Saturday, 10 March 2012

Learning to play - A handful of Literacy Games

Since my last post was about why I think technology is important in schools, our class blog, and other sundry things, I thought it might be natural to follow with a short piece about games and school.

Games can be a fun and useful tool for a range of reasons.  They be used to support or encourage literacy skills, communication and oral language, and of course logic and mathematics.  Most importantly they are a social activity; a shared experience that involves a range of interpersonal skills and interactions.  To me this is a fundamental aspect of what is unique to board and card games - of course there are programs and games that can simulate a similar shared experience, but board and card games excel in this domain.

I’m in the lucky position of having a reasonably large school game collection - we have something like 100 different games.  Over the years we’ve been building our games program I’ve tried to vary our collection to support different age levels, as well as ensure the games we have and use can be drawn upon to support a range of skill areas - especially language to mathematics.

This post I want to focus on a handful of those games I’ve used as a part of my literacy program.  I’ve often used games as a way of incorporating various language skills in an activity that is engaging and enjoyable - and when I use them it is not all about the learning - I want the experience to be social and enjoyable, but I do also want students to be thinking too...

A game where each player is dealt a collection of pentagonal cards, along the edge of each side is a word - something like: jump, jumped, jumping, will jump, jumps.

Players have a set amount of time to arrange their cards in such a way that a single sentence is formed.  The sentence must be coherent and logical - and players who satisfy this condition then earn points for the words they have used.

This is a great game for sentence building - I’ve used this game as a one of the rotations a particular group might engage in over the course of a week.  I’ve also used the cards in teacher directed lessons looking at the role of different word types within modelled sentences, or how verbs change, conjunctions are used and so on.  It is a challenging game for students who have difficulty forming multi-event sentences, especially as the best sentences often involves adjective, adverbs and so on - more complex forms of language that suit a learner of a particular level.  Nonetheless, it is a useful and specific tool, and as a game there is ample opportunity for the construction of amusing sentences - which makes the game experience enjoyable and interesting.

A game that draws from the pedigree of such games as scrabble and upwords.  In this game players are dealt a certain number (15+) letter tiles.  Turning them all over they may then arrange them, crossword style, to create words and thereby use all their letters.

For children who struggle to spell according the many and varied spelling patterns the English language is littered with this can be a challenging game.  For kids who are capable with their spelling this game is a challenge, it draws upon their peculiar knowledge bank of words in order to make full use of the letters required.  I find this game to be most useful with students who are capable with their spelling, for those that aren’t it can be a frustrating experience that doesn’t reward them in the ways a game like activity should - it’s too much like hard work!  However, with the right group this game demands clear and logical thinking that draws heavily upon an extended vocabulary - and that can the perfect game for particular students.

This younger brother of it’s sibling ‘Backseat Drawing’ is, I believe, a superior product.  In Backseat Drawing a player draws a word, and the must draw that word with the others guessing what their word is - a fun game in its own right.

However, Backseat Drawing Junior takes this general concept and tweaks it in a unique and very interesting way.  In this game a player draws a card with a simple picture on it.  They direct another player to draw this simple picture through commands that cannot simply be - ‘draw a house’.  Instead they must provide shape and directional instructions, without giving away what the picture is in the description - ‘in the middle of the board draw a large square, on top of the square draw a triangle...’  The other players must still guess what is being drawn - but there is an extra step involved - the step of explicit instruction.

The use of directional and specific language, as well as the ability to listen to and follow given instructions, makes for a very interesting and excellent game.  The emphasis this places on communication skills and oral language is fantastic - as is the relevance of being specific and accurate in the language we use to describe or direct.  It is also a highly enjoyable and interactive game.  Well worth it.

Another game by Out of the Box (this company makes some great games for classrooms in my opinion).  In this game the board is a street down the middle of which are placed the letters of the alphabet.  Given a theme players must then come up with words based on that theme - when the timer ends the player chooses one word, and moves the letters of that word one space closer to their side of the street.

This is a classic ‘tug-of-war’ mechanism - and a player will win when they have managed to move a certain number of tiles off their side of the board.

Word on the Street and Word of the Street Junior are basically the same game - the Junior version makes use of the entire alphabet though - which is why I prefer it.  Another reason I really like this game is because it is very easy to use as a team game - with each team brainstorming words on their turn - and then collectively choosing one from those brainstormed.  The advantage of this game as a spelling game over more direct spelling games like Scrabble or even Bananagrams is that members of a team may suggest words, even if they can’t spell them.  This is particularly useful for students who have reasonable communication and oral language skills, but lack the knowledge of specific spelling patterns to be able to convert their word knowledge into the symbols and pictures we use in English to encode them.

In any case - that’s enough for one night.  If you know of any other great games for literacy please add them in the comments below!



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