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Considering Competitive Educational Game Play in the Intensive Reading Middle School Classroom

Considering Competitive Educational Game Play in the Intensive Reading Middle School Classroom

This post is written by Kenia Brown, a member of the Edmentum Educator Network. The network is a professional learning community dedicated to helping educators share ideas, learn from one another, and make genuine peer-to-peer connections.

Historically, teachers have struggled with maintaining classroom momentum while balancing rigorous curriculum instruction. The lowest quartile (bottom 25 percent) intensivereading students struggle with understanding complex coursework and may be considerably bored and listless and may require stimulating kinesthetic activities to remain focused. Intensive reading teachers struggle with providing opportunities to integrate kinesthetic activities into the classroom environment while continuing a rigorous momentum driven by high-stakes reading assessments.

This blog post for reflection serves to build a case for inquiry, suggesting that teachers might consider increasing competitive kinesthetic indoor and outdoor activities, including teacher versus student competitions. Though significant research has been conducted specific to outdoor activities and the effect on learning acquisition, research specific to the effects of indoor classroom activities and teacher student competition on student reading achievement are not substantial.

What Is Educational Game Day in the Intensive Reading Classroom?

“Educational Game Day” at my school began with a vision to decrease student trepidation specific to standardized reading assessments, increase assessment reading self-confidence, increase celebrations for assessment reading achievements, and diminish the fear associated with test taking. To accomplish the goals, I envisioned students competing against me in various indoor and outdoor kinesthetic games. Once a month, I host an elaborate or exceptionally simplistic, Educational Game Day. Let’s explore how the models could look in your classroom.

Elaborate Model

The entire classroom is organized into stations. The desk-learning stations are comprised of two or four desks joined together with an activity and instructions. Students self-select one or more of the following activities:

  • Color for stress relief
  • Complete a jigsaw puzzle
  • Complete a 3D puzzle
  • Solve a Rubik’s Cube
  • Complete -a poster-sized, academic vocabulary crossword puzzle
  • Complete -a poster-sized, assessment vocabulary word search
  • Compete in a tabletop Ping-Pong or foosball game
  • Compete in plastic pin bowling
  • Compete in a cornhole beanbag toss
  • Play games with a Hula Hoop
  • Play indoor arcade basketball
  • Play “teacher bop” (inflatable boxing)

Simplistic Model

Educational Game Day can be integrated into classroom instruction to assist with decreasing negative behaviors and increasing academic achievement goals. In the simplistic model, a percentage goal for a reading assessment, such as 75 percent, is set, and everyone in the class must achieve 75 percent on the assessment, and/or the class average must be 75 percent. If this goal is achieved, the students select one student to compete against me in tabletop Ping-Pong, wallball, or tips. If the student wins (best out of five points), then the class earns a point. The points accumulate to earn an outside kickball game. The five-point Ping-Pong game uses at most six minutes of class time. Surprisingly, many students don’t have the hand-eye coordination I would expect, so I win often. Sometimes, I wave at the class, make a muscle, and announce grandly, “Yet again, I am undefeated.” The students debate amongst themselves who would be most likely to defeat me, and every once in a while, a student wins, and the excitement is thunderous.

On our “Technology Tuesdays,” a.k.a. “Laptop Cart Day,” Study Island is integrated for a quick 15-minute competition. I have been using Study Island for over a decade in my classroom. Recently, Study Island introduced race mode, an interactive race game that has students answer questions quickly. Students compete for questions answered at the highest level of accuracy. There have been volcanic upsets because a student may smell victory and begin a victory lap, only to have another student click submit and win the game. The winner is awarded a five-point coupon to be used for an assessment grade.

Collaborative Co-Teacher Model

Another Educational Game Day model involves competing against a co-teacher’s classes. One year, I collaborated with Mrs. Lobban, another 6th grade intensive reading teacher. We used Kahoot! to design academic and assessment vocabulary questions and created signs for the door: “Brown v. Lobban 1st Annual Game Day Competition.” We creatively managed to squeeze 50 students into a classroom. Every student was provided with a pencil and a snack. Certificates were awarded to individualized winners. Mr. Hamm, our principal, came to the class, snapped photos with the students, and shook hands with the winners. The games were intensely competitive, and the bragging continued long after Mrs. Lobban’s classes brutally defeated my classes. Mrs. Lobban spent the rest of the year reminding me of her victory.

