Mark Newman

The teaching game

Games - I love 'em and I use them in my classroom in every way I can.

I play a lot of games in my kids' classes.

I can 'get away with it' because I teach young kids (between 8 and 12) and their world revolves around having fun. But this can bring on the ire of some teachers who have been on a two week TEFL course, who say that games aren't the way to educate.

They're all wrong and here's why...

Ability is harvested from enthusiasm.

If you are teaching ANY subject to children, one of the main aims should be to make the subject something that they WANT to study.

Kids learn swimming at school and that's fun, right? They also learn music, cooking, football and other things. Things that may be of no use to them when they become bus drivers, policemen, or astronauts and airline hostesses down the road.

If your history teacher was an ogre, the chances are you'll hate history... or worse, you'll find out that you love history, long after you have left school!

My point is that, in education, having enthusiasm for something is as important as the ability to do it, especially at a young age.

If you are an effective educator, those with a propensity for the subject you teach will develop the enthusiasm to excel at it and those that don't, won't hate being there and spend their time distracting you and everyone else.

A teacher's job is to inspire interest in a subject as well as to teach it.

If you're a nice chap (or chap-ess) keeping kids interested and motivated should come naturally.

If you are organised, have good lesson plans and decent materials it gets even easier.

And if you have access to a good teaching environment where people are serious about education, then you've got it made.

But even under the most ideal learning conditions and even with the support of your surroundings and materials, you're still left with that elephant in the room... you're teaching kids!

Yup, the little bastards just aren't all that grateful that you and everyone else has gone to all this trouble just for them.

They still want to play Candy Crush or read comics when you're not looking!

But it could be worse. At least in Thailand the kids are generally well behaved and like going to school.

Games maketh the plan!

An hour is a long time in the life of a child.

It's an even more arduous of a time when they don't want to be there or if they don't understand what's happening around them.

An hour is also a long time (too long) to concentrate on any one subject, even if most of the class does enjoy it and does understand everything that's going on.

So how do you spend a whole hour doing the best you can in front of a classroom full of kids?

How can you capture their attention and ignite their minds for that hour and still make it an educational one?

Well, there are a million answers to this and every educator finds his or her own answers... one of which is the use of games!

(Let's just assume that the 'games' in this instance are at least somewhat educational and related to the subject you teach.)

So, how do you use them?

As a bribe to be possibly withdrawn if certain tasks aren't met?

As a way to fill time when you've got nothing else or you're hung over?

In the middle of the lesson to break up the monotony?

At the end of the hour because you're tired and/or it's just what you always do?

As a substitute for the appalling materials and other supplies that you have to teach with?

Whatever the reason, with judicious use of well designed 'games' the progeny in your care can reap many rewards... and even increase their understanding of your subject as a bonus!

I've designed dozens of games and Android apps over the years to use in my classes. All of them are what you would call 'games' and (apart from a few misses!) they have been an invaluable asset in the classroom.

Often times these activities simply punctuate the 'book-work' and attempt to reinforce ground already covered. A lot of them are spelling games. Lots of quizzes. I even have a 'shoot-em-up' sight word game! My favorite is an adaptation of the fairly well renowned 'Word Up!' game which I have re-written to use on a big TV screen in the classroom.

So, the message is...

Don't be dismissive of games or underestimate their value. The resultant effect of these light-hearted activities may have more than just the 'learning' benefits.

Now - how you introduce them into your schedule is a much trickier subject for another time. Kids can be trained to accept that certain activities will be available to them if and when other things are accomplished. Students (especially children) are creatures of habit and routine. You are the teacher so you control the agenda and the routine.

Finally - If your application of games in the classroom has sound reasoning behind it and subject relevance at it's core, then that hour will go by a lot quicker both for you and the kids... and still hold an important place in the way they learn, enjoy and benefit from your time with them.

Mark Newman



Hi Mark. I was just telling my daughters about Mr Morton and his amazing mathematical contraption. I Googled him and came across your post. I was at Swanton Morley from 1968 until 1971. My older daughter is now a Primary School teacher.

By Dave Annal, Watford (25th July 2018)

A frustrating thing for any writer/contributor is to read lazy replies from people who don't properly read and understand the article they've just 'read.'

I did NOT "state that anyone who does not play games in class is wrong. " I clearly said that people who say that games aren't the way to educate were wrong. I concede in the article that "...every educator finds his or her own answers... ONE OF WHICH is the use of games!

That's a MASSIVE misunderstanding.

Tim said "A fantastic teacher will inspire his students to want to learn without having to play games." I agree. But he has totally misunderstood the theme of the article which is to highlight embracing games as a tool and being aware of the multiple benefits that they can have on your students beyond that of education alone.

In reply to his question about my own schooling...

In the late 1960s the 'A' stream at Swanton Morley Primary School in the UK had a visionary and exciting teacher called Mr. Morton. He invented all kinds of brilliant games and machines to keep us all interested in what we were learning.

One of these was a complicated clockwork machine that he built from scratch which would display random numbers from the wall above his head. He could change the speed at which the numbers appeared with some sort of key. The 'game' was to write down our 'times tables' when the numbers came up. The man was a genius as well as inspiring, patient and dedicated. He relied, in part, on games to educate his students.

So, the answer is - Yes, the teacher who inspired me the most DID play games in class. A lot of what he did benefited my education and everything he did has propelled me to try and become as inspirational as he was in the classroom.

By Mark Newman, Thailand (29th June 2015)

I like to think I had a fairly good education, and while I may have not done excellently academically I did OK. Many of my school colleagues went on to be very successful. Most of my teachers were very intelligent and were able to inspire their students. My favourite teacher gave me praise, criticism and challenged me his sheer enthusiasm for the subject was infectious. I was 11 years old when he first started teaching me and not once in 7 years did we play a game in his class, yet almost without exception every student achieved well in their exams and enjoyed his class. To state that anyone who does not play games in class is wrong is well just wrong. A fantastic teacher will inspire his students to want to learn without having to play games. I am not criticizing teachers who do use games but I would also not criticize a teacher who does not need to use them as they are able to inspire their students in other ways. I personally think a teacher who can create a mentally stimulating and challenging environment with their enthusiasm and personality will have his lessons enjoyed more by his students than someone who uses games as a crutch. Think back Mark, did the teacher who inspired you the most play lots of games?

By Tim, Bangkok (27th June 2015)

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