Health Ed / Outdoor Ed / Phys Ed

Why you should be playing games in your classroom

having fun

I have a stash of games at the ready for all sorts of occasions and groups I teach/lead. Whether it be for welcoming a new class at the start of the year, enjoying time around the campfire, challenging students communication skills, or taking a 5 minute active brain break there are plenty of reasons to play games! For all these reasons and more I love using games in my classroom(s). Sometimes I use games purely for fun, but other times I use them for a specific lesson or focus. If the later is the case I’ll find/create games that challenge the thoughts, opinions and abilities of participants, and, be sure to set time to debrief. Because learning from games and transferring this learning can really happen if games are debriefed. So, if you’re planning games to teach a point, plan time to debrief or students will miss the point.

“Fun creates an immediate sense of togetherness and camaraderie that is essential to the group process.”


  • To have fun….by random acts of silliness and sudden outbursts of laughter. By participating without a care for the why, who or what – just for the fun!
  • To learn something new about about others….by discovering similarities and differences. By learning something you may not have known already. By invoking curiosity to start or continue conversations.
  • To break down ‘barriers’… offering conversation starters. By breaking the awkward silences. By helping the ‘shy’ people ‘mingle’.
  • To build trust….by breaking down barriers. By building relationships. By evening the playing field (ie. creating an ‘everyone is equal’ attitude/vibe). Trust allows people to share pieces of themselves without fear that they’ll be ridiculed or ignored. Trust creates opportunities for people to meet new challenges, knowing that others are there to support them. It means giving something a try, perhaps not succeeding, but knowing that the group will support additional attempts without ridicule.
  • To create a ‘positive’ team/class/camp vibe…by creating a positive and encouraging environment that promotes participation and involvement. By engaging all students. By helping create a feeling of support and empowerment. By helping students meet and mingle with other students

“If you can present activities so people can see the fun inherent in what’s happening, their fears, anxieties and concerns will most likely seem less inhibiting”


Facilitating games successfully is similar to being able to tell a good story: Delivery is everything, good stories build up intensity as they go along and you need to know your audience.

  • Put yourself in their shoes – Students may be nervous or uncomfortable about participating in games – so be nice, play simple games, give clear and concise instructions and lead by example!
  • K.I.S.S – ‘Keep – It – Simple – Stupid’. Even if you know the game like the back of your hand, pretend you don’t. Start with simple games. Give simple/clear instructions. Use demonstrations! Have practice rounds. Have question time. Try not to play too many games that ‘eliminate’ people.
  • Build intensity – Start with activities with limited movement, minimal physical contact and simple rules. Progressively increase these factors. Remember – a quick game is a good game! Keep things flowing as best you can. Don’t play a game to death – switch things up while people are STILL enjoying it (leave them wanting more!).
  • Enthusiasm is contagious –  Even if the game isn’t one of your favourites, pretend it is. Often, the mood of the instructor will set the tone for the group. Be positive and have fun with the activity, with the session, and with the participants. Be sure to play an active role in the game, as it is important that people learn something about you as well! Have the demonstrators ‘over act’ in a way that is fun and amps up the audience (not overpowering or attention seeking) – if the demonstrators are having fun, the game will look more appealing!
  • Smaller groups work best – Big groups (ie. 30) are quite hard to work with. Whenever you can, try and split large groups into smaller groups! Think quality not quantity!

“You can learn more about someone from one hour of play, than from a year of conversation. People discover things about themselves, and about others that will surprise them. They will laugh, they will share, and before you know it, they will dismantling barriers to relationships that have stood the test of time.”


The first step to choosing a game is figuring out what ‘type’ of game you’re after. All the games I’ve listed below (except the very last one) require no equipment so are great for ‘on the fly’.

