The classroom games you choose to play with students may become their favorite memories. (I still remember playing Heads Up, Seven Up in Mrs. Merar’s first grade class!) Classroom games are a great way to build collaboration and community and practice important skills. Plus, they’re fun!
Benefits of Classroom Games
Classroom games capture what kids are naturally good at—playing—to improve other skills. Games support kids’ executive functioning skills, things like planning, organization, turn-taking, and problem-solving are all skills that students need to be successful. Playing games, from Memory to Monopoly, gives kids experience in focus and concentration, working memory, and flexibility in safe spaces where they can grow and stretch these skills. Plus, they’re a fun way to learn more about how your students think and work together.
Here are our favorite classroom games that you can use to teach, reteach, and engage students.
Games for Practicing Academic Skills
Classroom games can help students practice things that they need to know—like multiplication tables, vocabulary words, and science facts. They’re great ways to do a quick review or practice for a quiz.
Math (or Fact) Baseball
Divide the class into two teams. One team is “at bat” and scores runs by answering questions that are worth one, two, or three bases. You “pitch” the questions using flash cards. If the at-bat team answers correctly, they move around the baseball field and rack up runs. If the at-bat team does not answer correctly, the defending team can respond correctly to earn an out. Once the at-bat team has three outs, they switch.
You can also put students into pairs and have them play a partner version.
Why we love it: This game is great for upper elementary students who are able to follow the game and will love the strategy of earning runs.
Beach Ball Toss
Write questions on the sides of a plastic beach ball. You can write questions about a story (plot, theme, setting, characters, structure), about math (write numbers 1 through 6 on the beach ball and students have to select a math problem based on the number they choose), or simply silly questions that students can answer. As students catch the ball, they answer the question. When they’ve answered, they throw the ball to the next player. If you’re working with material that may be new for some kids, you can give each kid one “pass” and they can share the problem-solving with another student.
Why we love it: It’s flexible and works with students’ eye-hand coordination.
Buy it: Beach Balls at Amazon
Learn more: More Than Elementary
Create a list of topics that students can visualize (think: science concepts, vocabulary words). Students work either in two teams for the entire class or in small groups that are divided into two. One student selects a card and has to draw an image that the other team uses to guess the word. The rest of the group guesses the term that’s being drawn. Add a timer for an added challenge. Provide additional differentiation by allowing students to provide one, two, or more letters in the word as well.
Why we love it: Kids who have strengths in drawing and thinking outside the box can really shine.
Learn more: Differentiation Daily
There’s the Simon Says you know from the playground and the Simon Says classroom game. In this Simon Says, tell students to do something that lets them show off what they’ve learned or practices a skill. So you might say, Simon Says spell “conundrum.” Or Simon Says solve this equation. Play either as a whole class with you as Simon or in small groups with cards of prompts that students can use when they take turns being Simon.
Why we love it: In addition to practicing skills, students also practice listening and impulse control.
Prepare cards with related words or topics. Group students into teams of two to four students. One at a time, students choose a card and the others have to try to guess what the card is by asking questions that can only be answered with a yes or no. Keep track of how many questions are asked, because you’re only allowed 20 questions to get to the answer. Have students put aside the cards they didn’t get for review.
Why we love it: Students practice working memory as they add new information to what they already know.
Also, Guess in 10 is a great 20 Questions–style game played around various topics, including animals, countries, and cities.
Buy it: Guess in 10 at Amazon
Memory is a game that students can do with any content—vocabulary words paired with their definitions, chemistry terms paired with images that depict them, or text structures paired with graphic organizers. First, have students create card pairs. Shuffle the cards and put them on the table. Take turns flipping cards over and finding the matching pairs.
Why we love it: Memory is so versatile you can use this game with anything from procedures to vocabulary to history facts.
Buy it: Blank Memory Cards at Amazon
In charades, students choose a card and act out the information on the card. For a unit on weather, you may have the words cloud, tornado, or hurricane for example. Scaffold this game with three rounds. In the first round, students can explain the topics using a few words. Then, in the second round, they can only use one word to describe what they are acting out. And in the third round, they have to be completely silent, using only their bodies to act out each word.
