Expect Unexpected Engagement When you try Hexagonal Thinking in ELA

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Engaging Games for your ELA Classroom

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Gamification. Spellcheck says it’s not a word, but it’s so hot right now in education. How can we get our students more interested in learning by introducing gaming elements to their work?

And how can we keep the work from getting lost in the game?

Let’s look at at some options that work well for ELA.

Try an Escape Room

 Escape rooms are a stellar way to engage students on pretty much any topic, whether you design them, or you invite students to create their own to share. 

Escape rooms are especially fun with any content where you can work in a mystery. Personally, I think they’re an ideal fit with suspense and mystery – Poe comes to mind immediately. Check out this post for a walk through on how I created a digital and physical escape room to introduce Poe’s work. You can follow similar steps to create one around anything you might wish.

Board Game Versions

Next time you’re stumped for a final project, try having students create board games related to the reading. They can either be games testing the players’ understanding of the text, or games inspired by the themes and priorities of the writer. For example, after reading Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, students might create a game called “Make your Match,” in which characters go through various challenges in their efforts to marry and secure social safety.

The key when creating this type of assignment is to make it very clear that the main grade will be about how the game reflects the students’ clear understanding and analysis of the text. It’s not difficult to keep a creative project closely tied to an academic purpose, but the students need to know that is a priority.

You can also create gamified versions of any content you’re trying to cover, like the board game I created for reviewing concepts from rhetorical analysis, shown below.

Canva is a quality tool for board game creation. You can easily design cards, player guides, and the board itself using coordinated fonts and colors for a great playing experience. (Need help to dive into Canva’s free educator platform? Let me help in this free mini-course!)

Vocabulary Pictionary

ELA teachers are constantly tasked with increasing students’ vocabularies. If you’re pushing through list after list of SAT words this year, you could take time every few weeks to review with your students by playing vocabulary Pictionary.

Simply cut up your lists so you have piles of words. Put students into groups, then let the groups divide into teams. Give everyone paper, pencils and cards and explain how Pictionary works.

One member of each team will look at the same card, then call “go” and begin to draw. Whichever team guesses the vocabulary word first gets a point. When you call time, the team with the most points wins.

Want to add a wild card? Occasionally ask the kids drawing to close their eyes for a round! Now there’s a challenge!

Harness Students’ Love of Madlibs (TM) with your own Funny Fillers

This one’s an easy way to practice specific things you’re working on, like sensory details or active verbs.  Let students write fill-in stories, leaving key moments blank and writing out a guide for a partner to fill in the blanks. I made one of these for Halloween, leaving critical sensory details blank throughout the story so students could brainstorm the sights, smells, sounds, tastes, and feels to put in. If you have students create their work in the computer lab, then they can print out multiple copies so several students can try out each one.

Try a Beach Ball Discussion

For a beach ball discussion (made famous on Pinterest a few years back!), simply pick up a cheap inflatable striped ball and marker some key questions that could be used for any text onto it. Ask about the kinds of things you’re working on with students – perhaps character development, themes, symbolism, author’s style…

Then when discussion time comes hit it up in the air and let a student ask the first question they see when they catch it.

When it’s time for the next question, have that student throw it up again for another student to catch.

You could also have the catcher ask and answer a question, or come up with some other iteration. The main thing is, as a student you really can’t disengage when a beach ball is flying through the air above you!

Try an Escape Room

 Escape rooms are a stellar way to engage students on pretty much any topic, whether you design them, or you invite students to create their own to share. 

Escape rooms are especially fun with any content where you can work in a mystery. Personally, I think they’re an ideal fit with suspense and mystery – Poe comes to mind immediately. Check out this post for a walk through on how I created a digital and physical escape room to introduce Poe’s work. You can follow similar steps to create one around anything you might wish.

Hexagonal Thinking

Hexagonal thinking is like a gamified version of a standard discussion. The ideas become playing pieces, and the process of placing them becomes the game.

Learn how to get started in this post here. You can easily roll out your first hexagonal thinking discussion this week!

There are so many ways to build a little element of gamification into your ELA curriculum, even if you don’t have the time to build a huge system into a single course or create a Dungeons-and-Dragons style role playing game that incorporates your content and lasts all year (cool though that would be!). I hope you found at least one idea here that you’re excited to try.

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I'm Betsy

I’ll help you find the creative ELA strategies that will light up your classroom. Get ready for joyful teaching!

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