It may sound a little counter-productive, but I’m going to suggest that you let your kids play in the classroom. For real!
Play can be a serious educational tool. In fact, studies are showing that a lot of kids’ early life skills are learned through play.
For example, through play kids can learn about the world around them, and develop critical thinking, problem-solving, communication and teamwork skills.
Play is also fantastic for intrinsic motivation, which will drive students to actually remember what it is they’re learning.
Of course, I can feel your cynicism from here (and I appreciate it! We live in the real world after all). Yes, there are loads of great teaching approaches that just don’t translate into practice.
Standardized tests are brutal, and games won’t prepare your students for an exam… or will they?
Read on for some practical tips on how you can use games to unlock critical thinking in your classroom.
As always, teaching can be complicated and you know your class best. So please take the ideas that’ll work for you, and feel free to burn the rest!
How Your Students Will Learn Through Play:
Your kids love games, and that’s a fact! So why not try and sneak in a few lessons into their playtime?
While students are playing your games, they’ll be answering important questions, remembering many types of facts, solving complex puzzles and examining complicated topics.
If you give them the space, you may also find that your students come up with creative, innovative solutions to the challenges they’re presented with during play.
Increasing Memory and Enhancing Deductive Reasoning
Typically, complex games can substantially improve students’ memories, developing their ability to remember important facts and concepts.
The student may also examine several types of references. Consequently, the pupil can learn new facts, compare multiple references and evaluate the accuracy of each fact.
Stimulating Neurogenesis Within the Brain
If a student plays a complex game, the fun activities could increase neurogenesis, and this process can help the brain to create additional neurons.
Usually, these neurons could improve intelligence, critical thinking, memory and deductive reasoning.
The additional neurons may also help the students to understand complicated subjects.The neurons can increase the efficiency of the frontal lobe.
Several reports have suggested that the frontal lobe could help a person to make many decisions, and before a person makes a choice, the individual may examine multiple options, the results of the choice, several contingencies and the surrounding environment.
Multiple studies have indicated that many games can increase the level of norepinephrine within the central nervous system.
Norepinephrine is a neurotransmitter that could improve energy, yet norepinephrine may also increase focus. According to many reports, norepinephrine can consistently modulate many synapses that are located within the brain.
If the brain has a high level of norepinephrine, the beneficial neurotransmitter could substantially enhance the efficiency of multiple synapses, and consequently, norepinephrine may improve the learning process, increase intelligence and stimulate creativity.
Boosting Intrinsic Motivation
‘Gamifying’ learning is a powerful motivator that can often result in students taking an interest in their own learning.
Teachers can always provide rewards to incentivise students – such as giving out treats for ‘high scores’. However, play makes learning meaningful to students, driving them to invest in their own learning because it matters to them.
Ready? Use These Game Concepts to Teach Critical Thinking In Your Classroom:
Critical thinking can be a hard skill to nail down and teach… but doesn’t it seem sort of wrong to rely on rote learning to teach critical thinking?
Instead, try working these game concepts into your lessons to kickstart critical thinking in your classroom.
If you’d like a practical example of how you can combine all of these critical thinking game concepts into one awesome lesson – skim through to the next section.
Add group-work elements:
Use games that promote teamwork. The collaboration and discussion that arises from group work can lead to innovative solutions, closer bonds, and development of important social skills.
Think of ways that you can turn simple exercises into group team challenges. Maybe students can correct each other’s work, work together on problems, or tackle a larger project that requires delegation of team skills.
An even better (and more fun!) way to encourage teamwork is to divide your students into teams, and then pit them against each other in a team competition. This leads us to…
Introduce competition – let the games begin!
Competition ups the stakes makes it fun and gets kids involved instantly. There’s no one more focused than a kid who’s desperately trying to beat his friends!
It’s relatively easy to turn pretty much any lesson into a timed contest. Worksheets can be a race to see who can finish first, or you could structure your lesson to be more like a gameshow – bonus points if you actually include prizes!
Bingo is another great group game that can be adapted to basically any lesson and adds an element of competition that the whole class can get in on.
Get creative with hands-on learning:
Studies have shown that kids are great hands-on learners. So take advantage of this by making your lesson ‘real’.
So many math lessons have benefited from using blocks to teach grouping and counting, while English and history lessons can incorporate props from their respective periods to really immerse students.
Related: Gamify learning math with Kindergarten Math Games for hands-on learning experience.
Another way you can make good use of hands-on learning is through the use of puzzles.
Printable, foldable puzzles are perfect for engaging kids’ critical thinking skills, as they force students to ‘think outside the box’ in order to solve them.
Using open-ended challenges:
This one could be more of a group-thinking exercise than anything else, but it really does spark critical thinking in a fun way.
Present your students with an open-ended challenge – the classic one being, “you’re stuck on a desert island, what do you do?”.
This lets kids creatively explore interesting scenarios while exercising their critical thinking as they try and determine the best course of action.
This type of exercise is usually best when you give your students the opportunity to discuss their answers with each other afterwards – exposing them to different ideas and ways of thinking.
Bringing It All Together – Using Escape Room Games To Teach Critical Thinking:
Each of these game concepts can work great on its own, and I’m sure you’re already plotting ways that you can integrate them into your next lesson… but wait just one moment – there’s a really simple way of bringing them all together into one EPIC lesson.
The best way to combine all of these concepts into one coherent lesson is to use a classroom escape room game.
This is an interactive team game where students solve puzzles in order to overcome some greater challenges.
For example – they may find themselves locked in an Egyptian tomb, or need to solve a murder before it’s too late! (If you’ve been living under a rock and still don’t know what I’m talking about, these guys have a blog post that might help you out)
It’s the next ‘outside-of-the-box’ teaching tool that teachers are using to jumpstart critical thinking and encourage teamwork and creative problem solving among their students.
Don’t worry, you don’t need any fancy tech or paid subscriptions – you can make this one all by yourself. Here is how you’ll do it.
Step 1 – Create an Engaging Story:
An escape room is a story-driven game, so you’ll need to craft a storyline that will interest the students.
Don’t worry it doesn’t have to be complicated, and you can always just steal stories from movies and games that your students already know.
Just make sure to include clear-cut goals, so that your students know exactly what they need to do in order to win the game.
Step 2 – Grab A Bag of Puzzles:
Steal cool puzzle ideas from your favourite games, movies, and websites. Or – just grab one from this list.
You’ll need to make sure that you thematically integrate them into your theme, and that the puzzles support what you’re trying to teach.
It’s also a great idea to include a wide variety of puzzles in your game to keep your students from getting ‘stuck’ in one track of thinking.
Mixing up logic puzzles with physical tasks, reading comprehension activities or quick-fire math puzzles will keep your students engaged until the very end.
Step 3 – Add ‘Pizazz’!
Don’t worry, you don’t have to go all out. Just hanging up a few posters, and buying a couple of props from the dollar store can be enough to set the mood.
After all, this is an imaginative experience, and your kids will easily fill in the blanks far better than you ever could.
So, What Do You Think?
Critical thinking is an essential life skill that kids will learn through structured lessons AND play, so why not start incorporating the odd classroom game into your schedule?
I think you’ll be surprised by just how much you can boost classroom engagement and lesson retention with a few simple ‘gamification’ hacks!