In case you are late to the party, I have been sharing how I run literacy centres in my classroom over the past few weeks. You can find out how I start centres in this post, how I organize them over here, and see ALL of the centres I have posted about so far by clicking here.
Our games centre is another student favourite! When I first started this centre, I really limited myself and was only thinking in the realm of "board games" and puzzles. While those are awesome, kindergarteners are so young, and it was hard to find engaging games that they were able to play independently. Also, board games are EXPENSIVE! Then, I realized that I could make and teach my own games, and/or adapt old favourites (like Go Fish and Memory) to fit my particular group of students. So, while I do still provide my students with some board games throughout the year, generally based on their interests, this post will mainly be about how you can teach your students games that touch on the literacy outcomes that they need to know.
(Side note - I wrote another blog post last year explaining the WHY behind why I think that games are super important to incorporate into your day as much as possible, especially in French second-language classrooms. You can check out that post by clicking here.)
Here are my top tips for the best games centres! There's a lot of them, but each one is pretty quick!
1. DECISIONS, DECISIONS...
My first tip for you is to really think about your students and their particular needs. You need to decide what exactly you would like them to be practicing during this time. In my opinion, le centre de jeux is one of the best (if not the best) centres for making it easy to practice a whole host of incredibly important skills. Think about your students and what their struggles are, what they need more exposure to, and what they can work together to accomplish. In my class this year, we will be practicing lots of letter names and sounds, sight words, syllables, rhymes, blends, and vocabulary. Your students may need more practice with speaking and listening, fluency, letter formation, anything! Once you know exactly WHAT you want your students to practice, it will be much easier to decide HOW to get them to practice.
2. THINK ABOUT HOW
Once you know what you want your students to practice, think about how you want them to do it. Is there a game structure already out there that your students likely know and that is age appropriate? As I said above, Memory and Go Fish are simple, well-known games that are easy to create. Students love finding pairs, and there are sooo many pairs that you can create. You can have them match upper- and lowercase letters, beginning sounds, find rhyming pairs, match words with the same number of syllables - and more! The only limit is your imagination. You can also remake board games like Snakes & Ladders and Scrabble to practice letter names/sounds or even vocabulary. Pinterest has TONS of great ideas! And, if you aren't into making your own, I will provide you with some links to some ready-made games at the end of this post.
3. REVIEW ONLY
This one is important! We want our students to be independent and feel successful. So please make sure that the games that you want your students to play without you are review only. The games in your centre de jeux should be games that your students already have enough knowledge to able to play! So, if you have a game for practicing letter names and sounds, only include the letters that you have learned and practiced as a class. It will be very difficult (if not impossible) for your students to play an alphabet game that includes all 26 letters if you have only learned 15 of them. They probably won't be able to play any sight word games that you find on Teachers Pay Teachers or Pinterest if you include ALL of the words provided. Again, make sure that you know your students and what they know! Set them up for success. Of course, all students are different, and you will always have high fliers and kids who are a bit more behind than the rest of the class. There are a few ways you can tackle this problem.
- Differentiate the same game and provide options of different levels. If your students are in groups of similar abilities, you can have a few different options of the same game (eg. one with the top 10 most known letters in your class, one with 15, and one with all of them). Find a way to make sure students know which game is for them (for example, by colour), and show them how to pick the correct game. This is a nice way of doing it because you can still teach the whole class the rules of the game, as they are the same for everyone. Only the content is a bit different.
- Provide a variety of game choices. All students have strengths and weaknesses! You can try to include a variety of different games to that students can choose games that they are able to play on their own, and leave the games that are more of a challenge for them to play with you during lecture guidée or small group time. I try to always include at least one game that targets speaking/vocabulary, one game for the alphabet and/or sight words, and one "fun" game that promotes working together and getting along. If students always pick the "fun" one, I don't worry, because learning to work together is such a valuable skill! Students also seem to gravitate to the games they are best able to play independently on their own, and since these games are for review, that is perfect. They will practice skills that are more challenging with me during our small group time, until they are confident enough to practice on their own!
I also encourage my students to work together. So, if one student doesn't know a letter, I encourage their partner to help them out and for them to work together to figure it out. Students can learn a LOT from their peers - it is up to us to provide them with experiences to allow that learning to happen! Collaboration over competition ;)
4. CONSIDER YOUR STUDENTS' INTERESTS
Your students will be most engaged when you think about what they like! While it is illegal to make and sell or give away games that include Trademarked material (like Disney, for example), it is okay to make them for personal use in your classroom. Sticking some Minion stickers on a homemade Snakes and Ladders board can suddenly turn it into the most exciting game ever!! Seasonal games also go over really well, because they are relevant to what is happening in your students' lives at the present moment.
