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Play to Learn

Jan 31, 2017

Written by Mr. Isenmann, Middle Team Teacher
Education and fun. What comes to mind when you think of those two words together? Before I became a teacher, those words conjured memories from PE class. Each day I’d pray for Coach Hummel to utter those magical words: “Today we’re playing dodgeball.” Dodgeball--a glorious game where you can both punish your enemies and flirt with cute girls by pegging them in the back of the head with a foam ball (at least, that’s what my adolescent mind thought).     It’s easy to remember the fun I had in PE, not so easy for all of my other classes. My academic experiences usually involved listening to lectures, answering textbook questions, or completing seemingly endless streams of worksheets. The only time we did a “fun” activity was usually to celebrate a holiday or the end of a quarter--a reward for all of our hard work, I suppose. We were allowed to have fun after the learning had occurred. I think this is backward. You should have fun so that you’re better able to learn. Research has shown that learning and happiness, in fact, complement each other. I’ve seen TED talks, read articles, and listened to podcasts that all explained how the human brain functions much better when it’s happy. What better way to be happy than to have fun? This is why I deliberately seek to make my instruction as engaging as I can.   Lately, the instruction I’ve spent the most time adapting for fun has been the Orton-Gillingham (OG) approach. I won’t go into detail about what OG is, however, I will say that repetition is a crucial aspect to the approach. I wanted to create a way to make repetitive practice fun, so I created Q-Slap.   Q-Slap is a game where each player has answer cards and competes to be the first player to slap down the correct card, earning a point. I’ll give a more in-depth example to help illustrate the game.   If we were reviewing the six syllable types (closed, open, vowel team, consonant-le, bossy-R, and silent-e) the students would each have six cards, each with one of the aforementioned syllable types. I would then place down a slip of paper with a random word on it. Let’s say the word is “turtle.” As soon as I lay the word down, the students would look through their cards and determine which syllable types are present in turtle then slap the card(s) face down. Once everyone has made their guesses they reveal their answers (consonant-le and bossy-R). Whoever guesses the answer correctly first gets the slip of paper which represents one point. The player with the most points at the end of the game wins. Simple, right?   Q-Slap has been a success for me these past two years. My middle schoolers often ask to play, which tells me it’s working since middle schoolers are rarely eager to do much of anything! It gives them what they need academically--repetition--along with what they need emotionally--reward.   The next time you plan a lesson or activity for a young person, think about mixing in a little fun. This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to play a game. You could simply reward them for answering a certain number of questions correctly or team students together to answer the questions with whiteboards in a competition. No matter the assignment, if you take the time to consider a student’s emotional investment, you’ll be rewarded for your efforts.