Category Archives: Games

Gamifying the Special Person Interview

My fourth-graders can be a wiggly bunch. And I am not always good at varying routines. The Special Person (aka Star of the Day) Interview is sacred in my mind: I get to pay a lot of attention to one student, comparing that one to others, with the main goal being to create community. In a school where kids have been together for years, I often ask the class for the answers to the questions, rather than asking the interviewee first. Then I verify with that student. For a change, we do pair interviews, sharing later what we learned about our partners, or work in concentric circles. It’s harder to create the class books in those cases, but eventually every student will have a longer interview.

This time, I knew that the interview was going to go on for several days with one student who is leaving and whom we had not interviewed earlier. I want him to have a book to take with him, and we would need to spend a lot of time to get all the information. So I handed out mini white boards, and asked the class to write the answer to each question as I asked it. I asked them to hold up their white boards with the answers, saying, “Alex says that Ethan was born in Alaska. Is that true, Ethan? Were you born in Alaska?” If Ethan says “Yes,” I follow up with “Ethan says, ‘I was born in Alaska.’ Who else in the class was born in Alaska?” If not, I move to a different board. We get a lot of reps out of this, and every time the students have the right answer on their board, they get a point. Next, “Does Ethan have siblings? If so, what are their names?” They got points for the right answer, the number of siblings, and the names.

When class was over, they were begging to stay in for recess to continue the game. Points for the teacher! We’ll see how much mileage I can get out of this new plan.

Wordle graphic

Martina suggested, and Cara O’brien-Holen demonstrated for me, an activity for reviewing vocabulary with Wordle. I tried it out yesterday and today.

Create a list of words you want reviewed, plug it into Wordle, put the resulting word salad onto a handout, and give each pair a copy.

The pair gets different-colored pencils, and when you say a word, the first one to mark it out gets a point. I tried both reading the words and saying the English. It’s not totally comprehensible input, but it’s a fun game, they’re reading, and it gives everyone a brain break.

Two things that helped me: I saved the Wordle (in color) on my Promethean Board and marked out words with the whole class first, and did the same thing as the pairs were marking. I made the Wordles in black and white for the handouts. (I missed the hint about using a tilde between words I want to keep together. Great tip!)

It’s possible to play again with another copy, and then have the kids write a story as Martina suggested. If I were to do this again, I might use fewer words on the Wordle, or I might not play to the bitter end, as my kids insisted.

No matter what, this was an incredibly fun game for the kids. They needed some light-hearted stress relief in this last full week of the semester. Too much tension going on around here! If anyone has other easy-to-implement games, I would appreciate knowing them. I think my game brain has frozen. In the meantime, I’m starting and ending class with Simon’s Cat videos, MovieTalking them of course. The kids are roaring with laughter.

One more game

Jenny Kelly suggested Babadum, and it’s been fun for the last two minutes of class. More and more, I’m trying to “leave ’em laughing.” There’s research out there that says we can improve or wreck an entire experience, based on the last bit of it.

Unfortunately, I forgot in EVERY CLASS that we were doing March Madness! (I forgot to take out the basketball hoop this morning, or the kids would have been on it.)


Games without tears

Today was the last day before spring break, and I’m not exhausted yet! Usually the day is crazy, but I was ready for student energy today.

I used the MSU Clear site’s Quizbreak  to set up Jeopardy-style games. I’d forgotten that I had Quizbreaks until I was looking for links to the ClassTools site, and discovered my Jeopardy game on Moscow. It didn’t take long to set one up for St. Petersburg, so I did that last night. As I mentioned before, I make the game work for the whole class by giving out whiteboards to any number of teams and individuals. They all get to write until the team that is “on” is done; then everyone has to hold up boards with the answers. I tell them how much they make. The team that is “on” gets double if they’re right, but they have to make their answer a question as they ask it. is also fun: I used the Arcade game maker with lists I already had, and it generated four different games and a flashcard set for each list (try out the link to the geography, even if you don’t know Russian!). I sat a kid at the keyboard and the group shouted instructions. Fruit Machine and Dustbin also look as though they could work well.

What was really fun was having the same questions on both types of games. The kids didn’t necessarily notice that they were getting a double dose of information. And best yet, they have to read!



I was on Musicuentos yesterday and happened across a tip to try GeoGuessr. It’s a site that works on our slow network and aging machines! (Technology is wonderful until it starts breaking down all the time.)

I spent the last few minutes in every class today playing with this site. It’s easy to do in the target language. “What do we see here? Palm trees, water, green grass…it looks like an island! It looks warm. I don’t see any mountains. Where do you think it is?” It seems as though many of the sites are in Brazil, Canada, the US and Australia, so it got easier for me over the course of the day. (One was in Russia.) Kids were able to say, “I think…” “It looks like…” “There are mountains, so maybe it’s …” I required students to argue for the site they wanted me to pick.

Friday games

As I may have mentioned, I’ve been using some of Bryce’s ideas for “Our Time” on Fridays. One of the games Bryce mentioned this summer was the “Bad Baby” game (you can find it in his PAT handout on

I couldn’t imagine how that would work to engage high school kids, to be honest, but one of the complaints my kids have had is that they don’t always know all their numbers. They get the teens and one to five, plus whatever numbers they’re interested in (usually 2013, for instance, and 102, because that’s how old I am). And when it comes down to it, despite the fact that we haven’t counted, they usually find they can count at the moment of complaint.

But I digress.

