Sunday, 25 March 2012

Gaming from the Classroom

As a part of my role as one of the literacy leaders at school (my place of work during daylight hours), I gave a short presentation last week on various short and sharp literacy activities one could use in the classroom.  I focussed on the use of technology - the interactive whiteboard and netbooks - as well as on a small group of literacy related games.

Technology is one group of tools I really enjoy using in class, I believe it allows for a huge amount of flexibility, and diverse ways of gathering and sharing information.  I also am a strong advocate for students having choices in what they do and how they do it - so having access to resources that allows for this is fundamental to how I like my class to operate.  You can find some more of my thoughts on why technology is a great tool for the classroom here.

Games are also something I value as tools in the classroom - sure they can be linked to key curriculum areas like literacy and numeracy, they can even be used very specifically for this purpose, but one aspect that is very important is the fact they are a socially engaging activity.  Students look at, talk to, and interact with each other when playing games - and this aspect is, for me, the strongest reason supporting why they important and useful in a class or school environment.

At the Literacy Professional Development I talked about four games, some of which I have mentioned before - Backseat Drawing Junior, Bananagrams, My Word, and Upwords.

Here is a quick run-down on why I think these games have a place in the classroom:

Backseat Drawing Junior

In Backseat Drawing Junior one player has a picture card displaying a simple picture (say a house or a flower), this player must give directions to another player - who, following those directions, must draw what is being described.  Of course the director cannot simply state ‘draw a flower’ - they instead must give specific instructions - like, ‘draw a small circle in the middle of the board, draw a line from the bottom of the circle that goes down toward to the bottom of the board.’ etc.

This forces the players to be specific in the kind of language they are using to direct.  Not only are they using language such as: left, right, up, down, across, circle, square, and so on, but they are doing so in an attempt to achieve a very specific result.  Their success can be seen.  It is also vital, of course, for the illustrator to listen carefully and follow the instructions they are being provided.

All in all Backseat Drawing Junior is a very good game at getting students to communicate with each other in a very specific way.  It is fantastic for communication and oral language skills, but is also very good at getting the players to think about the words they are using and how they are using them.  This is one of those games I’d have in every classroom I teach in - not only is it great for encouraging all these fantastic skills, it is a game that the students love playing.


Another game I have already blogged about in this context.  Bananagrams has players using letter tiles to build a crossword style collection of words.  This is a tried and true spelling game.  I like bananagrams because it forces the players to match the letters they have in front of them with their knowledge bank of words.  Because they can use letters already placed (like a crossword), it also forces some creativity in how the words are placed together.  While I used Bananagrams as my example, it could also as easily have been any number of other spelling games like scrabble or boggle.

My Word

My Word is again one of those games that every classroom should have.  It is simply a deck of cards with letters on them - cards also have many digraphs like ‘sh’, ‘th’, and the like.  Players flip one card over at a time, when a player sees or can make a word from the cards face up they say it and take those cards as points.

I like My Word - it’s a simple game, almost just an activity, but I have used it as a spelling game with the entire class, a small group game, and I’ve also used it with individual kids.  My Word is a really useful resource - something that many activities can be performed using.  It is particularly good with students who struggle with spelling - cards can be moved around, placed together in words, single cards can be changed out to make new words and so on.  As a game I would absolutely state that there are better ones out there, as a resources for the classroom I find it highly useful and very good.


Upwords is basically scrabble, with the added novelty of being able to place letters over the top of existing letters to make new words.  For a spelling game this novelty makes for a fun addition.  As a game for the classroom I think this adds a huge amount of value.  Knowledge and familiarity with spelling patterns is important, games like Upwords, which encourage the changing of one word into others, quickly and easily demonstrates how many words use the same spelling patterns.  Changing a vowel here, or the onset or rime in a word is manipulating the language we use and clearly showing off how some words relate to others that sound the similar.

Upwords has the additional advantage of being easier than games like Scrabble - because you can simply add a letter to a word already on the board there are many more opportunities open to you.  This means that students with a diverse range of spelling abilities can play this game - as opposed to something like scrabble or bananagrams, which are much easier for those with a solid ability to spell, and a large vocabulary.

So those are the games I discussed, and some of the reasons I think they make for great additions to the classroom.  I know I’ve blogged about some of them before, but let’s be honest - when it comes to games - there is no such thing as too much.

We have our school games day coming up this week - so my class will be busy learning games ready to teach.  I’ll blog about that later in the week.  Until then...




  1. Thanks for this analysis of Literacy games to use in the classroom. The students play Upwords at my school but I'm impressed with the other games you've mentioned. I'll do some research on where to buy. Can you recommend a store?

  2. Thanks! I use a lot of games for a range of areas - literacy, mathematics, socialisation etc. They're a great resource.

    I tend to buy from an online store: - don't be put off by their geeky frontpage - the search bar will find you the games you're after. They tend to have the best prices.

    After that I would recommend and (the last have the best selection of games for kids imo).

    Hope that helps!