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Learn Through Play: Board games for home and classroom learning

In my previous post, I looked at why playing games is essential for learning. In this post, I look at 10 of my favourite games and discuss what skills they help develop and how to use them effectively at home or in the classroom. Although I have tried to include relatively modern board games in this post, I would never underestimate the value of a good round of General Knowledge or Hangman or even Chess.


Notes regarding COVID-19 and lockdown conditions:

1. Social distancing laws and recommendations are still in effect - and with good reason. It is perfectly fine to play board games in your home with your family members. I do not advise inviting friends and peers over for play. Please look into to table top simulators such as Tabletopia to play a variety of board games with friends or family members online.

2. Where possible, I have included a way to adapt the games so they can be played in classrooms while adhering to social distancing protocols.

3. The benefit of playing these games does not diminish after lockdown conditions. These games can still be used in classrooms and in homes long after we overcome these unprecedented conditions.

Support Local Small Businesses

Now is a great time to support local game sellers, who are small businesses trying to get through COVID-19 like the rest of us. There are even some amazing specials and competitions, like this one, if you need any extra incentive. Post-lockdown, many of these stores also host regular board game days, so you can test out new games without having to buy them first.


(No, I am not receiving any kickbacks for advertising local friendly game stores. Yes, I just really love board games that much.)

1. Balderdash

In this game, players aim to bluff each other into believing creative answers for various topics, including the definitions for strange words and the plots behind unusual movie titles. It works best when played in large groups.

Skills: Balancing creative and logical thinking; vocabulary; general knowledge (trivia)

Variants: There is an option for a 2 player game or you can play without the board and continue playing indefinitely.

Classroom Use: Balderdash is best played as a family or party game, but discarding the board and the other categories can make for a fun vocabulary game in the classroom. You can also use the game to inspire an innovative creative writing activity.

Social Distancing Variant: Without the board, there is not much need for clustering to play this game. One option is to walk among the class and have students drop their answers into a box then select a handful to read out loud for guesses. Alternatively, with even less contact, have only two or three students make suggestions per turn and allow the others to guess.


2. BANANAGRAMS

This game involves taking lettered tiles and forming them into a grid similar to SCRABBLE. The difference is that letters are taken individually, rather than in groups of 7, so you are constantly rethinking and reworking your grid. The game can be played individually or competitively at all reading levels (the winner is the one who incorporates all their letters first).

Skills: Vocabulary; spelling; processing speed

Variants: The game is available in assorted variants include a junior game and a party edition. Alternatively, change the game completely and have kids play so that the winner is the person who makes the longest word with the letters they collect.

Classroom Use: Form small groups of learners and have them compete within their groups. Each group will need its own BANANAGRAMS set. The winners from each group can be rewarded or go head-to-head for a championship prize.

Social Distancing Variant: Create a grid using the same letters contained in a BANANAGRAMS set. Print it out and cut out the letters. Make as many sets as you have students. Allow them to play the game by competing individually at their desks.


3. Cluedo (Clue)

Cluedo is a classic murder mystery game that requires players to move around the board solving clues from other players. The object is to deduce, through process of elimination, the murder weapon, crime scene and murderer. Although it has been around for a while, it has been updated many times.

Skills: Strategic thinking; deductive reasoning; prediction

Variants: There are some variants suggested in the rules and there are many different editions (such as this Harry Potter edition) and some of them have additional game elements.

Classroom Use: Form small groups and have each group sit around a board and play. Afterwards, have students write down which processes seemed to help them in solving the clues, then get them to apply those same skills to a problem solving activity in class.

Social Distancing Variant: Unfortunately, the nature of the game requires small group clustering. However, you can print out logic puzzles for the learners instead as these rely on a similar set of skills.


4. Codenames

Codenames is a game of intricate guesswork. The premise of the game is that you are two opposing spy agencies who must navigate their way through a map and rescue your agents from an assassin. To do this, you must reveal the code names of only your agents, which are marked on placement cards shown to each team's spymaster. The spymaster must then provide clues so that their team can guess and safely reveal their agents.

Skills: Language skills; concept identifying; lexical grouping; creative thinking

Variants: Multiple variants exist, including fandom editions, a two-player game called Duet, and a picture-based version.

Classroom Use: Divide the class into two groups per Codenames set. Learners take turns per round at being the spymaster for their group. Play a single round or until everyone has had a turn at being the spymaster.

Social Distancing Variant: You play the spymaster. Divide the class down the middle to create teams. Draw the grid on the board and write in the corresponding code names. Provide clues for each side and allow learners to take turns at guessing. Mark off their revelations with coloured chalk or pens for red and blue agents or bystanders.


5. Cranium

Cranium is advertised as "The Game for Your Whole Brain" and that pretty much sums it up. The game includes a variety of tasks including drawing, sculpting, acting, trivia questions and word games. The purpose of the game is to have fun while developing skills in multiple intelligences.

