What a difference a game makes

9th January 2004 at 00:00
Weekenders, icebreakers, timefillersI fun. Games such as Rainstorm and Fruit Salad are very useful in the classroom. Virginia Hunt has a few suggestions to add to your repertoire

Luggling an overloaded curriculum is an all too familiar problem. So how can you justify using some of that time to play games? To start with, the value of circle and co-operation games should not be overlooked. As a supply teacher they are useful for making a quick assessment of class dynamics and getting the group to work together. This also works at the beginning of the school year when you're starting with a fresh class - games can help you establish behaviour guidelines and develop team spirit.

Games can also be used within the curriculum to enhance learning. In addition to obvious links with personal, social and health education, many games promote speaking and listening skills - a key objective in literacy.

They also provide a good starting point in PE when promoting a co-operative approach. Using games during your introduction or plenary can enhance a range of skills required throughout the curriculum and can also be brilliant time-fillers at the end of a session.

Most importantly, games are fun and most children respond well to them.

What better way to end a Friday afternoon when energy levels are low and teachers and pupils alike are in weekend mode?

As well as aiding other learning, games are invaluable in teaching a range of skills that are not only necessary to school life but equip children for adulthood. Children need to understand that co-operation is vital in achieving common goals.

Sharing and turn-taking are key elements in games. They give less confident pupils a safe forum in which to participate, so they become more articulate and assertive, knowing that their contributions are valued. Shy children may choose to abstain initially and this should be respected. However, this reluctance is usually short-lived.

Many games focus on communication skills, encouraging children to express their views and share ideas. In sharing ideas, we are also teaching children to tolerate and accept differences. Games that incorporate role-play enable the class to address sensitive issues from a range of perspectives. This allows pupils to practise taking responsibility for their actions and to begin to identify and assess the impact of certain behaviours.

Exploring alternative outcomes helps broaden children's outlooks in understanding and learning from other points of view. Problem-solving and thinking skills are incorporated in finding differing but equally effective solutions to a problem.

Games develop trust and collaboration with the emphasis on fun and interaction. They can be challenging. However, the aim is to encourage participation and to celebrate individual and group success.


* Build up a repertoire of games and adapt them to suit your class.

* Aim to involve everyone, with elimination kept to a minimum, as this creates boredom.

* Stress the need for strategy and teamwork, to build up an ethos of trust and co-operation.

* Use old favourites and new challenges to maintain interest.

* Be aware of group dynamics, balancing individual expression with group participation.

* Have clear signals for paying attention and the need for quiet.

* Finish with a wind-down game to re-establish calm.

* Games should be fun, so maintain a sense of humour.

Big Chief

Send one child out of the room. Choose one of the remaining children to be the Big Chief. He or she then performs a set of actions, for example, hand-clapping or winking, which the rest of the class copies. The child outside returns and tries to identify the Big Chief by spotting who starts the sequence.

Pass the Clap

Begin by clapping a simple rhythm. This is passed around the circle. The aim is to repeat the pattern all the way round, before starting a new rhythm. You can vary this by participants passing the rhythm across the circle at random by making eye contact with children. Variations also include passing a smile or a set of sounds.


This starts with absolute silence. Then the players slowly start rubbing hands together. Once this has passed round the circle they pat knees gently, followed by patting the floor. The next part of the sequence is clicking fingers and you build up a crescendo of sound. Then the whole process is reversed. This game may take some time to perfect as it requires careful focus and self-control - but it is very impressive when the group has learnt to work together.

Freeze Frame

This is a role-play game that works well when tackling real dilemmas. A pretend situation is less threatening for those affected and leads to debate and discussion of viewpoints and solutions. Players act out a scenario and at a suitable moment you ask them to freeze. Ask for suggestions from the floor on how to resolve the situation. You can then unfreeze the players who act out one or several solutions. This can create some comical cameos but it does get the children thinking about a range of alternative strategies in dealing with serious issues.

Wink Murder

Choose a "murderer". They must kill their victims by winking at them. The aim is to discover who the murderer is before you are killed. This is great fun as children love staging dramatic deaths.


This is great for concentration and speaking skills. The leader stands in the middle of the circle and uses keywords. If he says "bibbity", the player addressed must shout out "bop" before the end of the word; if he says "bop", the player addressed must remain silent. If he says "James Bond", the two neighbouring players drape themselves adoringly on either side of the chosen person and coo "Ooh James" before the leader counts to 10. The final keyword is "Big Elephants". Here, the players on either side of the player addressed make a pair of ears with the middle player improvising a trunk, again before the count of 10. The middle player goes out if this isn't achieved in time. This game is great when played at high speed.

Fruit Salad

You need a circle of chairs, one less than the number of players. Ask the children to sit and give each child one of three chosen fruit names, for example, apple, banana, orange. Call out the name of one fruit - everyone who is that fruit must exchange chairs, including the caller. All others stay seated. Whoever ends up without a chair becomes the caller. If the caller shouts out "fruit salad", everyone moves. You can use other words to link this to any topic.

Chinese Whispers

This is great for encouraging speaking and listening skills. The first person in the circle whispers a short phrase to their neighbour. The message is then relayed around the circle. By the time it reaches its originator it's very rarely intact, causing great hilarity when repeated out loud.

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