Breaking It Up: Circle Games

For the last two years, I was teaching out of the science lab upstairs. It was a very rigid set up because I could not move the lab benches if we wanted to change up the setting of the classroom.

So I was absolutely elated when I got a regular classroom this year. Now, by training, I’m an elementary teacher and while I work with high school students – specifically Grade 10s and 11s – every once in a while, I like to play games in my class. Especially circle games.

Circle games are a fantastic way to “break it up”. My 11s had spent the 5th period writing their first math test and were feeling a bit stiff. So after we did a quick note in 6th – reviewing the metric system and how to convert between the units – we pushed aside the tables and gathered together.

We did two activities:

  1. Writing observations: Every student was equipped with a whiteboard and a marker. They were also given a card with a North American animal, such as harlequin duck and nighthawk. Yesterday, we had talked about what it means to write observations, one of the 6 steps in the scientific method. How can we describe our observations? We can use our five senses and describe objects in size, shape, colour or form. We can also describe patterns of behaviour. Each student was given the opportunity to write a description of that animal, without using the actual name. I had a snapping turtle; I describe my animal as a reptile that lives in the water, is grey and eats fish and frogs. When they finished their description, they passed it to their “elbow partner” on their right. Their peer had to guess what the animal was. Then they had to discuss whether the description was adequate and what could be improved. There were a few students who wrote one word; others that gave a fantastic description. The board was passed back and repeated with the “elbow partner” on the left. At a quick glance, walking through the circle, I can access who understood the objective of the lesson.
  2. Riding the Bus: For the last ten minutes, we played a game that had nothing to do with curriculum (gasp). “Riding the Bus” is one of my favourite games that I learned from Tribes training*. Arrange the chairs in a circle. Pull one chair out and have one person stand in the middle. Start the sentence, “I’m riding the bus with someone who is … ” and finish the sentence with a descriptor (i.e. wearing glasses, dyed their hair). Whoever fits the description has to get up and find a new chair. The person who is left standing has to choose a new descriptor. Everyone was laughing. I also had a few sentence targeted at me, “I’m riding the bus withs someone who is over 30”, “who is wearing a watch” and “who is Asian”. Ha! I used phrases that included a large part of the group or everyone; “I’m riding the bus withs someone who is in Sec 5”, “who is wearing socks”, “wearing something black”. We had a lot of smiles and laughter.

Why sit in a circle? Why play circle games?

  • Everyone is an equal: Even the teacher sits with the student. This makes everyone feel that they’re all part of the group.
  • De-stress: It’s important to let everyone laugh and smile. Writing a test and going through 6 periods a day doing work is stressful!
  • Teamwork: Gives a chance for different kids to mix and intermingle. They are forced to talk to each other. BWAHAHAHAHA!
  • Physical movement: Moving around is important. The act of getting the body in motion is a great way to get some good hormones going!

On average, with each of my classes, I play at least 2 circle games a week. Usually they are math games but I want to make sure I have a good balance between both my math and science classes. My kids trust me and they know they have fun with me. I don’t have any teenagers sneering and saying that they’re too cool not to participate at all. Yes, it does take 5 minutes to rearrange the furniture and it does take time to clean-up. But my kids work together and it is great for the work ethic! And psssttttt, if you’re not caught up with today’s edubabble, “movable classrooms” are in! Lots of reasons to switch things up in the classroom!

Have you played circle games in your classroom? Is it something you would try?

*In the manual, it goes by a different name, but I’m not sure what it is.