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Classroom Games You Can Play Today
Episode 33rd October 2023 • The Teaching Toolbox - A Podcast for Middle School Teachers • Brittany Naujok & Ellie Nixon, Podcast for Middle School Teachers
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Today we are chatting about a few engaging games you can take into your classroom and play any time! In this episode, you'll learn three games that are perfect for upper elementary and middle school classrooms. These games are fun and challenging and are perfect to add to your teaching toolbox!

If you have any questions about the games, send us a DM on our Instagram account, Teaching Toolbox Podcast!

If you want more information about the Word Wheel Challenge, head to the blog post about this word wheel game.


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Ellie: [:

Hey there. This is Ellie. I'm here with Brittany.

Brittany: Hey.

Ellie: And We're so glad you've joined us today. Are you looking for engaging and challenging games to play with your upper elementary or middle school students? Look no further. In this podcast episode, we will explore three classroom games that are perfect for today. These games will not only provide entertainment, but also encourage teamwork and critical thinking skills. So grab a pen and paper and get ready to learn about some exciting games that you can implement in your classroom right away.

Brittany: So one game that I actually got from some radio hosts in Milwaukee when I lived there during


college is called You Can't Win. And it sounds pessimistic right off the bat, but it's actually a lot of fun. You come up with five really hard questions and you don't want them to be so hard that the kids get discouraged, but you want them to be pretty difficult 'cause you want the kids to have to research and work to answer the questions. You don't want them answered in one or two days. So you come up with these five really hard questions and you make a sign that says you can't win. And you might put the first question on the first sign and you pick a kid to go first through like a random draw and you present that question to that student and obviously they're probably not gonna get it on the first day. Um, I used Colorado Facts since I taught in



Ellie: Makes sense

Brittany: So, um, my first question was usually, what is the highest road in Colorado? And most everybody thinks it's Mount Evans Road to the top of Mount Evans, but it's actually called Trail Ridge Road.

And so the kids would go research and research and they'd all come back and it'd be like, oh, it's Mount Evans. It's Mount Evans. And I'd be like, Nope, you're wrong, you're wrong. And so they would just keep researching and researching and every day we do You Can't Win for a few minutes.

And I'd pick another student and they'd get it wrong. And I'd also have like a prize bucket. And so every day I'd add a class dollar to the prize bucket. And so the prize just kept growing and growing and growing. So when


they finally got the first question, then they got presented with the second question, and they had to remember what the first question was because they had to answer the first question and the second question.

Then they had to answer the first question, the second question and the third question, and it kept going like that until they finally could answer all five questions and whoever could answer all five questions in a row at one time got the entire prize bucket and it ended up taking just over half a year

Ellie: Wow.

Brittany: to answer all five questions.

And so the student ended up getting like $186 because I ended up, I stuffed extras in there. Sometimes we'd play twice a day and stuff like that, so they ended up getting 186 classroom dollars for doing that. And then, then we started


a second round and we played the second half of the year with that round of questions.

So it's, it's a lot of fun.

Ellie: Sounds fun. Now, when you called on students, was it random or did they volunteer to be called on?

Brittany: I just did a random draw with Popsicle sticks.

Ellie: Oh, okay. All right. And that way sometimes kids were like, I know the answer, but they couldn't actually say because They didn't get called on? That makes it exciting, because you're like, I wanna get picked today. Awesome. That's great.

Do you wanna talk about our, our next game, or do you want me to start?

Brittany: Why don't you start, I think we've both played it.

Ellie: Okay. Yeah. This is one that was always popular with all of our students. They knew this one by the time they got to sixth grade, and this is silent ball, so maybe you've played silent ball before. But maybe we have a little bit of a, a twist on it. So this is a fun game to get quiet in the classroom


and, and get to the kids to be calm, maybe when you're waiting for assemblies or a carpool or loading the bus or just something at the end of the class period really quickly. So our kids typically stood in a circle. Did you have your kids stand in a circle or did you have 'em stand in different places?

