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10+ Games to Keep Students Engaged Through End of the School Year

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At-Home Learning: PBS SoCal and KCET, in partnership with LAUSD and in collaboration with California PBS stations, are offering broadcast programming with digital resources that adhere to California’s state curriculum. Download this week’s schedule.

Attention teachers: Whatever you are doing to support and grow your students and families during this time is enough. You have picked up and moved your classroom to your home and have invited your students into your home for learning through the internet. You have been doing a great job!

Now, with the school year coming to an end, many teachers are figuring out ways to keep kids engaged in the home stretch. This is a perfect time to add game-based learning to your teaching environments. You can start small and go as big as you dare!

Related Article: Kids aren't the only ones who need playtime; learn 4 reasons why adults like yourself need play as well! 

Cards, Dice and Measurement Games

You can add card games to your class to liven things up. To teach math, play a few hands of blackjack. Change the goal from 21 to the hand closest to the answer in a math problem. For example, make the goal 7 + 8 = 13. Deal 2 cards to different teams. Whoever is closest to 13 wins but they have to create a number sentence to show the difference between their cards and 13. For example, “We are two numbers away because 15 - 13 = 2.”

Mental math with cards and dice is another fun game. We played this a few weeks ago. I dealt a card, then rolled the dice, then a card, then dice, etc. Kids had to wait until I called equal to say the answer. It was fun and the students in my math class were completely hooked.

Cards and dice
Cards and dice | Wes Dickinson/

We also used the random name picker on Classtools.net to play a measurement scavenger hunt game. I added different measurements to the spinner. Then we spun the wheel and whatever it landed on, kids ran around their house looking for something to fit that measurement. It was chaotic, crazy and fun. But my kids learned to measure! Other Classtools games include: Turbo Timeline, where you can create an animated 3D timeline of events; Breaking News Generator where you can create headlines; and Fakebook and Twister where you create fake social media accounts for people in history.

I used OSMO’s new projector app to convert my tablet or phone into a document camera for our card/dice game and a fraction flashcard game. OSMO is an augmented reality game that has many math-based activities.  You can explore shapes with Tangrams, explore number sense with Numbers, and incorporate problem-solving, patterns, and money with Pizza Company. While I normally use these in centers to reinforce learning, doing it together in online class is also a way to keep kids engaged.

Quiz Show

Liven things up with a quiz show! Use a quiz show program, such as Quizlet, Quizizz, Kahoot, and Gimkit, to create a game show based on your unit of study. They all allow for a certain number of free uses, which means you can spread out the use of the products during a regular school year without concerns about required payments or kids getting bored with one of them. You can check out Shawn Lane’s comparison of different game shows on Padlet. My students have competed in a few fraction quizzes and I also created a schoolwide quiz show called Who’s That Kid with pictures of teachers as kids!

Minecraft, Roblox, and Other Video Games

What better way to engage students than to have them use one of their favorite games as a learning experience. Students can create written or video how-to guides for their favorite game to teach the teacher how to use it. This activity is full of problem-solving, language and sequencing skills. To teach science, students can create habitats in Minecraft to show what animals need to survive. They can recreate historical moments, create math story problems, and so much more. Minecraft EDU has great plans and ideas for integrating Minecraft in the classroom. You can also follow a few teachers on Twitter who are into game-based lessons to learn more, such as Steve Isaacs and Mike Washburn, or you can follow the hashtag #MinecrsaftEDU. I have created a social time class where any kid in the school who is into RoBlox or Minecraft can join my Zoom and teach me how to play! You can also have kids play their favorite PBSKids games together online.

https://youtu.be/jn2D25TfL7k

Students at West Ranch High School found a creative way to take virtual socializing to the next level: they created a model of their school on the video game Minecraft. Learn more about this and other creative high school student responses to COVID-19 school closures in our Student Reporting Labs roundup.

Virtual Field Trips

I have curated a list of virtual field trips, including some amazing trips to zoos, other countries, and interesting places in the U.S. These adventures are engaging for students because they “get to leave” their quarantined life and visit other places. I had a family whose work/fun trip to Japan was canceled so they ordered Japanese food to try while they explored Japan through a virtual field trip. Then, they made a faux bullet train in the hall upstairs, tried sumo wrestling with pillows, and recreated Japanese art and made their own museum. You can have kids visit a zoo, observe an animal, read about the animal, and learn about the animal’s habitat, needs, and predators. Then, create the animal’s world using legos, toys, recycling, and more. Let kids take the mic and become the teacher by walking you through their creation!

Scavenger Hunts, Challenges, and Maker Projects

I collected a few hunts and challenges from Twitter, Facebook, and emails for families during this time, but you can use them in the virtual classroom as well. Younger kids have fun searching the house for items of a certain color, things with numbers, or objects in certain shapes. Lego and other companies are posting monthly challenges for kids, such as creating your own Lego or block challenge. Kids can make the setting from a book, use recyclable cereal boxes to make a notebook, or use juice boxes as bricks to build a house! Doing all of this on Zoom makes for a loud, crazy, and fun time! Last week I met with our 4-year-old classes and after I read the book “Giraffes Can’t Dance,” we made our own animal party. Kids used whatever they had at home to create and it was so much fun.

Mental Health Time

This world we are living in is crazy and sometimes we need a mental break from it all. Providing a place and space for students to reset, refocus, and chill is another way to keep them engaged. Having yoga through Zoom — practicing the art of meditation together in a conference call — is an important part of healing and growth. Zoom fatigue is a real issue, but using it for mental health can be a way to help bring students together and build them up. Common Sense Media has a review of meditation apps you may want to try in the classroom and I have aggregated a list of mental health resources for teachers and families.

Children following yoga poses
Children following yoga poses. | Ruth Hartnup/

Here are few other resources for teachers seeking to keep students engaged during the last few days of school!

I hope these ideas help you out and give you a boost to end your year on a bang! If you have ideas for livening up an online class, I would love to hear from you!


Nancy Penchev is an innovation lab teacher and instructional technology coordinator. She has taught ECE-5th grade and currently teaches K-5th grade social studies lab, where kids do STEM-based project-based learning. Penchev founded Girls Building STEAM and is a local award winner for the National Council for Women in Information Technology, plus a 2019 honorable mention for the STEM Excellence award from ISTE. Check out Penchev’s website for more resources and follow her on Twitter @penchevable.

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