and one to be D.

How to Play: The game works where students move to the corner of the room that represents the best answer choice. I prefer to play this game without “outs” but you could make it more competitive by allowing a group in a wrong corner to get cut. This game is also great for the ‘Which One Doesn’t Belong?’ number sense routine which does not have a “correct answer” so that lowers the pressure of movement a bit. 

Examples: Here is a template you can use in google slides which allows students to visually see which corner is associated with which answer. The top left on the slide is the front left of the classroom. Once you have a template, you can just swap out the content.

14. Guess the Object

Preparation: Gather items in an opaque bag such as:

  • Recess Equipment such as soccer ball, frisbee, jump rope, basketball
  • Toys such as legos, stuffed animals, Barbie dolls, Matchbox cars
  • Different objects of the same shape such as
    • rectangular prism: tissue box, eraser, notebook, DVD case
    • cylinder: chap stick, water bottle, candle jar, marker

How to Play: Put all the objects in a pillowcase or other bag. You as the teacher can reach in and describe an object. Have students guess the object or geometrical shape based on your clues. You also can have students take turns describing the object which is great for oral language development and word choice skills.

Examples: This can be a great opportunity to describe something mathematically using inches, number of faces, etc. Students can also guess the category you’ve used if you don’t say that at the start.

Variation: This can lead to a fun activity of writing Who Am I? poems. Students write out the descriptions as lines of a poem, and the last line of the poem reveals “I am…”

15. Make 11 (or any number)

Preparation: Select a number no more than twice the number of students.

How to Play: All students can choose to make a fist (represents 0), or hold out one finger (represents 1) or hold out two fingers (represents 2). You start with hands behind backs. On the count of 3, everyone reveals their hand. You go around the circle and add up all the numbers. 0 + 2 + 1+ 0 + 1 …The goal is to make 11 (or whatever number you have set). You keep trying as a class to make the number.

Examples: You can change the number and/or allow students to use up to 5 fingers. This just makes counting around take a little longer.

16. Alphabet Game

Preparation: This game can be done without preparation.

How to Play: Establish a pattern of moving around a circle or across desk rows. Choose a letter of the alphabet to start with and have students share a word that starts with that letter. The words continue in order of the alphabet.

Examples: You can allow the words to be anything at all or you can encourage a category such as food or more specifically, fruit, depending on your students.

1  – Apple

2  – Banana

3  – Cherry

4  – Donut

5  – Egg

Variation: Give a scenario to 2-4 people who will act out in front of others. For this, you’ll need to prepare a scenario idea that students would be familiar with. Each person in the group only says 1 line. Each line starts with the consecutive letter in the alphabet. You can start with A or any letter.

After you cycle through all people once, it goes back to the first person. This would embed some fun storytelling and is so enjoyable as an audience member, too! For example, the scenario could be going on a camping trip. If you start with Y, it could go:

1 – You always forget to pack socks.

2 – Zzzz. There are too many mosquitos already!

3 – And I only brought one pair of shoes.

1 – Boy, I’d go for some air conditioning.

2 – Can’t we just buy socks?

And so on back to Y.

You could also have students do only 6 back and forth conversations and not run through the whole alphabet depending on the age and maturity of students.

Games best for secondary grades

17. Yes, No, I

Preparation: You will need to pick a topic of study to discuss. A good idea might be to have a few ideas on hand or present the topic as a question for discussion. I know a high school teacher who taught a business class and had students discuss a few famous, modern businessmen: Elon Musk, Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos.

These people solicited some opinions so they could keep the conversation going. As students got better, she also required them to use certain vocabulary they’d learned in class so they could earn extra credit points. You can decide if you’d like to create some kind of system. Whatever topic you choose, make sure it’s something they can talk about.

How to Play: The goal of this game is to have a conversation about a topic you’re studying without using the words yes, no, or I. Students stand in 2 lines to start. The 2 people at the front of the line start off a conversation. If someone says yes, no, or I, they move to the end of the line and their line moves up one person. One classmate may talk to a few people before they too make a mistake.

