Fifty Minute Classroom

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50-Minute Classroom: Playing Games

08 November 2013

Using games to teach will get both you and your students out of a rut. A round of Hangman, anyone?

By Adam Weiner, CFSE

As teachers we get into ruts. If we are teaching one-month classes, one-semester classes or one-year classes, we tend to do the same thing every month, every semester, every year. Even if it works well, we get bored. When we get bored, the students get bored. When the students get bored, their education and our enjoyment of teaching both go downhill fast.

At the June Leadership Conference of CAFÉ I was able to attend a seminar entitled “You Can Lead Students to the Classroom, but Can You Make Them Think?” It was led by assistant professors Deet Gilbert and Sunil Atreya, both of Johnson & Wales University in Charlotte. The thrust of that seminar was that in today’s world, standing up and giving a lecture will not get the attention of most students, and even fewer will retain the material. In other words, lecturing to your students in the academic portion of your curriculum is dooming your students and yourself to failure. The seminar went on to cover at least 10 or more different games and formats you can use to liven up your class.

What really hit me like a bucket of cold water about this was that the second article I wrote for “The Gold Medal Classroom,” in March 2009, talked about creating word puzzles, crossword puzzles and other games to get the students thinking and interacting. I even listed a number of websites that had these items available for free. To my horror, I realized at the Leadership Conference that I had gotten myself into a rut and that I was not doing any of these games any more. It didn’t take more than a few moments of reflection to realize that my students absorbed and learned the material faster and more thoroughly when I was using the games. It was also clear that I was having less fun teaching the class.

So, besides crossword puzzles and word games, what did I discover at this seminar? I learned that the only limitation of creative games and contests is the imagination (or lack thereof) of the instructor.

1. I didn’t know, for example, that there are cards that work like lottery scratchers that you can order to cover subjects in your curriculum.

2. Classroom games of Jeopardy are still popular. These can be as formal as having printed-up game cards or as casual as having groups of students sit behind tables while I call off questions. (It helps to have a spotter to see which team’s leader’s hand goes up first and a score keeper.)

3. Bingo is fast, cheap and can be used at any time for any culinary subject. You give the students a card with boxes of five columns and five rows. You write words relating to your subject on the board. (For example, if you are teaching a class on sauces, you could write the names of 30 sauces on the board.) Students pick 20 of the sauces and write them at random on their Bingo cards. Now, instead of just calling out the name of a sauce, you give a one-line description of the sauce. This tests the students’ knowledge. For example, you say something like, “This is the sauce of eggs benedict.” Students would then mark off “hollandaise” on their Bingo cards. The first person who gets a diagonal or straight across reads them out loud to make sure all of the answers are correct.

4. My favorite one that I discovered at the seminar was the thought-bubble game. You give everyone in the class a paper with a thought bubble on it. You then give them a short time limit and tell the students that they need to write down everything they can think of on a particular subject. After time is called you pair up the students in groups of two or three and they compare thought bubbles. They add to their bubble any ideas or thoughts of the others that they did not get. Then, you put two groups together and repeat the process. Then, guess what, you put the groups together again so you have eight to 12 people. Then, you have the groups read their points out loud while you record them on the board, and everyone makes sure they have each item written down.

For example, let’s say you are teaching about hand washing. You give a thought bubble on a piece of paper to each student and give them one minute to write down any “thoughts” they might have about hand washing. Let’s say you have four students and their thought bubbles look like this:

Alice: soap, water, towels, 20 seconds

Bob: hot water, soap, prevents cross contamination

Charlene: after using the bathroom, after touching your hair, soap, towels

Davida: 20 seconds, after taking out the trash, after sweeping, soap, nail brush

At the end of the minute you put Alice and Bob together and they combine their thought bubbles by reading their lists to each other. They then add on to the thought bubbles any words they are missing to have a combined Alice/Bob list of “soap, water, towels, 20 seconds, hot water, prevents cross contamination.”

Charlene and David will also combine their thought bubbles adding the words they didn’t have, so each bubble will say: “after using the bathroom, after touching your hair, soap, towels, 20 seconds, after taking out the trash, nail brush, after sweeping.”

Then you will put all four students together and they compare thought bubbles. They add the items they don’t have so that each bubble will say: soap, water, towels, 20 seconds, hot water, prevents cross contamination, after using the bathroom, after touching your hair, soap, towels, after taking out the trash, after sweeping and nail brush.” Notice that the finished thought bubble of each student has twice as many words as any one student.

This constant reading of each student’s points re-enforces what they have learned, and having to write down what they missed re-enforces those points, as well. The real beauty of this game is that you can do it any time and it is cheap, only costing a piece of paper per student.

5. When you teach a seminar (as I have had the privilege of doing at the last two Leadership Conferences), you find that you learn new points and ideas from the others in the class. For this seminar I had the fun of teaching one of my favorites to Mr. Gilbert and Ms. Atreya. This is playing Hangman. In this high-tech world of ours, students still know how to play—and even like playing—Hangman.

For example, if I am teaching a class on cooking principles, I can play Hangman with words like “steam,” “sauté,” “roast,” etc. For restaurant management, words like “food costs,” “insurance,” “license fees,” “permits,” etc., can be fodder for a game of Hangman, as well. The two best parts of Hangman are that it is absolutely free (you don’t even have to print out thought bubbles) and you can decide to do it at any time. Recently I have thrown it in the middle of lectures when I realize that I am losing the students’ attention.

6. For teaching food costs, I have another free game that requires no preparation. It’s called “The Price Is Right.” When we receive product, I hold up an item and asks how much it costs. A student leader holds the invoice and motions “higher” or “lower” as the students guess the prices. You will be amazed at the lack of understanding your students have on how much things costs. Recently we got in a 5-pound box of Angus all-beef hot dogs. The initial price guess was five dollars!

So, get out of your rut. Go play some games with your class. They will like it, you will like it. They will learn more, and that will definitely make you happy.


Chef Adam Weiner, CFSE, teaches a 20-week Introduction to Cooking program for JobTrain on the San Francisco Peninsula.

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