“Bad Baby” became “ugly horse” in my room, because I have an ugly stuffed horse. They took turns hiding it. The class counted, louder as the student searching for the horse got nearer, more quietly as the student was farther.

These high school kids loved it! They got very tricky about hiding the horse, and the searchers got much quicker finding it. I guess we’ll have to speed up the count if we play it in the future.

It’s mad time in March again

I’m baaaaack! I decided that since today was already March 18, we wouldn’t be doing our usual March Madness activity, (renamed “Tournament of Awesomeness”) that Nathan gave us.

But my kids wanted it. They remembered. They like it. Now I have to find my basketball hoop! And when I went to look up how we set it up, I found that I started about this time in March last year as well. Here’s the link to previous March Madness posts. It’s going to work out fine. I just have to narrow it down to 32 teams.

Nathan, if you’re there and have a good way to get the “hoop” part streamlined a bit, please tell!!

Other than that, we only got through a few “back from spring break” questions in each class: Where were you, how was it, and what were you doing. Because everyone wants to talk, I let them hear me ask each question six to ten times, commented and talked briefly with each kid, and then did three stand-up, 30-second breaks so that they could each try to ask the same question of five or six others. It wasn’t so much for input as it was for class unity and to give everyone a chance to tell about their break. Sometimes these “tell us about…” sessions go on for many days, and I still miss kids who want to tell what happened or to tell their lie.

I wanted to ask “What was the best thing that happened to you,” and “Where would you have gone/what would you have done” questions, but didn’t get to them. It’s hard to believe that really listening to answers can take so long! I used to always do the weekend report on Mondays, and today we returned to that format. We shouldn’t have left it!

I didn’t think I’d be saying this…but I’m glad I’m back!

PS I probably won’t be teaching in Seattle on May 16, but I’ll go there in October for a Saturday, it seems.

PPS When I searched Tournament of Awesomeness, I got a better bunch of posts.

News (not): games are fun!

We started reading Poor Anna in the beginners’ class yesterday. Wow. That’s the fastest I’ve ever read the first few pages with a group, and it still felt slow…but they really got it all. We were doing a lot of parallel storyasking. Again, I credit the speedier TPRS results to MovieTalk this year.

In the advanced class, we have been continuing our fairy-tale unit, so we’ve been reading (after story asking) in that group too.

I wanted them to re-read, and so I set up a jeopardy game for each class. The MSU Clear Rich Internet Activities site is a godsend. Their “Quiz Break” game is fast to set up. I spent literally ten minutes setting up a game for each of two classes. (PS You can do further edits on these, but remember to check what you called a game the first time, because you’ll have to give it the same name if you don’t want multiple copies showing up on your list.)

For once, I liked how I worked with it after that. First, we reviewed the reading (yeah, re-reading!). Then pairs of kids got whiteboards, markers and erasers. I would show a jeopardy square, and they would write the answer quickly. In one class, I gave credit to only the pair who finished first; in the other group, I gave credit to multiple right answers. White boards were waving all over the room! They kept track of their points. Here’s the game my beginners played. The headings aren’t very creative, because I really only took ten minutes to make up the game.

Then we went to the lab, where the kids played in pairs on individual computers. I put the link to the game into a post on our class website for them to get to it easily. After that, they took quizzes on Quizlet. I really liked giving them whiteboards to begin with, so that they were all trying to do it (instead of counting on just one person to give them the answers on a side in the classroom), and then breaking them into pairs meant that they read the questions again. What I might do in the future is reverse it, taking the books into the computer lab and making them have to really look for the answers. That way they might be a little more prepared for the game.

Repetition, repetition! Russians say, “Repetition is the mother of learning.”

Read Martina’s blog!

Go to Martina’s blog and read about Textivate. You will have no time to come back here and read anything else, and I don’t have time to write, because my available minutes are now going to be spent playing there.

Card games

Several people have asked me lately about Carol Gaab’s card game. I’m sorry that I don’t remember who you were, and I had no idea what you were talking about, but I asked Martina if she knew, and she sent me this game description. Thank goodness Martina is queen of the world and that I know her.

Hope that can entertain you for a Sunday. I am going to spend my brain time today working on two puzzles. The first is whether I can do some elementary TPRS lessons for distance learners on PPT or YouTube, and if so, how to do that. I should probably watch Senor Wooley.

The other puzzle is how to start my adult beginner class tomorrow night. I usually do circling with balls (Ben Slavic’s starting point), and that’s fun. But now I know about MovieTalk, and that would be great too. Or I could use Blaine’s new technique on top of circling with balls, or I could start with a story in traditional TPRS fashion. My father would tell me that if I can’t pick, it means the options are so close as to not make a difference, so I should just choose one and move on with my life. He’s right.

I wrote one of the intermediate adults about the decision-making non-process, and she wrote back that I sound like a kid at Christmas who can’t decide what present to open first. It’s true!! Each approach is a lot of fun for different reasons, and I know they’re all effective. I guess I’m going to put my vocabulary on the board, have circling supplies out and a movie on the projector, and decide at the last moment which way I’m going to go.

Note that I didn’t even mention my adult intermediate class. It will be so great to see them all again! I have similar issues with that group, but in there, we’ll have to find out how they spent their last couple of months, and I am quite sure we’ll get distracted by telling some sort of story. I will pick structures for them too…”spend free time,” “spend summer,” and so on. I’m sure that the topic of our rainy non-summer will emerge, as will the current snow and 22-degree “September.”