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Playing My Way Through 6th Grade

classroom education joy middle school Jun 30, 2022

When I started teaching, I worked at a high school. The youngest child I taught was 14. When I transitioned to a smaller independent school and started teaching 6th grade, I realized 11 year olds were still very, very, young! I remember the day one of them lost a tooth in class and I thought to myself: y’all are still losing teeth!?! 

So, connecting with them, building relationships, and establishing rapport was going to have to look different than what I had been used to. I also planned, as you know, to engage in some challenging conversations throughout the year and I needed *community* with that group so we could trust each other and respect differing opinions. 

You know what I did? I created a two week cycle and once every two weeks we went outside and literally played. That’s how I started out the school year. I did this for several months and then once we hit November, I slowed it down to about once a month. When we played, I learned so much more about them than if I had done surveys or simple classroom-based activities. Knowing their favorite color, favorite food, or what words rhyme with the first letter of their name wasn't going to tell me who was energetic, who worked well with peers, who the leaders were, and so on. Playing also allowed them to see me as more than a classroom teacher. I became a silly person, a funny adult, a down-to-earth teacher, and someone they felt they could be themselves with. I even brought my sneakers we went outside to play! (Cause I’m not 11 and I needed some foot support!) 

In this post, what I want to share are fun games we played that built community for us. 

  • Tag- nothing beats that oldie. 
  • Freeze tag- Needing peers to come and help you? Hello! Automatic partnership-building activity. 
  • Ninja: I’m not sure if there’s a better name for this, but it’s what the kids called it. You need some space and then you all stand in a circle. The first person turns to their person on the left or right (doesn’t matter) and makes a “martial art” move. The goal is to tap or get the next person’s hand. Here’s a funny video explaining the game
  • Racing: Yep. Straight up racing. I was the judge at the end of the sidewalk. Students got into pairs and tried to race both each other and the time. I used my phone to time them and they tried their best to beat their own time. This started after reading Ghost by Jason Reynolds. When you weren’t running, your job was to cheer on the runners, hype them up, and say positive things to build up their confidence. 
  • Charades: I’d come up with the wildest things for them to perform. In small groups, they scattered around the room and sent one representative up to me to select the small piece of paper. Then, the whole group had to act out the action or object. I’d have things like: washing machine, getting a snack, etc. It was very silly, but I’d also get to see who was a leader in their group, who was creative, who enjoyed performing and being in front of others, and who was a good listener.  

I’m sure you have some great suggestions, too. Share them in the comments for others to try them out. I hope you’ll consider play as part of your classroom structure & activities. It was a game-changer. Pun intended! 

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