Advice on Teaching Through Games

Advice on Teaching Through Games
The Editorial Team February 12, 2013

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Let’s face it — learning is easier and more effective when it’s fun, and teaching through games is a great way to accomplish this. However, as an educator you’ll want to make sure you strike a balance between the right amount of fun balanced with a generous measure of genuine educational value. Both elements should be integrated seamlessly within the game.

When teaching through games, be aware that if a game is too distracting or frivolous, it’s possible that the intended lesson will be lost in the ensuing chaos. All too easily, students can get swept up in play and completely miss any teaching or lesson that was the main purpose of the game. On the other hand, if there’s not enough fun and lightheartedness built into the lesson, students can easily become bored and disengaged from the valuable material you’re trying to present to them.

Any class, lesson or presentation can benefit from a spirit of play. This applies to adults as well as kids of all ages. Finding that perfect balance between work and play may be a bit of a challenge, but with experience it will come more and more naturally to you. Here are examples for teaching students through game-based learning, why they work and what makes them so effective in striking that balance.

Fun (and learning) with hats

This game is all about keeping the mood light while allowing students to step into some of the roles, personas or historical periods they are learning about. Assemble a number of hats that are related to the class or subject you are currently addressing. They may be authentic hats, exaggerated creations you make on your own, or a mixture of both. Allow students to choose a “role” to play or “step into” during a discussion about the topic.

Educational crossword puzzles

Instead of assigning a quiz or a test, try assigning a crossword puzzle related to the subject you’re studying. You can create your own or find pre-made ones online or from teacher resource centers. Make the puzzle challenging enough to require students to tap into what they’ve learned, but easy enough that each child should be able to complete it. You can even use this game as a study tool by making it an open-book assignment.


Taboo is a classic game played in teams of at least two where one person sees a word on a card and tries to make their teammate guess the word by saying anything but that word (and sometimes other “taboo” words on the card.) There is a set amount of time to get as many correct guesses as possible. You can create your own version of this game related to history, social studies or current events. This is a very interactive game that can promote focus, energy and really “liven up” any topic.

Creative vocabulary

Learning new words can be challenging for some students, but making a game of it can help the student to integrate new words more quickly. For this game, choose a new word and write it on the board. Have students put out a blank sheet of paper along with crayons or colored pencils. First, ask students if any of them know what the new word means. Then write its definition on the board. Have students write the word and its definition at the top of their paper. Below this, have them draw a picture of the word’s correct definition in as much detail as possible.

Teaching through games is an excellent way to make learning fun and keep students engaged throughout the school day. While traditional teaching methods are time-tested, effective and serve their purpose, your students will really appreciate being able to play a game now and then to complement their studies.

Learning through games promotes social interaction, cognitive development and engages different parts of the brain and physiology. Never miss an opportunity to make learning fun, but be sure to employ the elements and principles discussed here. Find the perfect balance between work and play; don’t let your classroom become too serious or too frivolous. Use your intuition as well as your experience to guide you in choosing the perfect educational games for your students — or creating games of your own.

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