Why we love it: This game gets students up and moving around and thinking creatively about how to show what they know.
Learn more: Savvy Apple
Put students in the hot seat to review the plot points of a story, practice answering questions, or review for a science test. First, choose vocabulary to review. Then, select a student to sit in the hot seat. The other students ask questions about the topic or information. The student in the hot seat must answer as quickly as possible. If their answer is correct, they stay in the hot seat. If they get a wrong answer, they can pass the seat to someone else. (You can take the pressure out of this game, which can make some students nervous, by removing the timed aspect.)
Why we love it: Hot Seat is a great way to get students to practice information they need to have right at the tip of their tongue.
Scattergories can be played for academics or for fun. It also helps students improve their creative thinking. You’ll need a list of at least 10 categories—mix serious topics with silly ones. Then, select a letter of the alphabet. Have students brainstorm words to go with each category that starts with that letter. So, if the categories you have are Weather, Bees, and Favorite Places, and the letter is H, students might write: hurricane, hive, Hawaii. Give a set amount of time for students to complete their own brainstorm, then share out. Students can rack up points for the number of categories that they complete. And sharing out helps them connect their brainstorming with everyone else’s.
Why we love it: The boundaries that kids have to work in when playing Scattergories is ideal for inspiring creativity.
Get printable Scattergories sheets on Pinterest.
Fix It Relay Race
Divide the class into teams of four to six students, and prepare sentences that each have an error—it could be a factual error for content classes or grammar or spelling mistakes for language classes. Arrange students in a line, with students standing a few feet apart. The first student in each team must correct one mistake in the sentence they are given. Then, they pass the card to the next teammate. The next student corrects another mistake. This continues until each team member has seen the card and they think all the errors are corrected. Then they run the card to the front to complete the relay.
Why we love it: Teams work together to complete each task.
Buy it: Fix It Sentences at Teachers Pay Teachers
Who Am I?
This is another classic game that can be adapted to any academic content. Each student gets a card that is taped to their back or their forehead. The card has a name of a person you’re studying or a topic on it. Then, the students circulate and ask questions of other people to try to figure out who or what is taped to them.
Why we love it: This game is easily differentiated by providing students with personalities that you know they are familiar with, and by providing them with questions to ask or a checklist of personalities that they can be thinking about as they figure out who everyone is.
Each student or group has a word. The goal is to pull as many words out of the original word as possible within the time limit.
Why we love it: Word Scramble encourages flexibility, and students may be surprised at what they see in each game.
Create a bingo board on your whiteboard with the words that you want students to work with or the math problems you want them to do. Then, have students throw a sticky ball at the board to select their game.
Why we love it: When their aim is poor, students may have to answer questions that push them out of their comfort zone.
Prepare a list of discussion questions or prompts. Students choose a card, then walk around the room while music plays. When the music stops, they find a partner and work on the questions they see on the card. You can prepare cards with math or science problems, questions from social studies, getting-to-know-you questions, or silly questions. Changing the type of questions that students are working with keeps this game fresh.
Why we love it: Musical chairs really gets students up and moving, and if you remove the loss of a chair each time, all students can stay in the game.
Check out these school-appropriate songs kids love.
Students each have a set of flash cards and use them to “duel.” In pairs, students show each other a flash card one at a time. If they answer the card right, they get to keep the card. If they don’t, their partner keeps the card.
Why we love it: It’s fast-paced and easy for students to pick up and play during a few minutes of downtime.
Classroom Games for Communication
Games that require students to talk and listen to each other are great ways to encourage communication.
Yes, No, Stand Up
Have a list of sentences prepared. When you read a sentence, students stand if their response is yes and stay seated if it’s no.
Why we love it: Students practice listening skills and inhibition by standing or not in response to your questions.
Use a long rope and blindfolds. Have students stand in groups of four, then put the blindfolds on and hold the rope between them so it creates a square. They have to work together to put the rope down on the floor in front of them.
