I recently wrote a blog article about all the ways to use the game Memory as a learning tool. That article was born from a list of “go-to” learning games I have compiled from many years as an educator. Not only are these games I have used in the classroom with students, but they are activities I did with my own children at home as well as with individual students I have tutored. The beauty is, they are all simple to learn, easy to create, chock-full of educational value, and enjoyable for young learners.
#1: Hangman – This oldie but goodie can help children with many reading and writing skills that include naming and writing alphabet letters, identifying letter sounds, practicing vocabulary and spelling words, and creating sentences while learning about sentence structure. There is also some problem solving and strategizing embedded as children guess and eliminate letters and see word patterns begin to emerge.
#2: Tic Tac Toe – The well-known game of Tic Tac Toe can be played in its true form or with some added twists. The teacher or parent can show a math problem or call out a spelling word. If the student successfully completes the task, he or she gets to add their X or O to the game board. A wrong answer could mean a missed turn, jeopardizing a win.
#3: Going on a Hunt – This activity simply involves hunting for existing items or hidden items in an environment such as a classroom, a room at home, or even outdoors. Students can hunt for shapes, numbers, letters, sight words…the possibilities are endless. One quick tip is to make sure you record where you hide items. Recalling your amazing hiding places after the game is over isn’t always as easy as you think it will be!
#4: Headbands – This is a spin on the actual board game, Hedbandz. First, someone holds a picture or word card in front of their forehead so they cannot see what’s on the card. The other player gestures or gives verbal clues that assist the card holder in guessing what’s on the card. This game can be used to practice vocabulary words in English or a second language, identify characters from a story or famous people in history, etc. It’s a game that works to support a variety of academic areas.
#5: What’s Missing? – We used to play this game at birthday parties. It can be used to build memory skills, vocabulary, recognition of objects, and so forth. Gather a set of real objects that support the concept you are teaching, lay them out on a table, the floor, or on a tray and cover them with a towel or a cloth to hide them from sight. Limit the number items to 20 or less, depending on the age of the child. Uncover the items, give the learner a few seconds to scan the array and then cover them back up. While the child closes her or his eyes, remove one of the items and hide it from view. Then reveal the items and see if the student can guess which item is no longer present. Each turn will get easier as the child becomes more familiar with the items and their locations, so add some challenge by removing two items at once or rearranging the items between turns.
#6: Ball Toss – This activity is great for generating vocabulary or lists within a category. Simply toss or bounce a ball back and forth and each time someone catches the ball they must name something in the chosen category. For example, maybe you are building a bank of adjectives to use in a writing assignment. Pick a word like “big” and toss the ball back and forth naming as many synonyms for big as you can. In addition to synonyms, you could list antonyms or parts of speech. You could create sentences by having each person add a word to the sentence as they catch the ball. You could name states, countries, or continents and oceans to support geography skills. Phonological awareness development could be practiced by tossing the ball for each syllable in a given word or for producing rhyming words. Another idea would support science concepts by listing living and nonliving things, healthy and unhealthy foods, categories of animals or plants, and so on.
#7: Charades – Everyone enjoys a good game of charades to physically act out chosen vocabulary words. You could act out terms from science, social studies, math, or language arts. Students will get to learn kinesthetically as movement becomes part of the learning.
#8: Bingo or Lotto – A tried and true learning game, Bingo or Lotto, is an entertaining way to practice many skills: alphabet letters and sounds, numeral recognition, shapes and colors, and the list goes on. You can purchase Bingo cards or create your own.
#9: Sorting, Matching, Pairing – There is lots of flexibility in this “go-to” game. Having learners pair up words and pictures, words and definitions, or pictures and pictures is a fun way to practice reading or matching. This is sort of a version of Memory without turning the cards face down. Speaking of Memory…
So, no time for boredom nor lack of learning. You now have ten games to keep learners engaged, developing skills and concepts, and having fun. Ready, set, “go-to” games!
Jennifer has over 30 years of experience in education. She has degrees in Elementary Education, Spanish, and Bilingual Education and holds teaching licenses in Texas and Minnesota. She has taught PreK-2nd grade in general and bilingual settings, served as a professional learning specialist for seven years, and currently presents at state and national conferences.
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