Games & Challenges for Secondary English Classes

There is no doubt about it: students will learn more when they are intrinsically motivated, when they see a purpose beyond a test and a grade, or when they get a sense of enjoyment out of the activity. One thing that is sure to motivate your students is a sense of fun and play, something that we don't spend enough time on in the secondary classroom. We often see a game as an activity you do when the work is done, as a reward. However, what if we could use fun and games to support and enhance learning instead?

We can. In fact, using games and challenges in the secondary classroom will definitely enhance student learning. Here's why and how:

Challenges offer a low risk way to practice skills

Games and challenges should not just be "fillers;" instead, they should be used to zero in on an important skill you want your students to hone. In a sense, you "trick" them into learning. 

This works because when the students see the activity as "only a game" -- that it's about winning or losing a challenge rather than getting a grade -- they may be more apt to engage and take risks than they are when a grade is at stake. 

So how do you come up with a  challenge or game that does this? First, decide on a skill that your students need to learn or practice. For example, most English students need to work on the art of writing strong thesis statements--something that can be a little dry and boring to the average teenager. However, if you try something like Caitlin Tucker's Thesis Throwdown, complete with motivational music in the background, all of a sudden, creating a strong argument becomes a fun challenge -- and the thesis statements get better. They really do.

When I saw my students struggling with creating their own metaphors, I designed a metaphor challenge to get them to practice. The activity was so successful, we extended it to other forms of figurative language. The kids had lots of fun and became much better at understanding how authors use these devices. They also started using them more often in their own writing. 

2. Games build skills for collaboration & communication

Games and challenges are the perfect way to teach communication skills too. Speaking and listening is an important part of all language arts courses, as is critical thinking. 

There is nothing like giving groups a challenge to get them communicating with each other to solve a problem. Weaker students can also use these opportunities to learn strategies from stronger students, strategies they can use later when they need to do similar problems on their own.

You can turn anything that you want your students to work on into a group challenge. Do they need to practice certain writing skills? Get your students to work on them together with a short group writing competition. Do they need to improve their ability to choose effective quotations to back up their ideas? Challenge groups to find the most quotes to illustrate the development of a major character in a text they are studying. When they're done, you can have a class debate about which ones are most effective. 

You can also use a group challenge to have your students find examples of good writing in the texts they read. Have them use their class text or independent novels to find different types of sentences or an author's use of simile or metaphor. 

Regardless of the task, students will need to not only work on the skill but also discuss each person's choices and come to a consensus about which ones to use. (Try this yourself, by grabbing this Literary Challenge freebie).

3. Create a climate where learning is fun and engaging

The most rewarding part of using games and challenges in your classroom is that your students will begin to see learning as fun. They will be more likely to persist at the task and will feel great satisfaction when they are successful.

Take vocabulary building, for example. Learning new words and parroting back definitions in a traditional assignment isn't that exciting, but if you turn it into a gamethen learning those new words becomes far more interesting. You may even find that students can't wait to get to your class to see what they're going to learn next!

This word choice challenge was one of my favorites because not only did my students love it, I could use it pretty much any time in the school year when I wanted them to review the importance of choosing the best word for the job.

Can English class be all fun and games? Probably not. But, with a little creative thought, you can find ways to build more learning challenges into your lesson plans. Go ahead: I challenge you.

Check out my Games & Challenges Bundle

My friends at the coffee shop also have some creative ways to challenge students. Check them out here:

Presto Plans: Growth Mindset Classroom Challenge

Nouvelle ELA: Harlem Renaissance Escape Room

The SuperHERO Teacher: Board Game for Any Novel

The Daring English Teacher: Test Prep Vocabulary Escape Room


Back to Top