There is no doubt about it: students will learn more when they are intrinsically motivated, when they see a purpose beyond a test and a grade, or when they get a sense of enjoyment out of the activity. One thing that is sure to motivate your students is a sense of fun and play, something that we don’t spend enough time on in the secondary ELA classroom. We often see a game as an activity for when the work is done, as a reward. However, what if we could actually enhance student learning with games and challenges?
We can. In fact, using games and challenges in middle and high school ELA classrooms will definitely enhance student learning. Here’s why and how:
1. Challenges offer a low risk way to practice skills
ELA games and challenges should not just be “fillers.” Instead, they should be used to zero in on an important skill you want your students to hone. In a sense, you “trick” them into learning. This works because when the students see the activity as “only a game” — that it’s about winning or losing a challenge rather than getting a grade — they may be more apt to engage and take risks than they are when a grade is at stake.
And we know that when students take risks, they grow and learn.
So how do you come up with a challenge or game that will enhance learning? First, decide on a skill that your students need to learn or practice.
For example, most English students need to work on the art of writing strong thesis statements–something that can be a little dry and boring to the average teenager. However, if you try something like Caitlin Tucker’s Thesis Throwdown, complete with motivational music in the background, all of a sudden, creating a strong argument becomes a fun challenge — and the thesis statements get better. They really do.
When I saw my students struggling with creating their own metaphors, I designed a metaphor challenge to get them to practice. The activity was so successful, we extended it to other forms of figurative language. The kids had lots of fun and became much better at understanding how authors use these devices. They also started using them more often in their own writing.
Another skill that I worked on with a challenge was the art of argument. I came up with an activity that helped my students learn the process to follow when they write argumentatively. Using a challenge format, they were guided step-by-step as they created arguments and counter-arguments for a topic.
2. Games & challenges build collaboration & communication skills
Games and challenges are the perfect way to teach communication skills too. Speaking and listening is an important part of all language arts courses, as is critical thinking. There is nothing like giving groups a challenge to get them communicating with each other to solve a problem. Weaker students can also use these opportunities to learn strategies from stronger students, strategies they can use later when they need to do similar problems on their own.
You can turn anything that you want your kids to work on into a group challenge:
Do they need to practice certain writing skills? Get your students to work on them together with a short group writing competition.
Do they need to improve their ability to choose effective quotations to back up their ideas? Challenge groups to find the most quotes to illustrate the development of a major character in a text they are studying. When they’re done, you can have a class debate about which ones are most effective.
Another easy way to create a challenge is to ask students to find examples of good writing in the texts they read. Have them use their class text or independent novels to find different types of sentences or an author’s use of simile or metaphor.
Regardless of the task, students will need to not only work on the skill but also discuss each person’s choices and come to a consensus about which ones to use. (Try this yourself, by grabbing this freebie AND check out this bundle).
3. Create a climate where learning is fun and engaging
The most rewarding part of using games and challenges in your ELA classroom is that your students will begin to see learning as fun. They will be more likely to persist at the task and will feel great satisfaction when they are successful.
Take vocabulary building, for example. Learning new words and parroting back definitions in a traditional assignment isn’t that exciting, but if you turn it into a game, then learning those new words becomes far more interesting. You may even find that students can’t wait to get to your class to see what they’re going to learn next!
Can English class be all fun and games? Probably not. But, with a little creative thought, you can find ways to build more learning challenges into your lesson plans, ones that will enhance learning. Go ahead: I challenge you.
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You might also like to read Engaging, Entertaining, or Educating?
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