Brittany: We usually counted down from five or from 10, and they could go stand wherever they wanted,

Ellie: Oh, okay.

Sometimes they wanted to sit on desks and sometimes we allowed that, but that could be a little bit tricky because they might jump a little quickly. So typically we did circles around the desk. So they stand wherever you choose to stand in the room. And we often used a beach ball, but what kind of ball did you use?

Brittany: We used one of those little foam Nerf balls that's like four to five inches in diameter, um, that you get with like the Nerf basketball sets.

Ellie: Okay. And so we want some type of ball that's just not gonna cause injury. Right? Something that's lighter, that's not going to


cause any kind of injury. Even a tennis ball is too hard. Do you think a tennis ball is too hard?

Brittany: Definitely a tennis ball is too hard. Baseballs too

Ellie: Oh God. Yeah.

All right. So, their goal is to be the last person standing.

So we want students to follow the rules in order to not get out and be the last person standing. So for us, if you made noise, you were out because it's silent ball, so you can't make any noise. Right? What if they accidentally like, made a noise? Like, ahhh, because they were startled by something.

Did you still make them get out if they were startled like that?

Brittany: No, not usually. And if, if they, they giggled because something happened, funny, you know, didn't make them get out either, but

Ellie: But in general, if they talked or they made, um, different noises, they would be out. If they dropped the ball, they would be out.

Brittany: Definitely.

Ellie: If they had the ball thrown to them and they just didn't catch it,


they would be out. Right.

Brittany: Yes. If it was, if it was a good throw,

Ellie: Yeah. Yeah.

Brittany: If it was nowhere near them, then the thrower is out.

Ellie: Then the thrower. Yes. Right. I forgot about that one. Yeah. So if you make a bad throw, you're out. Um, if you were whipping the ball at somebody, that is definitely an out, you're not allowed to whip the ball. That could potentially hurt somebody. Or throw it like in the head area.


Brittany: No, no face shots.

Ellie: No face shots. Yeah.

And so for the most part, a lot of kids get out on, on those basic things and often for us, it would be down to the last three or four people. And then sometimes they would throw a little faster. Like we would put a time limit, you know, you can only hold it for a second and you have to throw it so that they could potentially get other people out faster. What did you do to try to make those last couple people get out more quickly if you needed to?

Brittany: we would have the kids either stand on one foot

Ellie: Hmm.

Brittany: and have to catch and throw that way. That eliminated people


very quickly. Um, 'cause they're not good at balance yet. And I don't think any of us are. Um, or we would have them have to clap

Ellie: Okay. Okay.

Brittany: So they'd have to clap once or clap twice and then catch.

Ellie: Okay. Sounds good. Um, and that's about it, right? I mean, once we're down to the last person, you can start the game over again or

Brittany: Yep.

Ellie: whatever you have time for. Did we miss any rules on that one?

Brittany: I don't think so.

Ellie: No, but the kids really love that one. I mean, it's simple, fast, it's easy. Um, all you need is a ball and some space and, and you're good to go. All right. The third game that we're gonna talk about today is what I call the Word Wheel Challenge. And this is one of my favorite games. This is great in any classroom, you can do it in any subject area. You can play as a whole class or small group activity, and it could be used at the end of


a class period if you have five or 10 minutes. Or you could even do it for the entire class period because it can take a longer time if you choose to let it. So to play the game, you actually need to create a wheel, and the wheel is just a circle cut out of cardboard with letters of the alphabet. Written all along the edge of the circle all the way around. On my wheel, I have about 32 letters. So some of the letters are repeated and typically I would repeat vowels because those we want to use more frequently 'cause they're in all the words. So once your wheel is created, you put a little hole in the middle of it and you run a shoe string or some other sturdy type of string through the hole. So that you can hold the string and spin the wheel because the way they play the game is you hold the string, you spin the wheel, and the student grabs the wheel trying to get their thumb onto a letter. And so the goal of the game is to get six points, which


sounds really easy, but it is not easy. So this is how it works.

