Friday, October 19, 2007

While I was teaching

Over the years I've played relatively few games in class. I know lots of teachers who have an armory of games ready for any class. But me, well, I am notorious for making "deals" with my students which usually end up leaving ten minutes or so for a game because they broke their end of the deal, namely, shutting up and letting us get through what I have to present. Every time I feel fatigued or aggravated and I tell myself, "Okay, just play a game," I just can't find it in myself to do a mindless game-game. It's always got to have some kind of didactic value, which requires me to be involved lest everything really just become a bedlam of kids playing in Chinese.

This year however I have done better about integrating games into the schedule. This involves a game of Mafia every week or two for every class. But I've also made up or adapted some games, which are what I want to get on record now, mainly so I don't forget them some day when in a teaching pinch.

1) Tic Tac Toss

Nothing too brilliant here. Just playing tic tac toe with a ball being thrown at the board. There are catches though. Like, if X hits an O, the O gets erased. Or if the ball hits outside the square, the opposing team gets two throws. Didactically, depending on the students' ability, I put a hash mark on their side for every miss, and, if they lose, the other team can find a word in the dictionary of the same number of letters as hash marks, whereupon the losing team must spell that word correctly in 10, 20 or 30 seconds. Alternatively, for better students, the winners can think of as many words as hash marks and the losers must use them correctly in one sentence.

I'm still fiddling with this game, trying to make it more complex and stimulating, since much of the time it's just kids cheering or jeering. I have added a requirement that on each throw the player must announce at which square she's aiming, so they can practice coordinate prepositions (upper-right, bottom-left, etc.). I may add a feature that the opposing team to say any one letter for each miss the other team throws, and then at the end of the game, both sides (or maybe just the losers) have some small number of seconds to spell a word with those as many of those letters as possible. I mustn't put the letters on the board for students to see, lest they cook up a word in advance, but will secretly write down what their opponents say and then announce the letters at crunch time.

Clearly, being a middle school teacher is like being in the CIA, wheels within wheels, man, wheels within tiny slippery wheels.

2) Scrabble Scramble, or Tile Tumble (...just made those titles up for the illusion of being sharp)

Each team has 25 pieces of paper with a letter of the alphabet on each one (though X and Y share a tile). I then say a word, or a number of letters, and the students must correctly arrange their tiles on a book and then walk up to me to show me what they spelt. The catch is mainly that they can't run, or the tiles will flutter away and the courier must go back to spell it again, nor can they hold down the tiles or curve the book to shield the letters. If a word has duplicate letters, like "book", they can use substitute letters and spell out the word before me so I know they know I know they know, etc.

3) Monkey Bridge, Bridge Monkeys

I'm kind of proud of this one, since it came to me a true pinch. I had not corrected a class's books yet so I couldn't give them back and thus had no real lesson to do from the book, all of which I only realized as class was starting, so I did a little bluffing, confirming who would clean, etc., and then I found monkeys scrambling through my mind.

The game is based on imagining what monkeys would do on a bridge. They would climb and hang from the beams above. The game works like so: two people from each team (or more, I suppose) line up, I say a number of letters or a word, then I say Go, and the first player runs to the board to write some word horizontally, then she runs back and her partner runs up to write words horizontally "hanging" from the "bridge" word, each "monkey" word beginning with the same letter as the letter from which it hangs. I can change the values, but generally words of 1-3 letters are 1 point, 4-6 letters 2 points, 7-10 letters are 3 points, and 11 or more letters are 4.

This game is lots of fun, especially when I raise the stakes by forbidding certain frequently repeated words, like apple for a, elephant for e, etc.

Advice or ideas welcome! And if you want to polish your English, I might pencil in some time for one of these games!