Learning by Playing

Learning by Playing

Our youngest child (now in his 30s) is a sports nut. He played baseball from the age of 5. In middle and high school, he added football. And he learned a lot from playing these sports. You can probably guess some of what he learned—how to play the games, how to play as a member of a team, why to listen to coaches, and so forth. I asked him what “life lessons” playing baseball and football had taught him.  Here’s what he said:  “I think, for me, sports are more directly correlated to structure/understanding of how parts form together (or don't) to produce a result.”

Nancy Padak cooking with granddaughter

So, do we learn by playing? YES! Can we learn by playing in the classroom?  YES!! Having fun and playing is motivating; students will pay closer attention for longer periods of time. This, of course, increases the likelihood that they will learn.

My colleagues and I have been developing vocabulary programs and activities for the past several years (e.g., Building Vocabulary from Word Roots; Rasinski, Padak, R. Newton, & E. Newton; Teacher Created Materials). Our goal is to create interesting, fun-filled, thought-provoking  opportunities for word learning.  Here are a few word-learning games from this series you can easily play them with your students:

•    20 Questions:  If you have a word wall in your classroom, you and your students can play this familiar game. You say, “I’m thinking of a word…,” and students can ask up to 20 “yes/no” questions to figure it out.
•    Sketch to Stretch: Provide words written on slips of paper. Distribute these to students.  Ask them to sketch something that reveals the word meaning. Then they share these with others who try to guess the words.
•    Word War: Provide words written on cards, and then play the card game War with the students. Each player turns up a card. The person whose card a) comes first in alphabetical order, b) has more letters, or c) has more syllables, wins the round, as long as s/he can say both words and their meanings. If the words are similar, players draw again and the same rules apply. The player who wins this “war” takes all the played cards. A player who gets all the cards in the deck wins the game.
•    Concentration: Make double sets of word cards (or put the word and its definition on separate cards). Put all cards face down on a table. Players take turns trying to make matches. The player with the most cards wins the game.
•    Word Charades: Put words on slips of paper. Put the slips of paper in a container. Students divide themselves into two teams. In turn, one member of a team selects a word and acts it out. The rest of the team guesses the word. Then the other team takes a turn. You can keep track of times for solutions if you want to declare a winning team.

You and your students will have fun playing these quick games. Moreover, your students will have multiple opportunities to learn new words.


Author bio

Nancy Padak, Ed.D.

Nancy Padak, Ed.D., Professor

Nancy Padak, Ed.D., Distinguished Professor, Emerita, Kent State University, is the Principal Investigator for the Ohio Literacy Resource Center and directs the Reading and Writing Center at Kent State. She has served as editor of The Reading Teacher and the Journal of Literacy Research.