Monday, July 9, 2018

Super Easy Games to Play in Class

Playing learning games with your students can be fun for everyone involved. Students love the energy and change of pace and you get to watch your students engage in the material in new and meaningful ways. Games provide opportunities for interaction, offer immediate feedback, make the work relevant, allow practice, and motivate students to behave appropriately. The time and effort that you spend getting your students ready to learn through games is well worth the trouble.

Before you add games to your mix of pedagogy strategies, however, you will need to prepare your students. Here are a few tips to make sure that the activities work well with difficult classes:

Consider the geography of your room before you begin. Move furniture, put breakable items in a safe place, and plan how you will put the room back in order at the end of the game.

Pay attention to safety. If you see that students are so excited that the competition is becoming too intense, stop play at once.

You should select the team members so that no one will be left out.

Keep a container of numbers or other markers on hand for students to draw from to determine who goes first or to help with other decisions. Dice are helpful as well.

Have students assume the roles of scorekeeper, timekeeper, and master of ceremonies so that you can monitor activities.

Prepare to move your class to a location where they won’t disturb other classes if the game gets noisy.

After a game is over, be sure to ask your students to tell you what they learned.

While there are many sophisticated games available for teachers and students, sometimes it is just fun to have a few reliable simple no or low tech games ready when your students need to experience the material in a different way. Here is a list of some simple, low-risk, unplugged games that students of all ages can enjoy.

Flyswatter Badminton. Use masking tape to mark off a small badminton court. Blow up a balloon and hand each student a flyswatter to use as a racket. Divide students into teams and arrange them on either side of an imaginary net (indicated by a taped line on the floor). As you ask questions, students earn points for moving the balloon across the net and for answering questions correctly.

Quiz Bowl. Set up a tournament of quick questions and answers involving as many of your students as possible. To add interest, vary the level of difficulty, rules of play, way of scoring, and incentives.

Board games. Design your own board game to fit your topic. You can make small boards and photocopy them for students to use in a small group, or you can make a large board for the entire class to use. The tasks you assign your students in a board game can range from simply answering questions to solving problems. Students also enjoy creating and playing their own board games. You can find great ideas for board games at

Twenty Questions. Write an answer on a slip of paper, then have students take turns asking a question each until they guess the answer. Keep track of the number of questions that they must ask to guess correctly. In this game, the lowest number of questions wins.

Name That Person, [Battle, City…]. This game is similar to Twenty Questions in that students try to guess answers with as few clues as possible. You should make up the clues in advance. On game day, you’ll call them out one at a time until someone can name the targeted person, battle, city, or another item. x Ball Toss. Line up your students in two teams facing each other. As soon as a student correctly answers a question, that student tosses a soft foam ball to a student on the other team. That student must answer the next question.

Chain Making. This is an educational version of the old alphabet game that small children play. One player begins thinking of an object relating to the unit of study and beginning with the letter A. The next student must repeat that clue and add an object with the letter B. The game continues until students are stumped or until they reach the end of the alphabet.

One Two and You’re Outta Here. Stand at the door at the end of class with a set of flashcards or questions that require quick answers. For a student to leave class, he or she must answer two questions correctly.

Tic Tac Toe. Students advance play on a Tic Tac Toe board by giving correct answers to questions. Make a grid of three blocks across and down for a total of nine blocks. Photocopy so that students can play in small groups. 

Student-Created Board Games. Many students can be very skilled and creative at designing their own board games. Often, they will create games based on such old favorites as Candyland or Battleship using the material they have learned in class.

Sporting events. Divide your students into teams, and use the chalkboard to play games of football, soccer, or whatever sport currently interests to your students. Students advance by correctly answering questions or completing assigned tasks.


Free Power Point Games. One of the easiest ways to find great free games is to browse using the search term “Free Power Point Games.” There are dozens of free templates online for you to download and use with your class. At some sites, teachers even share their own games for other teachers who are teaching the same material. ( This commercial site offers a large variety of handheld, electronic, and traditional board games at reasonable prices.

Dave’s ESL CafĂ© ( Dave Sperling’s site lists dozens of classroom games, along with rules and suggestions. Click on the “Stuff for Teachers” tab and then the “Games” tab to access the large list. This site has many other resources for teachers, too.

