Wednesday, September 20, 2017

How to Gamify a “Boring” Classroom Lesson

Although using games in the classroom to keep students engaged is currently all the rage, it’s not new. Several decades ago I realized I could use competition and fun to help students enjoy practicing new grammar or vocabulary in my language classes. One funny incident comes to mind. My French 2 students laughed and hollered encouragement to their teammates one day as they hurried to the board to manipulate elements in sentences I had written there.

Students shouted hints when they saw a mistake in subject/verb agreement or an incorrect possessive pronoun. It sounded like chaos, but it really wasn’t. I had complete control, which is what the principal saw after he threw open the door, thinking there was a fight in my class. The students froze when they saw his face. They were more surprised than he was.

After a brief pause in which I explained what we were doing, the students went back to their competition. Each student went to the board and changed an element in the sentence and made sure the grammar was correct after doing so. When he/she was finished, another student from the same side of the classroom ran to the board and did the same. They couldn’t leave the board, until I confirmed their sentence was correct. The winning team (side of the classroom) was the one in which everyone had completed a turn at the board.

The principal watched until the game was over, and then asked what students were practicing. I had a student volunteer explain the point of the game, and the grammar involved. He was impressed students were so enthused while completing what could have been a mind-numbing grammar exercise.

Almost any lesson can be turned into a simple, fun competition. I almost always used one side of the room against the other, moving a student if necessary to make the numbers even. I used this technique for years. Students loved the “game”, knowing full well I was conning them into doing vocabulary or grammar review. It was one of their favorite activities. And what did the winning team actually win? Bragging rights until the next time. No prizes, no extra points, just fun, and higher scores on the next test, of course.

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