When games go wrong…

We play a lot of games in my classroom. And usually, while we’re playing,  my Little Darlings are engaged and enjoying themselves and acquiring language without realizing it. But sometimes, it doesn’t work out like that. Sometimes they don’t listen to the instructions or sometimes they’re mean to their classmates or sometimes they’re just downright inappropriate. Sometimes my Little Darlings turn into Little Trolls. Let me tell you, it’s not always sunshine and rainbows at The Chase Place.

Just last week, for example, we were playing Quick Draw, one of my favorite reading/ drawing games when one of my Freshman decided that rather than demonstrating his reading comprehension, he would illustrate a gigantic, embellished you-know-what on his mini whiteboard. Not cool, man! 

Or this week, for example: I was really excited to play The Lucky Reading Game with my Spanish 1s for the first time. They. just. could. not. follow. instructions. I need you to stop talking. Nope. We need to move quickly between rounds, as soon as your team member draws his card, you need to move into the empty seat. Disregard. I should see everyone in the audience highlighting the correct answer on the story. Surely, she is not talking to us.

When games go wrong, it’s time to pull the plug!

The awesome thing about how we teach is that there are so many ways to load up our Little Darlings with Comprehensible Input! There are fun ways and there are boring ways and a zillion ways in between. I tend to lean more to the fun side of the spectrum, as long as everyone is cooperative and playing nicely.

But as soon as I see a naughty picture scrawled on a whiteboard or have to remind them nicely a 3rd time of my behavior expectations, the game is over and we pendulum over to the boring side of the spectrum. Every single awesome CI game can easily be turned into a boring, silent input activity.  When Quick Draw wasn’t working, I stopped the game, everyone took out a piece of paper and we did a quiz. I selected five sentences  projected on the screen, students translated them into English while I read them in Spanish, then turned them in on their way out of the classroom.  When  The Lucky Reading Game came to a screeching halt, they took out a paper and answered the questions I had prepared, referring to the story in front of them, and turned it in at the end of class.  Or if you can’t figure out how to turn the game into something-not-fun-at-all, you’ve always got the Silver Bullet of Classroom Management: El Dictado. 

(Oh, and coincidentally, whenever our fun game turns into a not-fun-at-all activity-or-quiz, it seems to always run past the bell. Strange how that always happens.)

Warning: If you don’t pull the plug, if you keep reminding them what they’re supposed to be doing, if you keep tolerating their naughty antics, your games won’t be filling them up with more CI. They’ll turn into a sneaky way that students call the shots, run the class and steal your time.  Be strong! Fight Back! Don’t be afraid to pull the plug!

3 strikes and you’re out!

Sometimes, something  real bad happens during a game, a nasty comment or a dirty picture, and the game ends immediately.  But other times it’s more subtle…the volume gets too loud or there is more socializing than acquiring happening or they are having too much fun to remember the rules.  For times like these, I love the 3 strikes rule, that I learned from my Lead Teacher when I was student teaching, back at the dawn of time.

When they’re getting too loud, or when you’re having to repeat instructions or they’re just not listening, give them a tally on the board. Explain that you’d really love to play this game with them, but every time you’ve got to stop the game (for volume or behavior or whatever) they’ll get another tally. If they get 3 tally marks, the game will stop and we’ll have to switch to a more focused (and not any fun!) activity.

The beauty of this system, is that after the initial tally, generally all you have to do is reach in the direction of the whiteboard marker and they quiet each other down. Sneaky, right? But if you get to 3 strikes, you’ve got to pull the plug!!!

Lesson Learned:

It’s important to pull the plug when the game isn’t working. But it’s equally important to talk about what happened. I generally wait until the following class (usually because I’m so irritated with their behavior I need a chance to cool down) and plan the same game again. Before we begin, I say something like,

When we tried this game last class, it didn’t go so well. You had a hard time staying on task/drawing appropriate pictures/following directions/whatever, so we had to change gears. I think you’ll have fun with this game and I’d like to try it again. For this game to work, I’m going to need you to…(and be really specific about what students should do and not do during the game).  Let’s see if we can make it work today, but if we can’t, I have something else planned, just in case.

For some classes, pulling the plug, trying again the following day and redemption is all that’s needed to get them to play nicely, remind them that you’re the boss and live happily ever after. For other classes, that have shown you they can’t handle it, even with interventions, even when you switch gears, even when you give them the shot to try again, you might have to adjust your plans. Maybe you play Pop Up in all your other classes, but do a listening quiz with that one class that just can’t pull it together. We’ve all had those classes…

Gosh, I’ve been writing a lot about Classroom Management lately. It must be that time of year when the kiddos are over it and the teachers are desperate for a break! Hang in there, dear friends!

¡Feliz Navidad!




  1. I know exactly what you mean. This past Friday was a full moon and one week before our winter break. Talk about shortening the reins! But I, like you, do not allow the small stuff to happen because it tends to snowball. One of my strategies is tell them that if the behavior (interruptions, conversations, fooling around, etc.) does not stop, we will begin the class from the beginning. I’ve done it with almost all of my classes. They know I mean it. When it happens, I ask them to file out of the classroom. Once outside I greet them as if they just arrived, and I project the bellwork again, ask them to get their notebooks and begin from the start. Their jaws drop when they understand that beginning the class from the start means just that!
    It usually stops the behavior. I tell them that what we were having was not a class, but seemed rather recess, and that in order to learn, we need to start our engines again.
    Thanks so much for all your posts. I can relate so well to your experiences! Plus you have a great way with words and reading your posts is fun.
    Take care!


    • What a great strategy!! I’m going to tuck that away for when I need to pull out the big guns! Thank you!! Thanks for reading… writing the posts is fun too!


  2. This is my first year going full CI and Im so worried about doing it right that I am TERRIFIED of playing games. I always used to play games when I was traditional. It also might have to do with the fact that I have a class of 4 and doing anything with them is hard- even gimkits. Im hoping to dip my foot into games after the holidays.


  3. You are amazing! With almost 30 years of teaching experience I can tell that you have the tricks and the experience to make it work! Not to mention that I know you and have seen your passion as you teach! Congratulations on all that you do in the classroom for those kiddoes!


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