The first day of school is full of organizing, paper passing, and expectations. While kids are happy to reconnect with friends, the business of the first day can be draining. That’s why playing a game on the first day is a great way to engage students.
I play Scattergories throughout the year with my class as a review game, but it’s also a great way to start the school year. If your students will work often in cooperative groups this year, beginning the year with a team sport is a good way to begin setting the ground rules for any group activity. Your students play a game and practice classroom procedures at the same time!
Before beginning the game, discuss with your class what good teams look like. Write your list on butcher paper to create your first set of classroom guidelines that you can add to as the year progresses.
Your list may include:
- A good team member– listens and respect ideas, takes a turn being the secretary, stays with the team, is supportive, and is a good sport.
This is also the perfect time for students to practice listening for and responding to whatever your “quiet sign” is – a bell, dimming the lights, a “secret word,” or clapping. Instruct students that when the quiet sign is “activated” it’s time to listen for the next instruction.
This game is best played in pairs or, at most, a group of three. You probably have your favorite way of pairing off students. One easy way is to use a deck of cards (take out half — so you only have two kings, two nines, etc.), pass out the cards, and have students find the students who has the same card.
Students will need a piece of paper and a pencil or pen. Direct students to sit anywhere in the room, but it’s best to sit away from other teams. Stealing is allowed! If a team is talking loud enough for others to hear, another team can steal their word — and prevent them from getting a point. This helps keep the noise level down in the room as well.
How I Play the Game
1. Before class, write down different categories on index cards. At the start of the year, you want easy ones like “Things to do during the summer,” “Ice cream flavors,” “Vacation spots,” “Things to do at the beach,” “Things to do at an amusement park,” “Breakfast cereals.” Create a few challenges too, like “Lakes in our state,” “Adjectives that describe the summer,” “Verbs that you might use to write about someone riding her bike,” “Prepositions,” “Presidents.” You can shuffle the cards up and pick ones – or you can start with the easy cards and then move to the harder ones.
2. If you have the Scattergories “die” you can use that to choose a letter, or you can use a cube from a Boggle game. I have a bag of Scrabble letters that I keep handy (I LOVE Scrabble tournaments with students — but that’s another post!). Pull a letter from the bag and that letter must begin each word on list the students come up with. Set your timer (keep it short!). Depending on the skill level of your class and the category, you may decide to pick a letter (call it a challenge round) or let the students work on the list without any restrictions.
3. When the time is up, each team reads their list. If another team has written the same thing on their list, both teams (or all teams who have written it) need to cross that word off their list. At the end of the round, the team with the most words on their list wins a point.
- It’s tempting to give the teams all the points they’ve earned on their list. You may decide to do this, but the drawback is that a “powerhouse” team might earn eight or ten points on the first round. This makes it difficult for other teams to catch up. If students don’t think they can win, they’ll lose interest and become a distraction.
- You can “reshuffle” your pairs of students after a few rounds. This gives students a chance to play with someone else and move around the room. Students keep their own scores and add to that when they join a new team. So if students are sitting in a circle around the room, the students whose last name is closest to the beginning of the alphabet gets up and moves clockwise around the room to the next group.
- I always tell students that the decision of the judge is final…and I’m the judge. You may decide if an answer is valid or not, or what to do in the case of a tie score.
- Keep the index cards you started for this game. Every time you think of a new category (indefinite pronouns, planets, types of rocks, etc.) grab an index card and add it to your stack. Whenever there are a few minutes of down time, you’ll be ready for a quick game.
- Stop playing while it’s still fun! You want the kids to want to play the game again!
- Prizes? Oh yes. But rather than having a prize box, have the students create a “prize board” like a tic-tac-toe board on the back cover of a spiral. Give students who win any games you play throughout the year a sticker or stamp. Students don’t have to fill up the board to win a prize or privilege. You may decide one day that any student who has one stamp on his or her prize board can go to recess first.
- This is a great game for intermediate and up! Adjust the time level and use of letters to meet the needs of your class.
Have fun on your first day of school!