Last year, Nathan turned me on to the classroom version of March Madness. We’re just back from Spring Break, and we needed a way to come down softly, so we spent the period in each class setting up the game. Two of the three classes already had their lists of “awesome” things. (Every kid wrote down one best thing in life, whether in Russian or English. We have a diverse list, from dolphins to green bean casserole, and elders and pink ponies.)
I wrote the lists on the board, and matched them up in pairs in the random order that I wrote them.
For each pairing, the class divided into two teams. We did either two or three contest in each class because I want to have the first part of the tournament done this week. I might have to do more on our blocking days, because we have testing coming up.
The kids had two minutes in their teams to brainstorm everything they could say either in favor of the team they chose or against the other team. The beginner class had the first pairing of guns and a video game. The gun team said things like “Guns are big.” “Guns are real.” Their opposition, trying for the videogame Call of Duty, said “When I play CoD, I don’t die” and “CoD is fun.” Then they had to argue snakes or soccer. The advanced group was arguing things like, “When a boy gives a girl roses with raindrops, she will fall in love with him.” I don’t know how it happened, but roses with raindrops lost out to the word “Yes.” Kids said, “When you say “Class,” we say “Yes”.” They also said, “It’s nicer to hear “Yes” than “No.” The game became a way for me to informally measure the groups’ spoken language ability.
Once they’ve brainstormed, the team gets two minutes to say everything they can. They get a point per idea, or chunk of information, rather than per sentence. That makes them try for longer and more informative sentences, as it turns out. Once their two minutes is up on both sides, they get as many free throw attempts with my little plastic basketball and hoop as they have points. If both teams end with the same number of points, they go into sudden death.
The first time through is hard, because the kids don’t get organized. But the second time through, they’re better. In my intermediate class, we had to impose a new rule, because one group had baseball as their topic, and they kept repeating which players and teams and fields they loved. I topped it out at one per category. They won over four-wheeling in the end, which wasn’t exactly fair.
I can’t remember how I did this last year, but I like this system better because it encourages speaking, and gives them better odds at making the shots if they have more ideas.