Tomorrow, December 1st, is National Grinch Day. Though it’s not an official holiday, it is the start of the Christmas season, and many different organizations use this opportunity to promote reading, kindness, and community spirit. Hands down, the favorite part of December for my students is always reading How The Grinch Stole Christmas. It doesn’t matter if I’m teaching kindergarten or college, my students always enjoy this book. This week I’d like to share with you some of the activities we do with this book, and the best ways I’ve found to use digital board games in a remote setting.
Since many of my students are new arrivals in the USA, it is not unusual for them to have never read the book. We always spend the bulk of our time on reading comprehension. We read the book, watch the movie (both the cartoon version, and the updated version starring Jim Carrey), and compare/contrast the different versions of the story. The culminating activity is always a board game show-down to see who knows the story the best. I always allow students to reference the book, if needed, while play How The Grinch Stole Christmas Review Game, but they take it as a personal challenge to try and answer as many questions as possible without looking back at the text. Some tips I’ve learned through the years for playing these types of games in class:
- Print each set (game board and cards) on different colors of card stock. This way, when you find a stray card on the floor later, you’ll know exactly which set it belongs to.
- Store game pieces and cards in sandwich size Ziploc bags for easy distribution. I make a separate bag for each game set that contains the cards, playing pieces (colored counters or mini erasers), and a number cube. I then store the game boards and supplies bags in a gallon Ziploc bag. When I want to take the game to school, all I have to do is grab the big bag out of my Christmas supplies box. When it’s time to play, I quickly toss each group a board and a bag.
Like many others, I have been online this semester, so I converted my How The Grinch Stole Christmas Review Game into a digital format. I’ve shared in many different posts about my process for converting games, and about the Game Play Script that my husband wrote for me to allow students to “draw” a card and “roll” the dice. If you want to see this particular game in action, you can check out this YouTube video:
Using Digital Board Games
Rather than repeat information I’ve previously shared, I want to share with you some of the best ways I’ve found to use digital board games in a remote learning environment. There are so many wonderful scripts, add-ons, and other innovative ideas, but there are still limits to what we can do in these digital environments. Here some of the different ways my students and I have successfully experimented with playing digital board games:
- Shared Screen–To use this method one person shares his/her screen with the group. This is great because everyone can see what’s happening at the exact same time. The draw back is that only the person who has shared his/her screen can edit or move things in the document, so the others have much less interaction. This is the method I prefer for games such as Jeopardy, where clicking and other actions are at a minimum, and the focus is on large group speaking.
- Small Group File Share Breakout Room Speaking–To use this method, a copy of the game must be made for each group, that copy must then be shared (with editing rights) with each member of the group. Groups then enter a breakout room (so they can talk to one another without disturbing other groups) and all open the file on their individual computers. Students then communicate via Zoom, Meet, or whatever conferencing tool you are using, while playing the game in the shared file. The advantage of this method is that all students can manipulate the game pieces and have access to the menu items. The disadvantage is that no one can see what another player is doing until he/she has completed it. Players also cannot see what other players do when they activate the scripts–they do not see the “dice roll” menu pop up, or what slide the player is randomly sent to when they “draw” a card. Also, unless you have a record feature for the breakout rooms, you have no idea what the students are saying as they answer the question prompts. While this might not matter much when playing a game such as How the Grinch Stole Christmas, it does matter a lot to me when we play games specifically to practice grammar features.
- Small Group File Share Breakout Room Typing–This method is much the same as the previous one, but with one twist. In this method students not only speak their answers aloud, they also right click on the gameboard square, choose Comment, and type their answer into the comment box before posting it. This has the advantage of allowing me to quickly scan through and check their use of the target grammar feature (or other learning objective), but it has the disadvantage of taking much longer. Most of my students type much slower than they speak, and sometimes they get bored waiting for others to type answers (they are often not finished by the time it’s their turn again). I recommend this method for games such as Cover Up, and similar very small group games.
- Large Group Simultaneous Play–This method is the one that my students and I prefer and use most often. I’m using large group as a relative term, I would not attempt this with more than 10-15 students in a group. To use this method, divide students into groups of about 10 and share a copy of the game (with editing rights) with each group. I recommend dividing students based on tech ability, students who are better typists and more proficient at things such as drag and drop are grouped separately from those who struggle with these types of computer skills. There is no need to place students into breakout rooms, because they will not be talking aloud much, most of the communication is done through the chat feature (though my students like that they can verbally talk to me at any time via our conferencing tool). After students have all opened the shared file, they should also open the built-in chat feature of Google apps. The final step is for students to type their initials onto a game piece so everyone will know which piece belongs to which student (it is very likely you’ll end up with multiple students having the same color piece). Students will then begin to play the game at their own pace, taking turn after turn, not waiting for others to take their turns. All answers are entered into the chat box. I read over the chat box answers and type back feedback to encourage and help students with the learning target. This solves several problems: students are able to manipulate the game elements for themselves, they no longer get bored waiting for their turn, I get to see everyone’s answers in real time, and it no longer matters that no one can see the “dice roll” pop up menu or which card students randomly “draw.” Students are encouraged to move quickly, as the first player to finish is still the winner (hence the grouping by tech ability), but I reserve the right to move their piece backwards if they give too many incorrect answers in the chat. This is my students’ preferred method for playing board games in the digital environment.
This semester has been a lot of trial and error for me and my students, as I’m sure it has been for many others. I’m sure there are many other ways of playing games in a fully remote classroom, but these are the four that have worked the best for us. I hope it helps you to get some ideas for your classrooms as well. Happy teaching, everyone!