Let the games begin…
Aka ganbatte (Go red team), Shiro ganbatte (Go white team)
These are the simple rules from the Japanese Sports Day event that happens in the elementary school every October. Who wins or loses is not the important part of the day. The important part is students doing their best to compete in order to bring out the best from their fellow classmates. Every year, kids, faculty, and parents have a fun-filled, memorable event on this day.
Whether it be a physical game, a quiz game, a card game, an online game (the list goes on), when designed and implemented correctly, games are fun, motivating and engaging for students. And yes, learning takes place.
I thank my colleague, Machi Nakamura for sharing with me a fun listening comprehension game used to reinforce the vocabulary for family members, and the counter for people. This is how the game is set-up. Multiple “families” are illustrated on strips of construction paper that has been laminated in order to take the abuse that usually occurs due to overly excited students. One family might have mom, dad, two older sisters, one older brother and me/I. Another family might have mom, dad, one younger sister and me/I. The teacher starts the game by describing who is in the family. Students listen closely and once they have enough information, they reach for the illustration that matches the description. The quickest student to touch the correct illustration wins that card. Below is a picture of some students playing the “family” game.
Set up at the beginning of the game with the basic rules, students are provided an engaging listening activity that is relatively low risk for students to practice their listening comprehension.
Important when including games in the classroom is to make sure the level is appropriate for each learner. Does the student think that they will be able to adequately perform? There needs to be enough of a challenge without the task feeling too overwhelming. Grouping the students with similar abilities helps challenge kids appropriately without feeling overwhelmed.
Like the popular game, Angry Birds, the replay button is easy to find. Also, as you get better at toppling over the different structures, you unlock levels that get increasingly more difficult.
With the game, students should have many opportunities to practice. Also, all students should experience some degree of accomplishment. Since it is a competitive game, it might be important for the teacher to have only certain groups of students participate until all students have at least one card. If students are able to, they could be asked to describe the family in Japanese in order to “keep” the card.
Aaron Biebert has a great post entitled, 12 Most Surprising Leadership Lessons Learned from Playing Angry Birds, Biebert writes:
The Angry Birds game has been downloaded over 300,000,000 times and more than 100,000,000,000 angry birds have been shot through the air. That’s a lot! In fact, every day people spend over 200,000,000 minutes playing this addictive game.
That is a lot of game time. I have played Angry Birds and it is not easy–especially when you get to the higher levels. That doesn’t stop my two boys (kindergarten and second grade) from playing the game, however. I recognize their achievements with the game. So despite the increasing level of difficulty, the draw and structure of the game nurtured their growth.
While leadership is included in the title, I believe students can relate to and take away similar lessons from the game. Dr. Angela Duckworth, Assistant Professor of Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania once wrote the following:
For many, learning another language, especially Japanese can be a daunting challenge. Emphasizing the fun and “hooking” the students into practice helps build the skills necessary for overcoming the challenges. Cultivating the trait of grit in students is one overarching goal that I have for students in my class.
Because I believe in the power of games and I am excited about the possibilities that today’s technology has to offer, I have spent a considerable number of hours researching, investigating, and testing applications useful in the Japanese classroom. Below are a few of my favorite applications for the iPhone or iPad.
These games have definitely been a motivator for students. What is even more exciting than the impact in the classroom is what has happened outside of the classroom. There were several students (or their parents) that downloaded these applications to their own devices. With this occurring, students were making use of their commute time and other time outside of class to strengthen and improve their language skills. It was fun, engaging, and self-directed. This year, I even had one first grader move ahead of the class and learn katakana in addition to hiragana–wow!
For an advanced non-native Japanese class in the fourth grade, students went a step beyond game playing and into game designing. Students learned vocabulary related to game playing, designed and created their original board game, and then played (in Japanese) with their classmates. Here are a few students examples.