Why we love it: This game is great for middle schoolers to learn to work together.
Odd One Out
Prepare this game with a set of words or phrases written on slips of paper. Have students work in pairs or small groups to categorize the words or phrases as they relate to each other. Students have completed the game when they find the odd one out. So, students may have a group of four people from the Revolutionary War but only three who were presidents, so the one who is not a president is the odd one out.
Why we love it: Odd One Out requires students to use critical thinking and working memory as they come to each answer.
Can You Hear Me Now?
This is a fun warm-up or cool-down for the day. It’s also a great classroom game to play if you’re teaching virtually. Play as a class or in groups. Each student takes a turn describing an item for the others to draw one step at a time. For example, if the object were “cat,” the description might be: Draw a circle. Draw two triangles on top of the circle. And so on until a cat is drawn. It’ll surprise students how their directions are interpreted, and how hard it is to get people to follow their directions.
Why we love it: This is a humorous way to reinforce that students need to be clear in their directions and listen to yours.
Classroom Games for Collaboration and Team Building
Games that require teamwork are ideal for helping kids practice collaboration in short bursts and around a common, if silly, goal.
Minute To Win It
Challenge your class to compete in tasks that can take under a minute. You could:
- Speed-stack paper cups.
- Roll a coin between fork tongs.
- Transfer pom-poms with chopsticks.
- Build a tower out of marshmallows and toothpicks.
- Pass a balloon from one person to another without using your hands.
- Put together a puzzle.
Why we love it: It’s a quick way to engage students and shift students into a positive frame of mind.
Learn more: Fun and Easy Minute To Win It Games
Over the Electric Fence
Put two chairs in a row, and tell students that they are connected by a wire that is 3 feet high. Even better, string a rope 3 feet high. Students have to imagine that this is an electric fence and if they touch it they are dead. They’ll help everyone get over the fence and work together to do so. Make it even more challenging by telling students that they have to hold hands while moving everyone from one side of the fence to the other.
Why we love it: Students will have to slow down and figure out exactly how to solve the problem.
Create a square in your classroom using tape. Then, place plastic cups or cones around the inside of the square. This area is the minefield. Break students into pairs. One student is blindfolded and the other leads them. The students have to cross the minefield without touching or knocking down the plastic cups. The non-blindfolded student gives directions and the blindfolded student must follow them to cross the minefield without blowing up a “mine” or knocking over a cone.
Why we love it: Students will get out of their comfort level while playing this game.
Start with general everyday scenes (eating dinner, brushing teeth). Have two people act out a scene while everyone else watches. After a time, stop the scene and have someone swap out for a new player. Then, they have to change how the scene is being done. They could, for example, turn eating dinner into taking care of a pet. Once students are familiar with the game, make it more challenging with prompts from the book you’re reading or history scenarios (e.g., Washington crossing the Delaware turns into the French Revolution).
Why we love it: This game gives older students the opportunity to work with a variety of people and get creative connecting scene to scene.
Classroom Games for Fun
Sometimes you need classroom games that simply let students have fun and blow off steam!
This is a great brain break. Put on music and dance (challenge kids to a Floss-off or the Macarena to get everyone moving). Then, pause the music and any student who unfreezes before the music starts again is out.
Why we love it: You’ll see some students come out of their shells once the music starts.
Heads Up, Seven Up
Why we love it: This is a classroom game we remember from our elementary school years, and now we’re passing it along!
Use a version of tic-tac-toe during the dreaded indoor recess or as a brain break.
Tic-tac-toe with Hula-Hoops:
Why we love it: Whichever version you choose, tic-tac-toe is a quick game that’s always a winner.
Place a number of objects (up to 20) on a table (or post on a slide with 20 words or pictures) and have students take one minute to try to memorize as many as they can. Then, cover the objects or hide the slide and have students write down as many as they can remember. Play this game once a week or so and see how students improve their memory strategies.
Why we love it: Students will sharpen their focus and memory skills trying to remember as many objects as possible.
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Teaching online? Check out these top online educational games.