Discovery School ( This page on the Discovery School site offers dozens of brain twister puzzles, activities, and games for all ages and ability levels of students. x Out of the Box Games ( This is also a commercial site with a large assortment of games for sale. You can find classic board games, dice games, and word games, as well as newer games

Tuesday, June 19, 2018


Few things can establish a sense of community in a classroom as quickly as shared experiences and shared tasks. Students who learn to see themselves as a united group working and playing together learn to be supportive of each other’s efforts and tolerant of each other’s idiosyncrasies. This is especially important for difficult students who can easily be isolated because of their disruptive behavior and attitudes. In the list below you will find several ways that you can encourage your students to be part of a supportive classroom.

Taking frequent photos will encourage students to see how they have progressed and grown throughout the school year. Display photographs of students doing various classroom tasks such as maintaining the classroom library or managing a classroom recycling center as well as participating in field trips and other class events.

Keep a scrapbook of major events and experiences throughout the year. The scrapbook does not have to be elaborate to be effective. Even photos clipped into a three-ring binder will show your students that they are important to you and to each other.

Use bulletin board space to show collages of the interests students have in common, their contributions to the class, and personal quotations or mottoes that are important to them.

Set goals as a class and work together to reach them:
The entire class earns a certain grade on an assessment
The class goes a certain number of days without tardies
The class earns a specified class average on a test
The class settles to work within a specified time limit
The class strives for perfect homework completion

Adopt a class mascot, secret sign, or catchphrase.

Celebrate class “in jokes,” traditions, or rituals such as group cheers when something good happens or pinning stars on the bulletin board to commemorate success.

You can also observe milestones such as the twentieth homework assignment or the tenth day with no tardies or the Hundredth Day. An excellent resource for Hundredth Day celebrations can be found at Enchanted Learning ( Use “Hundredth Day” as a search term to access resources and lesson ideas to celebrate this occasion.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

When Frustration Leads to Defiance

No one wants to deal with defiant students no matter how young or old they are or the form that the defiance takes. Whenever I conduct workshops to help teachers cope with and support challenging students, the most common concern that I hear is always about students who are defiant and disrespectful. It is a serious discipline concern that we all share.

The toll that student defiance takes on teachers can be harsh. After all, few teachers go home at the end of a successful and productive school day worried about what will happen next class. Even the most stalwart of us find it hard to leave the emotional problems caused by defiant students at school. These tend to be the problems that cause us to sleep poorly and to contemplate changing careers.

One of the most productive ways to stop defiant students from acting out in your classroom is to first determine the cause of the misbehavior instead of blindly reacting just to the incident and its negative effects on the general atmosphere in the classroom itself. When you take the time to do this, several good things happen at once.

You treat the defiant student with respect despite the bad behavior

You send a message to the other students that you will not lose your cool

You preserve the dignity of the misbehaving student

You will be far closer to resolving the situation than if you just reacted to it

The cause of defiance is usually something that the student has been seething about for a while. Given the nature of the modern classroom, there are plenty of opportunities for students to have wounded feelings or a sense of frustration. And it is often  this frustration that causes students to react impulsively and to lash out.

To find the cause, first talk gently to the student who has been defiant. This is best done in private. If you both need a few moments to cool down, then be sure to allow that time. No one can hear even a reasonable explanation when they are stressed and upset.

As you talk, don't be accusatory. Keep your language as factual and dry as possible. Describe what you saw and heard. Then, tell the student that you want to listen carefully to what he or she has to say.

Listen carefully. Ask a tactful question or two. Figure out what caused the incident.

Try not to be preachy. Do not induce guilt. Your relationship with the student has no place in this discussion. Stick to the facts at hand. Determine the cause and act accordingly.

Once you have had this conversation with the student, then you can make the decision about how to proceed. Not every defiant act deserves a harsh consequence. Your innate teacher's judgement will allow you to make the best decision that you can make now that you are informed about the cause.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Been There, Done That...A Bad Teacher Habit

One of the hardest bad teacher habits to break is learning not to repeat yourself when you give whole group directions. Part of the reason that it is so hard to break this habit is that we want to help students. It's simply impossible to refuse a student's request for help. Another reason is that no one has taught students to listen carefully and so repeating the directions several times may help students stay on track.

