George Lucas Educational Foundation
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I dread introducing mid-year projects to my class. By now, students are keenly aware of how much work goes into high-quality projects and resist jumping into a new team or envisioning the next public exhibition. How do we motivate students to begin a new project when they are already tired by the middle of the school year?

The biggest success I've had for project introduction day is having students play a physical game. Games are silly and fun, and when the laughter calms, we reflect on how the game serves as a metaphor for the group work ahead. After this conversation, students are generally more curious and open to the possibilities of starting fresh.

The following two games are my tried and true. Use them on project launch day, or even mid-project if students need a little booster. I always have an extensive safety talk with my high school students before we play these games, and they move slowly and cautiously while I supervise the activities. Please use your best judgement about whether these would be appropriate in your classroom for your unique group of students.

Game Prep for Team Projects: Group Escape

My goals for students (courtesy of Tim Dyke) are to:

  1. Realize that their creativity is enhanced by restrictions
  2. Create an environment that rewards taking risks
  3. Reiterate the importance of listening

Round 1

Please put all of your bags against the wall, stack all of the chairs, and push the desks into one big desk in the corner of the room farthest away from the door. Next, everyone please get on top of the structure of connected desks. The floor is now made of lava, and your objective is to get everyone from your table clan across the room and out the door without touching the floor. The rules are that you must respect one another and no body parts can touch the floor. If you break any rule, the entire group starts again back on the structure. You may begin!

(For this first round students usually make a path out of the desks and chairs.)

Round 2

Congratulations! Please reassemble the structure and get back on top of it. For this second round, the first-round rules still apply. Additionally, the structure is now welded together and cannot be broken apart, nor can anyone talk as you escape. You may begin!

(Usually, students grab books off a shelf or use book bags to make a path. Once, they ferried the entire class one by one on a skateboard!)

Round 3

Congratulations! You've made it to the third round. Please return any items that you've used to where you found them and get back on top of the structure. For round three, the first- and second-round rules still apply. And this time, everything in the room is welded into place and cannot be moved. Also, you can only speak in the language that I give you. (Options: singing, humming, using basketball players' names or countries that end with the letter S, stomping, clapping, in Spanish, in Japanese, with tongue clicks, etc.) You may begin!

(Usually, for this round students use their outer clothes to make a path, but the process resembles a theatrical production with singing and dancing.)

Reflection Prompts

  • What did you notice about your creativity as a group when the game increased in restrictions?
  • Did adding more restrictions lead to more creative solutions?
  • What did you do as a team that made you more successful?

Here's a student reflection from Elena:

In the first round, it was everybody for themselves. We realized as a class that, with this method, we would not win the game. During the silent round, we had to trust each other to slow down and make a path that would allow everyone to get to the door. By the last round, our first priority was to make sure each and every one of us could cross the room without trouble. The game was definitely fun, but our class as a whole learned communication, patience, and how to work together effectively that day.

Game Prep for Partner Projects: Blind Dodgeball

My goal for students is learning how they need to communicate in a way that their partner can hear them, even when projects become hectic.

Setup

Pick a clear outdoor area and put down four sweatshirts to make a 25-square-foot box. Students introduce themselves to the partner they'll work with on the next project and play rock paper scissors to decide who will be blindfolded first (they usually tie a jacket around their heads, or I give them a bandana). Each team gets a soft ball. (Rolled up pairs of socks work well, or the gym teacher often shares her supplies.)

Directions

Your goals as a team are:

  1. Make your blindfolded partner feel as safe and supported as possible at all times.
  2. Get all of the other teams "out" by hitting either of their members with your ball.

Only your blindfolded partner may touch your ball. You many throw only your own ball, and aim low -- if you hit someone above the neck, you're automatically out.

Round 1

Un-blindfolded partners may talk to their partner and gently guide their shoulder or arm. Then switch the blindfold to the second partner.

Round 2

Un-blindfolded partners may touch their partner and gently guide their shoulder or arm but cannot talk. Then switch the blindfold to the second partner.

Round 3

Un-blindfolded partners have to stand outside the boundaries and can talk only to their partner. Then switch the blindfold to the second partner.

Reflection Prompts

  • When you were blindfolded, what did your partner do to help you feel safe?
  • When you were not blindfolded, what did you do to communicate clearly?
  • How does this game serve as a metaphor for the kind of communication that you'll need for this next project?

Here's a student reflection from Kaya:

Not only was the game itself fun, giving us the ability to take a break from the ordinary classroom work, it also gave me a good [understanding] of how much teamwork the project was going to take. The game showed me that without teamwork, you would not succeed [because] when playing the game my partner and I did not communicate well enough and we lost.

What strategies do you use to launch projects?

