Using Games as Teaching Tools

9 min read

Games as Teaching Tools

“Rejoice, young man, during your childhood, and let your heart be pleasant  . . .” (Ecclesiastes 11:9, NASB). Only one student? Students of all ages and abilities? No problem. Use teaching games! Games fulfill the need for motivation, repetition, discipline, and reward and enable your kids to remember facts they would otherwise consider too dull or difficult to learn.

How to Use Teaching Games

1. Always prepare your questions in advance. Write down what you want each child to learn, i.e., identify a clear objective. Next, write these out in question form on separate slips of 1″ x 3″ paper, one question per slip of paper. Beneath each question, write down the answer. This establishes consistency and also allows kids to play the game together without your direct supervision.

Now look at your questions. Are they simple yes-no questions, or do some ask for a fact—or better, an application of a fact?

2. Using a different box for each child, put the questions into a “question box” along with any questions that arise during the lesson. Don’t neglect this step and later wonder why the game didn’t work! Question boxes keep the game moving. Here’s where you accommodate different ages, abilities, and subject matter. Whatever that child needs to learn goes into the box. Tom can be answering math questions while Dick works on first-grade spelling words. Leave challenging questions in the box over several game sessions, and add new questions as needed.

3. Establish rules, which include these: (1) Only the child whose turn it is to answer the question may do so. (2) No remarks, such as “Oh, I knew that!” or “That’s easy” are to be made about an answer. If either rule is disobeyed, assign penalties immediately by taking away points.

4. Ask the questions in a style that teaches the student as he plays the game. If the correct answer is given, the player is rewarded by advancing on the game board or making similar progress. If an incorrect answer is given, the next player takes a turn after the teacher gives the correct answer. This is extremely important. The child must hear the correct answer immediately instead of hearing several wrong answers. If an answer is almost correct, award a point if you want to, but the teacher should say the correct answer.

If a child doesn’t seem to understand the question, rephrase it and see if he can then answer it. Do not leave a wrong answer hanging out there. Once the correct answer is given by you or the child, put the question back in the box.

5. Ask the same question several times during the course of the game. This accomplishes three goals:

1. It teaches a child to listen to the answers. This happens only when a question box is used           properly. A listening class is a learning class.

2. It calls attention to the things being taught; students realize that they must know the lesson to play the game.

3. It lets them hear the correct information several times. Ask your advanced student the same question several times, and then ask it to the other students. Even if they are younger or not advanced, they should know the answer if they’ve been listening.

Games as Teaching Tools

Before you play any of these games, be sure to carefully read and gain an understanding of the previous section. Feel free to change rules to adapt the game to suit your class’s needs. If you have only one child, ask the question. If he gets it, he gets the point. If not, you answer it, and you get the point. Play long enough so that the child can get most of the answers correct. Don’t cheat and deliberately throw the game; the child needs to earn the victory.

1. Basketball: A favorite because it is an effective equalizer. Anyone has a chance to win, not just the “smart” kid. This game requires a basket (wastepaper basket, cardboard box) and a ball (Nerf ball, wadded-up paper). Lay a pencil or ruler on the floor; each child must stand behind it to shoot. If working with a wide age range, identify several free-throw lines. If just you and your child are playing, you have to shoot for your team. You can also go outside and play HORSE.

• Team #1 is asked a question. If the correct answer is given, that player takes a shot. If he makes a basket, he scores two points. If he misses, he scores one point for his correct answer. (Variation: No points given unless the basket is made.)

• If a player needs to be disciplined during the game, give the other team a “free” (no questions asked first) foul shot, worth one point. If you and your child are the only participants, you get the free throw.

2. Tower of Babel: You need a set of wooden blocks of equal size to play this game. Assign one or two students to each tower. Students will build a tower by stacking the blocks, and the highest tower left standing wins. For each correct answer, each player gets to place one block on the stack; for each incorrect answer, each player adds two blocks. (If necessary, add a block each time a student misbehaves.)

