I spent a short amount of time today substituting for an absent primary grade teacher. The lesson plan called for a sight word practice game. The teacher left instructions, but years of experience as a substitute teacher taught me that the students would give me the clearest idea of how the game is played.
1 Each student has four word cards arrayed on their desks.
2 The teacher calls one of the words and students race to see who can select the correct word and hold it over their head.
3 The slowest student is ‘out’ and becomes the judge for the next round.
4 After being a judge, the slow students wait at the front of the classroom until only the two fastest students remain for a final duel.
The glaring problem with this game is that it is competitive. Especially in classrooms with 8 year olds or younger, games should be cooperative so that each individual’s success benefits the group, and the group supports the learning of members who are challenged.
The card game we played today accomplishes the opposite: Students who are ‘slow’ were, in a sense, shamed by standing for the rest of the game at the front of the room.
What’s worse, the ‘slow’ students who need the most practice play the game for the shortest amount of time. In fact, the slowest student is ‘out’ after the first round!
My improvised quick fix was to redesign the rules slightly.
The student fastest to hold up the correct word card would become the judge for the next round, a job that the students were excited to compete for.
The student slowest to hold up the correct card would choose the word for the next round, an opportunity for oral language support with the teacher and empowerment by being the leader of the game for a turn.
The result was a game which maximized student practice. Since no students were ‘out’, nobody was standing around doing nothing. Confident students were engaged in the competitive aspect of the game while those with less confidence had different chances for practice.
I wouldn’t claim that the game has been perfected. After all, it remains competitive. However, I think my modifications did reduce the severity of the competition. Students were more engaged because everyone could play every round and maximize the amount of time practicing.
Do you play any classroom games that could benefit from less competition and more cooperation and equity?