In teacher training with Ed Sprunger, Ed Kreitman, and Michiko Yurko I learned about the importance of games in instruction.
Using the container of a game allows parent, student, and teacher to…
- Structure provides feedback
- Interests of parents and teachers are aligned with the success of students
- Parent and teacher acknowledge to the student that fun/energy/excitement can be part of hard work (and ultimately our goals for students)
I use a handful of games I’ve picked up in lessons, observations and trainings as often as possible. One of my favorites is Ed Sprunger’s “Card Game” which I will describe in detail below.
Deck of playing cards (no jokers)
The teacher determines an activity, or series of activities for a student to do. Student draws at least one card from a deck without looking. If the card is a number, the student does the activity that number of times. If the card is an ace, the student does the activity eleven times. If the card is a face card, the teacher must perform the activity. The game is complete once all of the cards have been flipped and the activities finished.
The scale of the game can shift to suit your needs. I’ve used the card game to help determine the number of times one student makes a bow hold (essentially the same as one roll of a die). I’ve also used the game to manage an entire group class for an entire 45 minute lesson.
You can use multiple cards to add up to performing one activity, or you can have an activity for each card.
Decide before you start what sort of activities you want your student to do. You can choose to tell the student in advance what the activities are – but make sure they would be able to perform 11 repetitions without a breakdown. Alternatively, you can use a teacher trick and pick the activity as the card is reveled to get maximum reps and flow while the student still thinks they (and chance) are in control of the lesson.
To make the game more rigorous, you can require that a student must complete all reps of the activity perfectly, in a row.
As I mentioned above, playing games like this one allow instruction to happen in a enjoyable way.
I always explain the rules of the game to a student and then invite them to play. In doing so, they make the active decision to participate and operate under the structural constraints of the game. This gives me, the teacher, the opportunity to shape their actions through the structure of the game itself without appearing overbearing.
In this card game, I use obvious metrics discussed before the game starts to guide the student to determining for themselves whether an activity was performed correctly. For example, if the object of the first card is to go to play position without squeezing the left shoulder then I would make the activity (1) go to play position (2) wave at Mom and (3) return to play position. If they can’t wave, they are squeezing with their shoulder, meaning the rep doesn’t count. That obvious metric of success is built into the structure of game. There is no way to move on in the game if an action isn’t performed correctly. The Card Game is one of the best tools I have to sharpen students critical awareness of the quality of their own work.
Because the student is working against the game to succeed and they are their own referee, this give you the unique opportunity to be a cheerleader. Step out of the adversarial role your expertise and title often forces you into and step into the support role you can now embrace. If a student struggles you can give them quick tips, you can take timeouts, and you can introduce new strategies for success. In the context of the Card Game you are seen as the sidekick, the second in command. Your comments transform from mysterious mandates to actionable, invaluable instructions that will help win the game.
I can’t stress enough how well this game can relieve pressure points or disrupt the lethargic pace of a lesson. While encouraging high quality work, self awareness, deliberate repetitions, and still holding space for instruction, the Card Game makes students laugh, reach, and do the unexpected.