Teaching Thinking Skills to Children Using Games
Using Games as a Tool for Teaching
All children enjoy playing games. During indoor recess, when the rain is pouring down, students quickly choose the game cabinet, even over the computers. They play games like Battleship, Uno, Scrabble, Jenga, Mancala, Tangrams, Trouble, and many more. When they play these games, they are strategizing, learning from their errors, thinking ahead, and finding ways to win. They play over and over again in hopes of winning, and they eventually do.
Games can also be used as an effective tool for teaching. Specific skills can be practiced, and new connections can be made. Students can become better thinkers as a result of playing games. Unlike written practice, instructional games motivate students to win, and as a result, they learn.
At school, teachers can implement games at little cost to themselves. Students in my math class look forward to the weekly instructional games, which I try to incorporate at least twice a week. I've found that the games provide the practice they need after learning a new concept, and for students who have not caught on, a chance to understand and make connections. It also allows me to spotcheck for understanding, visit with small groups and guide them, clarify misunderstandings, and engage in meaningful teaching moments.
At home, there are numerous games that can be played to improve a child's thinking skills. A wonderful website to learn about these games is Fat Brain Toys, "a retailer and developer of unique specialty toys, games, and gifts." Here, you can find thousands of toys and games for all ages, that entertain and educate." Each year, I find a new game there, purchase it for our family to play, and it goes under the tree at Christmas. Some of the games I would recommend are Blokus, Pentago, and Konexi. Comparison shopping at Amazon is always a good idea.
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Games for Teachers to Use in the Classroom
One of my favorite games to use for instruction is the simple game of war with playing cards. First, I remove all of the face cards and aces. Then I place the number cards in ziploc bags. These games can also be played with dice, however, the numbers will only go up to six. We practice a variety of skills using the rules of war. Here are a couple of examples:
- Multiplication Facts War: Students choose two cards and find say their multiplication fact. The student with the largest facts gets both players' cards. If they tie, they draw two more cards, and the student with the highest fact gets all of the cards. This continues until one player is left with 1 or no cards. Tip: students who are just beginning to learn their multiplication facts can use a multiplcation chart to look up answers as they play.
- Fraction War: Students draw two cards. The smaller number goes on the top, and the larger on the bottom, to form their fraction. Whoever has the largest fraction, wins all cards. If students have equivalent fractions, they will draw two more cards. Students can do the "butterfly" method, or cross multiplication to compare fractions. Tip: whiteboards are a great tool for this.
Teacher tips: At the beginning of the year, at back-to-school night, ask for decks of cards on your teacher wish list. They are inexpensive and parents will send them in for you. I also love the foam dice, as they are quiet, and easy to keep track of. There are many other variations of this game that can be used to teach and practice numerous math skills. You can find more great ideas at Let's Play Math.
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