They spin the wheel, the student grabs the wheel with their thumb on a letter, and let's say they grab the letter T, they have 10 seconds to come up with a word that has T in it, like maybe ‘train.’ If they do think of a word, they get a point. So they can choose to keep their point or spin again to get more points. So let's say they spin again and they get the letter A. Now they have 20 seconds to think of a word with T and A. So ‘train’ works for that one again. So they could get a second point. And then again, they would, they could keep their points or they could let, um, the next person go if they wanted to keep their points and let the next person go, or they can spin again. This time they would have 30 seconds to think of a word with all three of the letters that they had. So maybe on their third spin, they'd get lucky and get an N. And they could use the word


‘train’ again, and so they would get a third point, and again, they could keep the points or keep spinning. Most of the time students keep going to like four or five points, and then they get a letter that gets them stuck like so maybe they get a B on the fourth spin and now they have T, A, N and B. They have 40 seconds to think of a word. So every time they get an additional letter, they get an additional 10 seconds to think of a word. If they do come up with a word, they might spin again and then get like a V or an X or a Z or a Q, and suddenly they can't think of a word with all those letters and they have 50 seconds if they're at the five letters.

But now, they can't think of a word and then they lose ALL of their points.

Brittany: yeah, that’s hard

Ellie: to be like, oh, okay, I got to four and now I can't think of something. Now I get to keep my four. No, they lose everything and they're back to zero. So that's the part that makes some students hesitate to keep going 'cause they know they're gonna lose everything. And if nobody else gets to six.


points before their next turn, then they'll probably have to get six all in one turn in order to win. So students, after they've played it a couple times and realize getting to five or six points is really hard, they'll kind of do that safety thing and they'll stop at three. Or maybe they'll go to four and then they'll let the next team go, especially if they're the first team to go. If they're the first team to go, they've got the best chance of stopping at maybe three, then getting more points to get to six the next time around. So they really get into this game. They love it.

Um, they typically, we typically play with teams because it lets them have a chance to brainstorm together and think of those words before they give a final answer. And then they don't feel that same pressure when it's just themselves, like, oh my gosh, I can't think of a word. You know, and they've got some teamwork there. And it's fun because it makes them think. There's a little bit of pressure with that time limit, which makes it more exciting. And then there's that strategy of deciding whether to keep


spinning or just to stay safe and keep their points with the hope that somebody else can't make it to six points. Um, now I taught math and language arts at different periods of time, and I played this in both subject areas, and I even used it in my homeroom sometimes, or ninth period, at the end of the day, if kids wanted to play something different, because no matter what subject you're teaching, thinking of words, and brainstorming and thinking strategy is really helpful for students.

So if you, yeah, if you want the details about how to create the wheel and you want the rules for the game, you can find those on my blog.

So we'll put a link to that post in the show notes so that you can find it and make your own wheel if you want to.

Brittany: Cool. Thank you that I'm still trying to figure out a word that has a B and A and a T in it.

Ellie: Yeah.

I did think of one, but and what's great is when you're playing that game, like the other kids, it's not their turn. They can think of them because they're not on the spot and they're like, I know a word. I know a word, but they

Brittany: Oh,


blatant. Blatant

Ellie: Good one. Yeah. Yeah. I was thinking banter when I was,

Brittany: Oh, yeah, yeah,

Ellie: yeah.

But yeah, and it takes a while.

Sometimes you're like, oh, shoot, I couldn't make it 40 seconds.

Brittany: Yeah, but I can't think of one with an X in it too.

Ellie: Oh, gosh, I didn't even think about that.

Brittany: or a V

Ellie: Maybe one of listeners can think of something. T A N B X. So let us know if you think of something! All right.

Brittany: So, if you have any questions about one of the games, or how to play them, please give us, um, a DM on our Instagram page at Teaching Toolbox. Podcast and we are there to answer any questions and we are always happy to help. We will see you next time. Thank you.

Ellie: Have a great day.




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