Skills: Kinesthetic intelligence; spoken and written language skills; visual-spatial ability; musical intelligence

Variants: Multiple editions exist, including a quick-play collaborative version called Cranium Brain Breaks.

Classroom Use: Divide the class into 4 groups and have them play the game competitively as teams. Alternatively, use the Cranium Brain Breaks method to have a small group work collaboratively towards the goals.

Social Distancing Variant: Play as above, but monitor the physical activities in the Star Performer category. Do not allow for any activity that involves touching other students or excessive movement among the class.


6. Math Fluxx

Fluxx is a game of constant change, where the rules are always in flux. Players collect number cards that can be used to create the current goal through various mathematical means. Fluxx is one of my absolute favourite games, and I particularly love this edition for the classroom because it allows kids to view maths in so many

different and creative ways.

Image from: https://www.looneylabs.com/sites/default/files/marketing_images/Math-Fluxx_3D-Contents.jpg

Skills: Arithmetic; number patterns; strategic thinking; adaptability; creative thinking

Variants: Fluxx has so many different versions available and they are all incredibly fun. Some of the best ones to use in the classroom are Anatomy Fluxx, Astronomy Fluxx, Chemistry Fluxx and Nature Fluxx.

Classroom Use: Simply split into groups of around 6 and have each group play as above.

Social Distancing Variant: Although this game is a great family or small group classroom game, the nature of the game requires clustered seating and it is not recommended for groups above 6 players. Theoretically, you could add multiple decks together for more players, but this is not recommended.


7. Möbi

Create a grid of simple mathematical equations as quickly and as accurately as possible. (This is basically the mathematical version of BANANAGRAMS.)

Skills: Order of mathematical functions; mental maths; arithmetic

Variants: Use only addition and subtraction for younger players. A junior game is available to purchase.

Classroom Use: Have learners compete in small groups. Each group will need its own Möbi set. Alternatively, write a large number on the board and have the learners come up with as many equations that equal that number as they can, using the numbers and functions in the bag.

Social Distancing Variant: Create a grid using the same numbers and functions contained in a Möbi set. Print it out and cut out the tiles. Make as many sets as you have students. Allow them to play the game as above by competing individually at their desks.


8. Pass the Bomb

Pass the Bomb is a timed vocabulary game. At the start of a round, a card is flipped. Players pass along the timer, in the shape of a bomb, after calling out a word containing the letter group displayed on the card. No words may be repeated. When time runs out, the bomb goes off and the player with the bomb is eliminated. The last player standing is the winner.

Skills: Vocabulary; recall; processing speed

Variants: The game can be made easier, such as by allowing a three-strike system before disqualification. It can also be made harder by using various tools, such as a die that specifies where in the word the letter group should fall.

Classroom Use: Have the kids gather into a circle and play exactly as above.

Social Distancing Variant: Hold up the card or write the letter group on the board. Hold the bomb yourself and have it figuratively passed on from learner to learner by following a specific order or by pointing to the next player.


9. Rory's Story Cubes

The story cubes are a set of dice with various images displayed, rather than numbers. The object is to use those images to create a continuous story.

Skills: Creative thinking; writing

Variants: This game is incredibly diverse. Specific sets of dice are available for different themes and the game has options for individual, collaborative and competitive play. Make the game more difficult by adding additional rules, such as: each new sentence must contain an image from the dice AND start with the next letter of the alphabet.

Classroom Use: Use this as a story-telling game by rolling the dice and having each learner take a turn to add to the story using one of the images. This can be played in groups or as a whole class. You can also use it individually by allowing learners to roll dice to serve as a writing prompt for a creative writing task.

Social Distancing Variant: Roll the dice for the children to avoid unnecessary passing around, or simply give each child their own die to roll and sanitise the dice in a dish between classes.


10. Trivial Pursuit

This game is far from new to the market, but it is constantly being updated and is very fun to play. Unlike most other trivia games, Trivial Pursuit really tests your general knowledge because you must answer questions from all the categories in order to win.

Skills: General knowledge

Variants: There are multiple editions available, including fandom editions, a party edition and a junior game. You can compete individually or in teams.

Classroom Use: Split the class into groups and have the groups compete against each other. Alternatively, use only the subject-specific trivia categories for your class and adapt the game accordingly.

Social Distancing Variant: Allow learners to compete individually at their desks. Have them draw the empty pie grid at the top of their page. Call out the questions and have them write the answers on the page. Call out the answer after 30 seconds. Learners who answer correctly can fill in the corresponding piece on their pie grid. The first learner to have a full pie is the winner. Use a die to determine the categories or use the board and move the pie yourself to avoid contact.

Remember, you don't need to buy several editions of the same game to keep a larger class busy. Divide them into groups then rotate them so that each group has the opportunity to play all the games.


Feel free to comment with more suggestions for different classroom games or different adaptions for these same games.

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