Examples: It will likely help to use a silly example to start out to teach how to play the game.

A: How are you doing?

B: It’s okay. The weather could be better.

A: It rained all week, didn’t it?

B: Yes, it did.

Person B said yes. Typically if someone says “yeah” or “nah” instead of yes or no, I still would count it as against the rules. It often happens that right off the bat someone starts with “I” and then they just send themselves to the back. If everyone has a lighthearted mood about it, it’s really fun and encourages acceptance of mistakes.

18. Questions

Preparation: This is really similar to the previous game, Yes, No, I. You will need to prepare a topic for discussion. You might ask students to think about their opinions of characters in a play you’re reading together or an event in history you’ve been studying.

How to Play: In this scenario, students can ONLY speak in questions.

Examples: Students stand in 2 lines to start. The 2 people at the front of the line start off a conversation. If someone makes a statement instead of a question, they move to the end of the line and their line moves up one person. One classmate may talk to a few people before they too make a mistake.

For example:

A: Where are you going?

B: Why do you need to know?

A: Why can’t you tell me?

B: Do you even know what my job is?

A: Are you a spy?

B: Why would I tell you if I was?

A: Pause….

If someone cannot keep up the questions and pauses for longer than 2-3 seconds or makes a statement instead of a question, they’re out and the next person in line takes their spot. Here’s an example of a group doing this as an improv performance.

Variation: Give students some key words or phrases that you’re hoping they try to use throughout the game that relate to your content area. These can be collected as points.

19. Quiz Quiz Trade

Preparation: Each student has a “quiz” question. These can be open-ended discussion questions or questions with correct answers that might be listed on the back. You could prepare these questions yourself; you can even pull them from a quiz you’ve created in the past as a practice test.

One of my favorite homework assignments or entry tickets is to write a question on one side of an index card and put the answer on the back. I can quickly check through the cards at the start of class or as they are creating them, and then we get to play with them!

How to Play: Students hold their question card and mill around the classroom. Then they find a partner, take turns quizzing one another, then trade their cards. When they’re finished, they find another person who wrapped up with their partner and quiz them. After both people take turns quizzing and being quizzed, they trade and move on again. Students might end up seeing the same question a couple of times, but if all of the questions are unique, this does not happen much.

Examples: The questions the first time you play can all be get-to-know-you questions such as “Do you have a pet at home?” “What’s the best streaming service?” “What’s a movie you’ve seen in the last month?” Then, the questions can be true/false, multiple choice, short answer math calculations, really almost anything.

20. Freeze Tag

Preparation: Typically, 2 people play this game together at a time while everyone else watches and waits to jump in. What’s nice about this game is that it is entertaining for an observer. Those 2 people act out something together. It can be helpful to give a scenario to start.

You may introduce this game with low-stakes, non-academic scenarios: eating dinner, playing hide and go seek, at prom, lost in the woods. Then, you can move into scenarios that are scenes from a book you’re reading, historical events, etc.

How to Play: 2 people just talk and act as if they were in that scene. The teacher (or another person in the group if you choose) can call out “Freeze!” Then, someone will go in and swap with another person. Often, this is done by “tagging” a person in their pose, but I would suggest saying the person’s name you’re swapping with.

Once someone is swapped out, they have to change the way that scene is perceived. For instance, if the people were sitting down and pretending to eat a burger at dinner. A person could freeze, swap in, and turn that “eating a burger” into playing a harmonica.

Variation: A thinking routine that works well embedded in this game is Claim, Support, Question. For example, the leader/teacher can call out “Freeze” for 1 person (or 2 people) acting out a movement. Ask students what their “Claim” is for that movement then ask for explanations to justify that thinking. For example, if I’m standing with my legs spread out and my arms to my side, possible claims could be that I’m doing warrior pose in yoga, going surfing, riding my skateboard, ice skating, etc.

Then, you can ask questions that would clarify the pose. “Are you in the water?” “Are you working out?” After that, someone can take the same position then start acting it out and transition it to another scene. I used this to introduce the thinking routine in the realm of persuasive papers. My point was that each claim you make in persuasive papers must be supported with explanations and research. Every claim can be interpreted multiple ways, and people can make different claims based off of the same evidence. It’s important that you as a writer support your claims with more details or else your argument could be misinterpreted.

