This time of year, when it’s getting cold outside and the excitement of the start of the semester is starting to wear off, it’s great to have a quick game to energize your class. To this end, I’m going to recommend two of my favorite game elements: randomness and matching. These two elements can be used together to create an impromptu game that requires little to no advance planning or materials. I’m hoping if you try this in your class, or if you already have some fun games or activities that involve these mechanics, you’ll let us know in the blog post comments below!
Randomness is one of my favorite game elements, and one which is used in nearly every game – card or tile draws, die rolls, spinners, etc. – try to think of a game that doesn’t use randomness! Thus, even the introduction of a small amount of randomness makes an activity suddenly more like a game.
Are you reviewing for midterm exams? I like to put students in groups to work on the midterm exam review. I add an element of random by having the group roll a die after they have gotten four problems correct. The die then determines how far that group can move along a game board I have sketched on the blackboard. It’s funny, you’d think the direct reward of moves based on problems solved would seem fairer, but adding a die roll, so that one group might move 4 spaces while another group only moves 1, makes the students much more interested, and it keeps the slower students hopeful that they too can compete, with a little luck.
If you have a group activity you already use, you can add excitement by having students draw cards or roll dice to determine the way the activity starts – maybe a random first step to the activity, a randomly assigned first problem, or randomly assigned roles for each student. I have an activity in which students solve multi-step problems in a group. The last time I did this, rather than just tell them their roles, I wrote the roles on paper, shuffled, and handed each person a role. Suddenly, the energy in the room shifted, and everyone was interested. For the next problem, I had people shuffle the papers again and change roles. This works for math and science problems easily – for order of operations problems, for example, person number 1 is instructed to only do the work in parenthesis, person 2 does exponents, and so forth – but it can also work in a class on essay writing, where the first person tackles the introduction, and so forth. Likewise, it can work in a design class where the first person takes on the role of interviewing the client, the next researches the intended audience, etc. Randomly shuffling roles can work in any class where there are multiple roles or multiple steps to solve a problem.
MatchingStudents can create their own matching problems by matching two concepts, or two versions of the same concept. In my math class, I have a student write the exponential form on one piece of paper, and the logarithm form on the other. The student then gives just the logarithm form to another student, who must come up with the original exponential form. You can do the same exercise with a function and its derivative – anything that has a student working backwards to try to come up with the original problem. I’d love to hear how this might apply to concepts in other disciplines!
Matching + Random
In a modification of the matching exercise, I gather all the pieces of paper with one version of the concept (for example, all the exponential forms), shuffle, and tape them to one side of the chalkboard. I gather and shuffle the other version (for example, all the logarithmic forms), tape them to the other side of the board, and challenge students to find the matches. It’s my best easy game so far, with students really thinking as they play.
I hope you’ll try this yourself, and maybe share some examples from your English, History or Art class! As one of my students once said to me, laughingly, “Professor, you’re so random!” I’m pretty sure that translates to “You’re super strange,” but I thanked him anyway.
This blog post first appeared in the CUNY Games Network blog.