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Jessica's picture

I think the two ideas presented could be a lot of fun for students and promote an interactive, dynamic way to introduce them back into a group environment. In regards to the comment about liability, etc., I had similar thoughts in regards to some ideas (standing on top of desks could be an accident waiting to happen with some individuals). However, there are easy ways to overcome this by simply changing some aspects of the activities around to suit your class's needs. I'm going to assume the author knew her students well enough to trust that they wouldn't do anything counterproductive during this activity. An alternative to standing on top of desks could be to tape off a square on the floor big enough for the students to stand in. These two activities are easily adaptable and I like the idea of using socks for dodge ball (which is also in my opinion, an appropriate game- most kids LOVE it and it can be fun as long as it's played according to the rules, which in this case, seem to be spot on!) Overall, teachers know their students the best and what works and what doesn't- I look forward to using an adaptation of these group work motivators in the future. Thanks for sharing, Laura!

(2)
Laura Davis's picture
Laura Davis
Teacher in Honolulu, HI

Hi Jessica,
Thanks for your comment. I appreciate your adaptation of these games for your own class and knowing what is possible for the age of students you work with. I like the idea of taping a square on the floor which is big enough for the students to stand in rather than having them stand on the desks--I could see that working as a nice alternative. My experience with these games is that students rise to the occasion and are very well behaved while playing them because they know this is a rare and welcome gift in terms of diverting from our normal routine.

(1)
Laura Davis's picture
Laura Davis
Teacher in Honolulu, HI

Hi Shelby,
Thank you for the comment. I like your idea of adopting the games to fit the specific themes of a book you are reading in class. I hadn't tried that but I could imagine it working well as an introductory activity to the book to peak their interest, especially mid-quarter when energy starts to drag.

(1)
Laura Davis's picture
Laura Davis
Teacher in Honolulu, HI

Hi Kevshp,
Thanks for sharing this great link! I love that the videos demo the games since it is often difficult to explain how a game would work with directions alone.
In terms of safety with the dodgeball game, I always have students throw underhand with a soft ball, like balled up socks, so the impact of it wouldn't hurt a kitten. Glad to know there are lots of alternative games on the site you listed though. Thanks!

Laura Davis's picture
Laura Davis
Teacher in Honolulu, HI

Hi A Mc,
Thanks for voicing your concerns about liability. There are many ways to adapt this exercise and my blog post shares what I have done in my classroom as a way to spark ideas or plant seeds for activities that teachers can conduct in their own spaces. I would expect that each teacher would exercise their own judgment about their students, the stability of their furniture, and the potential for accidents. Maybe I should clarify the types of safety guidelines I provide to my students in the post and note that if I think that they cannot handle the activity safely then I do not allow them to do it.

Thanks again for your feedback and I'll look for ways to improve the clarity of the safety language in this blog post.

Marissa's picture

Like Music, Dance, Gym etc Games are also required in primary and secondary schools.

(1)
Jessica's picture

I absolutely agree! Another great way to motivate students for team work and collaboration is a friendly game of 'capture the flag'...I find this game unites students together as they have to collectively strategize and delegate roles in order to 'capture' their opponents flag. This can easily be done with hoola hoops in a gym or if resources allow, outdoors in a field or playground. I highly recommend this game if your students are active and competitive-it's a great way to build a team dynamic while getting sufficient exercise as well!

(1)
Tianyi Kong's picture

Hello! I love the idea of designing a game to stimulate the students' co-working and creative minds. After reading your blog, I have two questions.

Firstly, I do see some uncertain and unsafe factors of the games. If I am trying to let my students in primary school play with those games, could you offer some specific suggestions for how to avoid the dangerous things happening?

Secondly, did you consider about the children who are afraid of working in a group...or some children who strongly want to show themselves and then take the dominant of the group, which will eliminates other students' passion to put their hands on? If you did take those two situations into consideration, then how will you do to make every child participate?

Thanks for sharing!

Laura Davis's picture
Laura Davis
Teacher in Honolulu, HI

Hi Tianyi,
Thanks for your questions.
I teach high school (my students have the faculties to drive cars and play contact sports) so I can see why you would want to adapt the games to be appropriate for primary school. Sounds like you are a great teacher! I have never taught primary school so I would ask you a few questions about their abilities:
1. To modify the Great Escape game, do you think your students could start in a tapped off area of the room and then use something like carpet squares or even just pieces of paper as the walk on as they protect their feet from the "lava" that is the floor in the game?
2. To modify Blind dodgeball, do think your students would be able to partner up, with one closing their eyes or wearing a blindfold, and have their seeing partner guide them safely around the classroom, describing obstacles to avoid along the way? If so, they could still do the debrief questions it about working with a partner, it would just remove the competitive aspect and make it more of a "Blindfolded partner walk."
I look forward to learning more about what you think is appropriate for your class. Kids are capable of such different things at different ages!

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