21. Line up

Preparation: First, you need to prepare some cards for students that have a clear order or sequence. These could be math number sentences to solve, events of WWII, practice measurements, plot points from a story, the steps in the water cycle, etc.

You can create duplicates of the same sets of cards or you can do different cards for different groups. Make sure that your groups are the same number of people and divide up the cards accordingly. When you go to play in class, have students set up their chairs in lines. It’s best if desks are a little out of the way so that students can walk around and in between chairs.

How to Play: Assign students to groups and assign those groups to a row of chairs. You will pass out cards to each student face down making sure that each group is already in their correct row. Also make sure you have established the front chair is the smallest number or first event, etc.

When you give the cue, each person can look at their card and get themselves in the correct order. Once a group has everyone sitting down in the correct order, they win! The competition for this game can get fierce quickly but it is great for allowing students to quickly assess their card and compare it to others. If they can do this quickly working together, they have really mastered that skill or content.

Examples: You can do this with ordering numbers such as -50, 5, ½, -201, -1, 0, 3, 3 ¼. The variety of numbers will really force students to talk it out with each other.

Variation: Instead of students actually moving themselves with their card, you can have students merely arrange cards on a desk or on the floor. The downside to this is that one person can more easily take over and determine the sequence for the whole group.

22. Continuous Sums

Preparation: Use a set of index cards on which you’ve written numbers, playing cards (remove face cards), fraction strips, or decimal cards. Give each student one card face down. Establish an order for sharing numbers such as around in a circle or down the line of desks in a classroom.

How to Play: One at a time, students will flip over their card and say their number. When the next student reveals their card, they add the two values.

Examples: For example, if the second student’s card reads 3/4, they should announce that the total is 1 1/4. The third student reveals a card (ex. 1/8), adds the value to the running total, and announces the new total (1 3/8). The deck continues around the circle until it is exhausted. Students can use a “lifeline” by asking a friend. To make this easier, you can use whole numbers and/or minimal variety in denominators (only 1/2s and wholes). You can use integers where you’ll flip back and forth across 0 or any other numbers.

23. Punch It!

Preparation: You’ll need plastic cups, tissue paper, and rubber bands. You’ll also need to prepare questions or problems to solve. Hide a problem on a piece of paper inside a plastic cup. Cover the plastic cup with tissue paper and hold it in place with a rubber band. You can set this up like jeopardy where each row or column has a theme and each cup has different levels of points, or you can just let lay the cups out on a table.

How to Play: Once the cups and paper are lined up in a grid, students can walk up one at a time, punch through the tissue paper, and get the question. If they get the question right, their team gets points. If they don’t, they could ask a team member for help and get partial credit. Students can be in teams this way without actually communicating; they can just rack up points as a group.

24. Heads Up

Preparation: Have a stack of index cards or a similar size on which you’ve written concepts, vocabulary, famous people, etc. You could also have students write down information but you’d need to be careful of repeats. This is just like the app/game, Heads Up, by Ellen. You can watch a video of her playing if you’re unfamiliar. I did this as an icebreaker at a professional development where the cards were celebrities. You can put almost anything on these cards: People, events, dates, vocabulary words.

How to Play: Have students be in groups of 4-5. One student holds the stack of cards in front of their forehead. The other students try to get the student with the cards to guess as many as they can correctly in 1 minute. The guesser can “pass” if they’re stuck. After 1 minute, the stack passes to the next person in the group. The group that has the largest correct stack at the end wins the round.

Examples: I used the math vocabulary word wall sheets for our state test which has pictures as well as words and printed them 4 to a page on cardstock to use.

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Amy Stohs

2nd Grade

Amy Stohs is currently a 2nd grade teacher in Northern Virginia. She was named Teacher of the Year in 2019 by her coworkers while previously teaching 6th grade. Her passions include great books for all ages, the workshop model, Responsive...
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