If you have only one child, you should build a tower too. Blocks may be stacked various ways to add a challenge. With rectangular blocks, very young children can stack their blocks using the flat side, young children can stack using the long side of the block, and older children can stack the blocks end to end. Kids love the noise when a tower falls, and a swaying tower is very dramatic!

3. Clean the Teeth (Memory Verses): On the blackboard draw a face; include one large tooth per child (in the drawn face’s mouth). Each student is asked to say his memory verse. If it is quoted accurately, the student cleans “his” tooth with white chalk. Incorrect answers stay dark. If you use a whiteboard, start with dark teeth and erase. A dragon provides lots of teeth; a buck-toothed rabbit has two.

4. Hit the Target: A target is drawn. After a correct answer is given, throw bean bags or Nerf balls at the target, or fire rubber suction darts at the target.

5. Hang Man: Each time that an incorrect answer is given, an additional main body part is added to a stick-figure man. The loser is the one whose stick figure is completed first (and consequently is the first man to “be hanged”). Before starting the game, identify which body parts should be drawn in sequence. For example, you could include these each time: head, torso, two arms, two legs.

6. Construction: Draw ovals on the board, one for each child. The students add a feature to the face each time they give the correct answer. There is no winner in this game, but the kids like to do it. This is a good to play when you have a group representing a wide variety of abilities, as there is no pressure involved. Everyone enjoys seeing the funny faces that develop.

7. Stand Up; Sit Down: This is a good game to play when you want your students to move. All stand. Teacher begins asking questions, going around the class. If a child doesn’t know the answer, he has to sit down. The next time around, he tries to answer correctly so that he can stand up again. It is especially important to use (and repeat) questions from the question box; otherwise, the students sitting down will “drop out” of the game mentally.

8. Round Robin: This game is used to review memorized facts, especially memorized lists of facts. Each person repeats what was just said and adds one word. Dick says Matthew; Ann says Matthew, Mark; and Jim says Matthew, Mark, Luke. Variation: Dick says Matthew, Ann adds Mark, and Jim adds Luke. Use this with Stand Up; Sit Down.

9. 20 Questions: Give three clues: “I was a king, I chose wisdom, and God gave me riches also. Who am I?”

10. To the Rescue: Draw a picture of Paul or another appropriate Christian character tied to a post with five to ten ropes. Next to it, draw a lion or a soldier with a sword. Between the lion/soldier and the “Christian,” draw a wall, using the same number of stones as there are ropes on the Christian. Correct answers enable one rope to be taken off. Wrong answers cause one stone to be removed from the wall. Game continues until the Christian is freed or the wall is removed.

11. Purchased Games of Skill: Skill-type games, in which, for example, a monkey is added to a balancing tree, a tower is built, pegs are pulled out, or sticks are removed, can all be used as educational games. With some games, you will need rules such as those given for Tower of Babel; with others, use the rules for Hit the Target. Play these first and write down the rules you’ll want to use. Ker-Plunk, Toss Across, Pick Up Sticks, Tumbling Tower, and Tiddlywinks can be adapted easily for use as educational games.

12. Board Games: Chutes and Ladders, Parcheesi, and Sorry can be used for educational purposes as well. The student must answer the question correctly before rolling the dice and moving the game pieces. If playing time must be shortened, modify the rules or add more dice.

Enjoy your game time. Don’t be amazed when your first-grader learns multiplication (which is simply putting together groups) from listening to your fourth-grader’s questions/answers. Games just do that.

Nancy Radke taught public school and homeschooled, working with dyslexic children. This article is condensed from First Aid for Bible Classes (how to write your own units, lesson plans, visuals, object lessons, etc., for sale at Currently producing the Show & Tell Bible series, a nondenominational picture Bible on DVD. Kids beg to watch . . . and learn! Five hours, 1500 pictures, coloring books.

Copyright 2012, used with permission. All rights reserved by author. Originally appeared in the April 2012 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the family education magazine. Read the magazine free or read it on the go and download the free apps to read the magazine on your mobile devices.


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