One of my goals for this year is to use more board games in my classroom. I will be teaching geography and 7th grade English, so there are many games that could be implemented. My trouble has never been finding games that fit with my curriculum. Due to the variety and quality of games that are being released, there is a lot that works with what I teach. I find that using games as an introduction to a unit or activity increases my student’s engagement and also leads to more positive participation within the classroom. However, there are three main challenges that make it difficult to successfully implement games in the classroom: money, time and students respecting materials.
The hardest of these issues to work around is the money aspect. I have classes of 30-35 students, meaning that for almost any game that I would use I would need at least 7 or 8 copies of the game. That gets expensive. Now, there are ways that teachers can work around this huge expense, but they do not always work. For instance, some teachers are able to get grants or donations from publishers or local stores. Other teachers slowly work up to having enough copies for the classroom, and instead do a demo in front of the class with students working in teams to do their turn. It is not as engaging for students, but still helps bringing games into the classroom.
Another problem teachers may face when trying to use games in the classroom is having enough time to teach the rules and play the game. When I use games in the classroom, I try to first set up each game at stations around the room, to cut down on set up time. Then, I often show a short rules video to student leaders who can go back and explain the rules to their classmates. I also post the rules video on Google Classroom. I do this the day before I teach the game, and leave time for questions the beginning of the next class. Then, I run over rules again briefly before setting the students loose. I walk around the room while the play to clarify. However, that does not account for play time. For my English classes I have a 100 minute block, so we can play a nice variety of games. My geography class is only 42 minutes long, which makes it much more difficult. For this reason it is important to choose games that can be “saved” or easily resumed if it cannot be played in about 20-25 minutes. Engaging, short filler games work best for a short class period.
Finally, some teachers struggle with teaching students how to be respectful of the materials. With games being so expensive, it is imperative that students are not destroying the game after one play. The only way to do this is to set strict expectations, and have consequences when they are not followed. Near the beginning of the year, I sit the classes down that I am planning to use games with and explain my expectations with games. I repeat this process four times throughout the year, after each break. Those expectations include things like not eating while playing, no bending cards, keeping pieces near by the board, and if something does break coming to tell me. If students cannot handle the materials with respect I always have a side assignment that they can complete while others play the game. This also is true of students who choose to not participate, cheat or become a disruption during the game. That being said, I do often try to take preemptive measures with games, like sleeving cards and laminating pieces that will be used but are too big for a sleeve.
These are not the only three problems you might run into when using board games as a teaching tool, but they are the ones I run into the most. Games can be such a rewarding experience for both teacher and students. They make learning fun, and are great pathways to further investigation of information. Students are also developing skills such as critical thinking, communication and cooperation, and deduction when playing games that they may not gain from a traditional lesson.