One of the primary ways I keep my students engaged during math lessons is through the use of games. The kids love feeling like they are “playing” even when they know full-well they are practicing a math skill.
I do admit, however, that games in my class were not always as productive and engaging as they are now.
- Walk the room. Even once all the groups are started and they seem to have the rules of the game down, you, as the teacher, need to keep circulating. There will always be that handful of students who get off-task once they notice you sit at your desk to grade papers or check your email.
- Choose the content wisely. If the skill the game focuses on is too hard, students will become discouraged, lose focus, and many will start to guess or give up. If it is way too easy, students will finish very early, rush. and not take the game seriously. Games are best for skills that students have a grasp of, but need to practice and review more.
- Keep them wanting more. Just like a good vacation, which should end before you’re ready to go home. Cut it off before the students lose interest. You want your students to come in requesting to play again. When you let a game go too long, students will lose focus and get bored. The length of time can vary based on the game and content, but I have found that 15-25 minutes is an appropriate range.
- Be sure the rules are clear. When students are unsure if the rules, they spend more time arguing with one another than they do practicing skills.
- Make your expectations clear. Are students allowed to move around the room? To whom do they go for help? What if someone needs to go to the bathroom during the game? What should everyone else do? Make sure you have thought these things out in advance and communicated with the students.
- Finally, have a backup plan. As with any lesson, even something that sounds great on paper can be a total flop on occasion. Have a plan in mind for another way your students can review the content if the game isn’t working out as planned. Maybe it’s a game you could adapt to play as a large group. Perhaps you could take the problems from the game and use them to re-teach if you realize te students haven’t mastered the content well enough to play correctly. Like we always must, be ready to be flexible!