5. TEACH, TEACH, AND RETEACH
It is important to teach, teach, and reteach your students how to play the games you provide! We want them to play the games correctly and independently, and not to waste their time (or yours). Before adding a game to our games centre, I show my students how to play it whole-group at least once. We sit at the perimeter of the carpet, and the Chef du jour helps me demonstrate. I include an "I Can" card with directions with the material and model how to check it if I forget a step. I also often play the same games with my students during our small group time, to reinforce the correct way to play. And even after it has been in the games bin for awhile, I still review and reteach it at least once a week. Practice makes perfect!
6. TEACH AND RETEACH EXPECTATIONS, TOO
As important as it is to teach and reteach the instructions for each game, it is equally important to teach and reteach your expectations of your students' behaviour while they play! I show them the correct ways to handle the game boards and cards, and especially how to properly clean up each game. I sometimes will even include a picture of how the game should look when it is put away if they have a lot of difficulty remembering. Whenever the games bin gets too messy, I always bring it back to the carpet before the next rotation and model again how to clean it up correctly. It can help to make an anchor chart about WHY it is important to clean it up right, too!
7. MAKE IT HARDER
As the year progresses, your students will get better and better. To keep them engaged, make sure to increase the difficulty of your games. If they are great at their letter sounds, mix in some sons composés or blends. Make sure to keep adding new sight words as you learn them. A great tip is to keep the structure of the games the same, and just change what exactly it is that they are practicing. It will be a lot easier for them to deal with just one change at a time, rather than learning a whole new game. That being said, if you want to teach them a new game structure that is maybe more complicated or with more steps, make sure that the content isn't too difficult until they have mastered the directions. It is important to change things gradually, and not try too much too soon, if we want our students to be independent during their centres!
Making, printing, and laminating games can be a time consuming and expensive process! If you create your own games, I HIGHLY recommend using PowerPoint or Keynote, rather than Word. It is SO. MUCH. EASIER! As promised above, if you don't have the time to create your own games, here are some links to some of the games that I have currently available in my TPT store. I have linked to the bundles so that you can see all of the themes that I have for each, but they are all available for individual purchase, too. Click on the photos to check them out!
Roule et couvre is the most popular game in my TPT store. Use it to practice letter names/sounds, association between upper & lowercase, syllables, beginning sounds, and more!
Youpi! is great for practicing letter names and sounds. It can be played in groups of 2-4.
EEK! is a student favourite. There are lots of themes and they are all a little silly. For example, in the game pictured above, students have to be careful not to get a worm in their apples. This game is editable and can be used for letters or sight words.
Super syllabes is a good game for both syllables and vocabulary. It comes with lots of different themes so is a good one for practicing all year long.
Je t'ai eu! practices pretty much everything - vocabulary, letters, sounds, sons composés, sight words, etc. It is also editable so you can essentially practice anything you like! My favourite this about it is that it is super low prep - you only need to print and laminate 2 pages per theme (plus the "I Can" card if you want).
Lis et couvre is great for decoding. It is better suited for more advanced students (or maybe grade ones!). I use it in my small groups until the very end of the year, when I place it in the games bin for my more advanced groups.
Here is a game to practice rhymes. I use it in my small groups until I know that my students know the vocabulary and understand rhyming, and then I add it to the games bin. It is a super simple memory game, but hearing rhymes is tricker than just matching letters!
If your students work in larger groups and not in partners, Bingo is a GREAT game for them to play independently! One student can be the caller, while the rest play the game. Bingo is an awesome way to practice vocabulary, and just about every child already knows how to play!
If you print and laminate your games at home, you should definitely check out the HP Instant Ink program. If your printer qualifies, you can get ink sent to your home for a super low monthly price (between 3.99 and 10.99 depending on your needs. I have the 10.99/month plan and can print up to 300 pages!!). You can print all your pages in full colour for the same price - it doesn't matter what is on the page, just the number of pages! And they send you more ink as soon as you are getting low - you don't have to go to the store. The savings are AMAZING if you print a lot of stuff!! You can also cancel at anytime if you feel you aren't getting enough value from it.
I also buy my laminating sheets on Amazon. This is the kind that I have found to be the best deal (they are on sale right now - 150 sheets for 33.99), and the quality to me seems to be the same as more expensive brands (this is not an affiliate link - it is just what I use!).
Which games do your students love the best? Do you have any board games in your classroom? So far this year I have taught my students Connect 4 and Mousetrap. If you have any other good recommendations for 5 year olds, let me know in the comments!