It’s one thing to clarify information or explain directions; it’s another to have to repeat yourself for students who are not in the habit of listening attentively. Don’t assume that your students are good listeners. Many have never been taught how to listen attentively. It's up to you to help students learn when and how to focus their attention when their teacher is talking to them.

To begin to break this time-consuming and frustrating habit, involve your students in the project. Tell then that you are going to help them with their listening skills and explain how that you want them to listen attentively. No talking. Eyes on you. No rustling papers. Create the procedure that you want for your students to use as they listen to you and take the time to carefully teach it to your students.

Set the stage by moving to an area of the room where all students can see and hear you. Call for attention and wait patiently. Remind students that they will be working on their listening skills and that they are to listen carefully since you do not want to waste class time by having to repeat yourself.

Practice with your students if necessary. Make it a shared endeavor and a pleasant way to work out a classroom problem together. With a bit of effort, this can become a part of the culture of your classroom, and you will find yourself not having to repeat directions or other information endlessly.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

The Most Useful Reflection Technique

If you are like so many teachers, reflecting on your own performance seems to come naturally. A  stickie note reminder on a lesson plan, a scribbled note in a margin, or even making an entry in a formal reflection journal are just some of the ways teachers can think about and review their days. Too often, though, especially after a tough day those reflections tend to center around what went wrong.

It's only natural that this should happen. After all, negative events tend to have a stronger emotional impact on us than positive ones. We seldom replay the positive things that happen in class on the way home from school, for example. Instead, we focus on the problems and challenges that we encounter during the school day. It's all too easy to obsess about what went wrong, the irritating things that happened in class, and our subsequent stress.

As helpful as reflecting on what went wrong in class may be, thinking about what went right is even more powerful. Instead of focusing entirely on the "Maybe I should haves" a more productive way to reflect about your performance is to think about what you did well and how you can repeat that success. Here are some questions that can guide your thinking along a more positive path so that you can use your strengths and successes to build a better classroom.

1. When was I flexible enough to notice that something was not working and change it? What was the positive outcome of this action?

2. What worked in today's lesson? How can I use this in the future?

3. When were my students most engaged? What did I do to create that engagement?

4. How did I help students make connections to the material they were studying?

5. What classroom management problem did I handle better today?

6. Which students seemed to have a good day? How can I help them continue this success in the future?

7. What am I most grateful for today?

8. What progress did I make today in becoming the teacher I want to be?

9. How did I help students interact well with each other?

10. What did I do today that I can be proud of?

Monday, April 2, 2018

Two Quick Tips for Successful Conferences

With spring comes warm weather, student restlessness, and the potential for stressful conferences with parents or guardians to discuss problems that may have been simmering all year. Whether the problems are academic, behavioral, or a combination of both, productive conferences can be powerful ways to resolve issues as the academic year moves towards a close.

Here are two simple ways to ensure that the conferences you will have this spring are positive and productive.

1. Never surprise a parent or guardian with unpleasant news during a conference. By the time a face-to-face meeting is necessary, be sure to have made several phone calls home, sent emails, and contacted counselors, administrators, and other appropriate staff support personnel in an attempt to resolve the situations that are keeping students from being successful. Document those efforts and take that documentation with you to the conference to indicate that you have done all that a professional educator should do in advance of a conference. Ideally, a conference should just be the final step in creating a solution.

2. During the conference itself, allow parents or guardians to speak first. Allow them plenty of time to express their concerns and opinions. Listen attentively. Until parents or guardians have had the opportunity to say everything they need to say, then--and only then--can they listen to you or work on a solution. Listening respectfully to the concerns of parents or guardians signals that you are willing to work together with them and that you value their insights.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Is Anybody Listening?

One of the easiest mistakes for any teacher--and especially a first-year teacher--to make is to talk when students are not listening. There are lots of reasons for this, but none of them are good ones. If you are talking and your students are not listening, then nothing productive is happening and you are sending a strong message that what you have to say is not important.

If you only make one small change this month, then make that small change be that you will help your students listen to you when you speak to them. If you want a class to listen to you, catch their attention and then slowly lower the volume of your voice. If you really want to make students pay attention, a dramatic stage whisper works wonders.