By Teachers, For Teachers
Differentiated instruction has been a buzzword in education for many years now. What’s the difference in differentiated instruction and other buzzwords that come and go? Differentiated instruction is not going away. No matter what you call it, differentiated instruction is at the heart of everything that highly effective teachers do.
Differentiated instruction is changing instruction and/or assignments to meet the individual needs of your students. This can manifest in a lot of different ways. It may mean presenting the same material to all students but in slightly different ways depending on learning style. It may mean working with students to fill in gaps so they can be better prepared to meet the tasks ahead. It can be working with small groups of students in order to meet their specific needs. It may even mean providing some students with more challenging material or less scaffolding. Basically, differentiated instruction is the process of individualizing instruction for each and every student.
Games are engaging. When games are going on, it is very hard for students to tune them out. Games are exciting and fun. This makes implementing games an excellent tool to use for differentiating instruction.
Games are motivational. Games provide an excellent source of motivation for all students. Students are highly motivated to learn the material or skill in order to perform better in the game. Competition can be a fantastic motivator and a great way to implement differentiated instruction.
Games provide context for learning. Many games provide the context necessary for students to actually internalize the information and truly gain understanding, rather than other activities such as worksheets. For example, vocabulary games can help students really gain understanding by using those words in context. Also, struggling students can pick up a lot from the more advanced students’ participation in the games.
Games create positive feelings about learning. Kids love games! Games are fun. When such a fun approach to learning is used, students look forward to and get excited about learning.
Games promote collaboration. A lot of classroom games require students to work in teams. This provides an excellent opportunity for students to learn how to collaborate with others and get along.
Games teach valuable life lessons. Nobody wins all the time. Games help students understand that sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. Being able to understand and accept that is a critical life lesson.
Games are easily tweaked. There are so many ways to tweak games in order to provide differentiation as needed. Not only that, but by grouping students that struggle with other students that do not, this provides built-in learning opportunities and scaffolding for the students that need it.
There are so many options for using games in the classroom to differentiate instruction that you should consider in your planning.
Web-Based Individual Games – There are so many website/app games that students can play that will differentiate instruction as needed. Some of these require paid subscriptions and some do not. Here are just a few examples of some great games to use in the classroom.
Web-Based Group Games
Other Classroom Games – Of course, if technology is not an option for you in your classroom, there are many classic games that do not require technology. They may require a bit of prep work and teacher know-how, but they can be every bit as engaging and effective. Here is a great site that offers ideas for 10 classic classroom learning games that can be used when differentiating instruction.
Establish procedures – Be sure to invest the time necessary to establish the procedures for playing games in the classroom. Whether that means procedures for getting/putting away laptops or tablets, procedures for answering questions in group games, or establishing many other appropriate/inappropriate behaviors. Go ahead and work with the class to create some norms for game playing. Let the students help you create a list of rules. Investing this time upfront can make your game time much for effective and productive.
Practice – After establishing these procedures, take some time to practice them. Demonstrate correct game-playing behaviors and some incorrect game-playing behaviors for the students.
Be consistent – Consistently reinforce these behaviors and procedures throughout the game-playing. Letting these procedures slide during game-play can cause a mad spiral into chaos! It’s very hard for learning to take place in a chaotic environment.
Be sure to monitor students during the games. If they are working individually on a web-based game, check to see how they are doing. Maybe their level needs to be adjusted. You won’t know this if you are just sitting behind your desk grading papers. Monitoring their performance on these games is crucial to the success of the differentiation.
Lastly, but most importantly, know your students. Get to know their preferences, strengths, and weaknesses. Find out what their learning style is and how they can best demonstrate their knowledge. Seek to understand what motivates them. This information can be used to maximize the effectiveness of using games for differentiated instruction in your classroom.
Lori is an elementary school teacher and holds an Ed.D. in School Leadership/Administration.