Administrative Approval

Administrative approval for Educational Game Day might be necessary, depending on the rules of your school.

In the past, at a different school, I have run into disagreements with the administration about taking my students outside versus keeping them in the classroom. Also, due to increased concerns over school safety and security, gone are the days when I could arbitrarily take a class outside for a quick game of kickball; therefore, teachers are encouraged to receive administrative approval prior to organizing an outside Educational Game Day.

Educational Game Day Must-Haves

An academic environment can change with one oversized ball in the classroom. If a student insists on navigating away from academics and touching the educational game materials, I advise the class we cannot/will not have Educational Game Day because my guidelines are not being followed, specifically: “No touching until the teacher gives permission.” For students with low impulse control, the interactives are stored in a storage closet until Educational Game Day.

Let’s take a look into what games I typically include on Educational Game Day:

1. Table Ping Pong

A retractable net Ping-Pong paddle set is a must! The setup using this kit is easy. I use the specific set in the link.

2. Chair Ping Pong

The teacher and student sit in chairs facing each other about five feet apart. Using the Ping-Pong paddles, tap the ball back and forth. Points are earned when someone fails to return the ball back and forth. Students tend to want to hit the ball hard, and they have to learn patience and learn to return service gently.

3. Kickball

You are going to be surprised at the number of students with no idea how to play kickball. I have a rule of no cellphones if students choose not to play. I allow students to organize themselves with one rule: the kicking lineup must be: boy, girl, boy, girl. Competing against other classes, especially if teachers participate, is hilarious. One teacher kicked a home run and ran all the bases like a cheetah. Students were amazed at her speed. I think she caught one of my power kicks too!

4. Wallball

To play wallball, (like handball but with a large ball) you’ll need a teacher and student pair and a large-size ball. I hate to keep using the word “fun,” but I was undefeated in this game for a while too. I usually keep one or two of these plastic Walmart balls in the classroom (the one used for kickball above works too). Colleagues ask how do I prevent students from touching or playing with the balls during classroom instruction. I set guidelines: no touching the ball during class or else we do not get to play or else I put the balls way in a storage closet.

5. "Teacher Bop" Inflatable Boxing Gloves

In this station, students have a 10-second countdown to gently bop me with the oversized inflatable boxing gloves. The laughter from a student being able to bop the teacher is a sound you will never forget. Have no fear! It’s harmless and pain-free. I laughed so hard that my stomach hurt. Give students a 10-second countdown. Have other students count down. Establish limits like: no hitting in the face or in the head region.

6. Indoor Arcade Basketball Hoop

7. Tabletop Corn Hole Bean Bag Toss or Tabletop Foosball

Student Feedback

Several years ago, a student said to me, “Miss K. Brown, this morning on the bus, I was sitting by Gabriel, and he asked why I was bringing two bottles of water to school. I told him it was for Educational Game Day. Gabriel said, ‘You have Miss K. Brown? Intensive Reading?’ I told him, ‘Yes! We are going outside today to play kickball.’ Gabriel said, ‘I used to love when Miss K. Brown did Educational Game Day.’”

On another day, a former student, now in high school, saw me riding my bicycle in the neighborhood.

He stopped me to chat and said, “You know, I tried my best that year on the Florida Standards Assessment because I knew I would never have another teacher to take me outside to play kickball.”

Yet another student informed me that after learning to play wallball and listening to my speech about putting away technology and playing indoor games after dinner and homework, her family went to Walmart, purchased a $2.99 ball, moved furniture around the home, and played well into the night.

In conclusion, Educational Game Day has proven to be an activity that both motivates my students and provides them with the opportunity to participate in competitive kinesthetic outdoor activities.

Interested in learning about more ways to keep your students motivated in the classroom? Check out these four student rewards that encourage intrinsic motivation— and don’t cost a thing!

kenia.brown's picture

Kenia Brown, MA, MLS, EdS is a state of Florida High Impact and Distinguished Educator. Kenia is also the co-founder of Samuels, Brown & Company, an academic coaching business dedicated to teaching students how to increase achievement scores on state and national reading assessments. 

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