5 Ways to Trick Your Class into Learning

In honour of April Fools' Day, we thought we'd take a look at ways in which you can trick your class into learning without realising it – not only on 1st April, but all-year-round. Here's our 5 ways to trick your class into learning, broken down:

 

1. It's all a game to you, isn't it?!

So what is 'gamification' you ask? Well, in a nutshell it's tweaking a learning activity so it has some of the attributes of a game, whether that's trying to win against an opponent, beat another team, advance in a league, get a high score, improve upon your previous personal best or — as in many video games — just try not to 'die'!

Giving a typically mundane activity a little twist to make it feel more like a sporting event, board game, quiz or video game immediately changes how children feel about it. Far more so than us older generations, children know gaming – it's in their blood. You might find that, simply by gamifying a learning activity, children who previously didn't 'get it' suddenly do when it's framed in a different context!

 

A child happily playing a console video game with her father.

Children know that when they 'die' in a video game, it doesn't really matter; they get to try again straight away – in fact they can try as many times as they like! Applying this approach of unlimited, consequence-free 'try agains' to learning or assessment activities can reduce fear of failure and make tasks less daunting.

 

Turning a task into a game makes it feel safer, too. It makes it acceptable to fail, as everyone knows if you fail (or 'die') in a game, you get another go straight away. In fact, you get as many goes as you want, forever, until you get it right! Gamification removes the pressure of failure which, sadly, for many young learners, is a feeling they intrinsically associate with learning. Take fear of failing away and watch them resiliently try, try and try again!

Our favourite gamification activity:

'Beat Your Best'

This is a simple, super-adaptable activity which you can apply to almost any learning. Simply challenge children to beat their own previous best at completing a task. This works brilliantly in English, for example: Need children to generate vocabulary for a writing task? Give them a stimulus and challenge them, in 2 minutes or less, to write more words (which they personally associate with the stimulus) than they did last time you asked them to do this. Give children a rough note book for games and jottings like these, and they can easily flick back through to see their previous attempt(s).

2. Team Up!

Incorporate team-building into everyday learning and equip your class with essential, life-long social skills.

 

Three happy schoolchildren working together around a laptop.

 

Practical, problem-solving challenges teach young learners a myriad of soft skills that they'll draw upon throughout their lives. Partly because they're not intrinsically associated with particular, traditional school subjects, children feel less like they're 'learning' while tackling problem-solving challenges.

Certain types of activity lend themselves well to team-building: design or engineering challenges are great, and if you're lucky enough to have the space and resources, outdoor learning is brilliant for team-building too. Activities such as constructing model bridges out of art straws or finding natural materials to build a bivouac can bring out the very best in your learners, and give some of them a chance to shine in a very different way than more academic learners might.

Our favourite team-building activity:

'Egg Drop'

Provide small groups with scrap materials and art supplies such as art straws, scissors, glue and old newspaper. The challenge is to design a means of protecting an egg that is dropped from a height – say the top of a fire escape or a 1st-storey window. You'll be amazed at the ingenuity of your teams of learners as they build padded enclosures, roll cages and parachutes to protect their eggs!

3. Less writing, more talking

Explore weighty issues, dilemmas and philosophical questions through structured discussion.

 

One of our top classroom tricks: engage your children with serious discussion.

 

You don't have to resort to fun and games to 'trick' children into learning: opportunities to think, talk and share views about serious issues can result in deep learning, too.

There are many ways in which you can bring serious discussion into your primary classroom, no matter what age range you teach. Giving young learners the opportunity to discuss challenging, controversial or even scary issues can really focus children in a way that 'learning' is the last thing on their minds. It's a safe way to explore difficult ideas, too.

Putting the pens and pencils down, and just talking for a change can produce some terrific evidence of learning for you as a teacher – so even if the children aren't recording their learning, it doesn't mean you shouldn't be! Use a dictaphone to record particularly good statements by children, or quickly jot them down before you forget them.

Our favourite talk activities:

Dilemmas

Write a short scenario for a difficult situation, e.g. Your best friend shows you a toy they have stolen from the newsagent. What do you do? That should be more than enough to prompt fantastic discussion in pairs or threes which can then be fed back to larger groups or the whole class.

Danger, Danger

Show a photo of a potentially hazardous situation, e.g. a busy train platform. Ask children to talk about all the potential hazards they can spot, and how best to mitigate their risks.

4. Make it real

Setting purposeful, real-world activities that have a meaningful impact makes them feel less like learning.

As effective as gamification are more serious activities with real purpose – they disguise learning incredibly effectively, too!

Find an issue that outrages your class. It might be something related to your community or local environment, or a global issue such as child labour or food waste. Challenge your learners to develop a broad understanding of the issue so that they can decide for themselves what they should try to do about it. They might conclude that writing a letter or sending a video message to people in power, or collecting signatures for a petition would be effective actions. Turn your children into effective self-learners and activists for positive change, all at the same time!

Other great real-world activities for 'hidden' learning include fundraising or preparing for a public performance of some kind. Both raise the stakes for children, helping them to focus on working well together to achieve the best possible outcome.

Our favourite 'real-world' activity:

What one thing can we change?

Encourage children not only to direct their own learning by researching an issue that outrages them, but give them a sense of empowerment and achievement by really focusing in on what practical action they can take to change it. Asking children 'what one thing can we change?' about littering, recycling, food waste or child labour will encourage them to direct their activity towards something achievable. Is there any kind of learning experience more powerful than achieving real change?

5. Do it yourself

As we've already covered, self-directed learning doesn't really feel like learning at all.

 

An infant school child works independently, colouring at a desk.

 

Creating a culture of choice and independent learning is, perhaps, one of the trickiest things teachers aim to master. It's counter-intuitive for newer teachers, too: facilitatory teachers can appear to be doing very little! For new teachers, the fear of being seen to be doing little is enough to put them off pupil-led learning. Don't be put off! It has its place, and done well it can engage even the most jaded of learners in your class.

Of course, you'll need to ensure a strong culture of respect and tenacity is already established in your class before you set a self-learning task. We've written more about how to establish a disciplined learning environment here.

For a first try, why not set a self-directed task as the main outcome for a learning topic? This works well at the end of an English topic, as children are likely to already be knowledgeable about the topic and have the vocabulary to express their ideas clearly. Self-directed projects are great for deepening learning, too. Children may decide to produce a short film, make a diorama, write a report or give a presentation. It's up to them!

Our favourite self-directed learning activity:

'Explain it like I'm five'

Challenging children to distill their learning about a topic and present it in a way that anyone can understand is difficult, but also encourages creativity. Learners are certain to choose some interesting ways of showing what they've learned! Just be sure to clarify that you don't want them to 'dumb down' – just express ideas simply and clearly.

So there you have it! These are some of our favourite tricks for learning, not only on April Fools' Day, but every school day! I'll be sharing a few more of my activity ideas on Twitter. Have you got great 'tricky' activity ideas of your own? Let me know! –Oli

 


Oli Ryan

@planbeeoli

Hi! I'm a former primary school teacher, now a writer and resource creator at PlanBee. I write about all things education, but I'm particularly interested in education technology, teacher and pupil wellbeing, and government education policy. Read more


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