  1. Name games: Great for new groups or teams. The purpose of these games is to learn or freshen up on everyone’s names. Knowing other peoples names and being known by others is an important part of belonging.
    • Bang Bang: Have group stand in big circle. 1 person in middle. Middle person points (fake gun) at another Member and shouts out their name. That member ducks down and the Members on his/her right and left have to point (fake gun) at each other and yell opponents name. Last person to yell correct name goes into middle
    • Concentration: Have group stand or sit in a circle. Demonstrate the following rhythm. Clap thighs, clap hands, click right, click 
 Explain to the group that when it’s their turn, they are to say the person to 
rights name on right click and persons to left name of left click. 
Explain to the group you will start, then the person to your left will go next. 
Start slowly and gradually get faster. 
After 1 or 2 rounds can jumble the order of the circle and go again. Variation: One person is designated as the leader, and he/she sets the pace. The object of the game is to get to the leaders spot. The leader begins the rhythm, and on one set of snaps says his/her name on the first, and someone else’s on the second (the names MUST always be said on the two snaps). The person who’s name is said must respond on the next set of slaps and snaps by saying his/her own name and then someone else’s. If the player does it correctly, the game continues. If the player does not do it quickly enough, that player must move to the seat to the right of the leader, and the rest of the group moves up a seat (toward the leader’s spot) to fill in the seats. Game continues until group has learned names well. The pace can be as fast as desired.
  2. Get-To-Know-You games: Games that focus on learning something about others in the group. Some of these games are also designed to get people communicating with others. Explain to participants they should treat it as a challenge or an opportunity if they get someone they don’t usually talk to.
    • Two truths and a lie: Get into small groups and sit in circle if possible. Take it in turns to share 4 things about yourself – 2 being true facts, 1 being a lie, and one being a future hope/dream/ambition. Have the others in the group guess the lie. Variation: Add in ‘a future fact’ so participants share a dream, ambition or aspiration. So the game essentially becomes “Two truths, a lie and a future fact.
  3. Brain breaks or Energisers: Games for the classroom that get students up an active with minimal equipment.
    • Angels and Elephants Participants stand in a circle. One person in the middle. Person in the middle randomly points to someone in the circle and calls out ‘Angels’ or ‘Elephants’. As quickly as possible the person who was pointed at and the people standing either side make the shape of what was called out. Predetermine these shapes (ie. Angel = person pointed at makes prayer hands whilst people either side makes wings. Elephant = person pointed at makes trunk whilst people either side make ears.) Last person into position, or, person who does wrong position then becomes middle person. Best played fast so highly recommend teacher being person in middle for first five turns to get the game moving.
    • Horses, Knights and Cavaliers (brain break) Everyone to partner up. Go through the actions for Horse Knights and Cavaliers (Horses = One person on all fours, other sitting on back. Knights = One person kneeling, other person sits on knee. Cavaliers = One person lifts the other off the ground). Get everyone to randomly walk around, perform warm up activities, or dance to music. At random intervals call out one of the 3 ‘actions’. Everyone has to find their partner and do the appropriate action. Last pair to get into ‘action’ position sits out and helps judge.
    • Red elbow Best played in the classroom. Call out a body part and a colour (ie. Red elbow). Students have to place the body part on the colour (ie. find a red pencil case and put their elbow on it).
  4. Campfire games: Games that require no movement, little to none equipment, and can be played in minimal light.
    • Concentration: As described previously but swap the ‘names’ for numbers’ and rather than having to pass the beat around the circle it can jump from player to player (ie. number to number). We’ve also played it on camp where there are two teams competing against each other (ie. when one team messes up the pattern the other team gets a point).
    • Connect & disconnect: Everyone sits in a circle. First person says a random word to start the game (ie. dog). Person to their right must say something connected to this word (ie. cat or pet or fur). It continues around the circle until someone stutters, repeats a word or says a word that doesn’t connect. The person who got out starts a new game but sends it in the opposite direction and participants must say words that DONT connect. Participants can challenge if they think a word connects when it shouldn’t or doesn’t when it should.
    • Jigsaw: This is actually a card game from my child hood. Its basically a pile of question cards and pile of alphabet cards (ie. cards with one letter of the alphabet on them). You turn over a question card and a alphabet card and the first person to shout out a correct answer wins the question card (ie. Questions such as ”A piece of fruit”, “Something made of wood”, “A word with oo in it” etc). This game can easily be made up – and questions can then be content/camp/group specific if you want.
  5. Team Building: I like to find games that have some kind of ‘frustrating’ element to them in order to challenge participants. It might mean challenging their communication skills, patience, motivation, problem solving or physical abilities.
    • The Clap Song: Challenges patience, commitment, coordination and leadership. Sit in a circle – everyone needs a cup. Can watch a video tutorial here. I broke it down into the following key words (and used these key words when teaching it to the group): Clap clap tap tap tap, clap up down, clap flip hit tap switch slap down. We started in one large group to learn. I then split into smaller groups and have a clap off.


One thought on “Why you should be playing games in your classroom

  1. Pingback: Integrating ITC in the SEPEP classroom | Move Eat Teach

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