Decorate the Tree

This is my game of the week in all my classes – a silly game to get them started on the Christmas spirit so we can plan our Christmas party for next week.

To prepare for the game, I took two dozen Christmas ornaments and glued or taped magnets to them. At the beginning of class, I drew two equal-sized Christmas trees on the white board, and prepared two sticky balls (with flashing lights inside, because I like sparkling lights).

To play the game, two students rock-paper-scissors (paper-scissors-stone) – loser asks the winner a review question. Then each student throws the sticky ball at the tree. Wherever on the tree the sticky ball hits, the teacher places an ornament. Once everyone has had a turn, or once one team runs out of ornaments, the game is over and the team with the best-decorated Christmas tree is the winner.

I’ve also got half a dozen variations on the game – if you have a classroom of your own, rather than ten different classrooms like I do, you could use felt trees, a velcro sticky ball, and felt or velcro decorations to make a longer-term display, playing by the same rules. Kids can wander up and move decorations around at will, which might make for chaos or break-time entertainment.

For a review game, teams can take turns throwing balls at the tree while the other team is reading or reciting material. The team with the most ornaments on the tree is the winner, and the losing team sings a Christmas carol as punishment.

For a Christmas party game, one team can sing a Christmas carol while the other team throws sticky balls at the tree. Then the teams switch.

For a ridiculously crazy party game, play hot potato by passing two or three sticky balls while singing along to Christmas carols. Whenever you stop the music, whoever’s holding a ball has to throw it at their team’s tree as fast as possible.

If you don’t want to go to the bother of preparing ornaments, you can draw them on the tree before the game, and have students race to undecorate the tree by erasing every ornament they hit with the sticky ball.

If you have more students than decorations, you can have the students throw left-handed (non-dominant-handed) or roll a dice to determine what silly way to throw (blindfolded, on one leg, over one shoulder, etc.) so as to limit the number of balls that actually hit the tree.

I didn’t do this, but it might be fun to decorate the tree with garlands as well as ornaments – each kid throws twice, and the garland’s two ends go wherever the sticky balls hit.

You can also do this game pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey-style, with kids taking turns being blindfolded, trying to place ornaments on the tree.

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Last Card

This game is good for reviewing old material, or for a quick warm-up at the beginning of class.

Distribute a whole deck of cards among the students so that each student has at least two cards. On the board, draw a target (I prefer it dartboard-shaped) with the card values on it. Students take turns throwing a sticky ball at the target. When they hit a card value (king, for example) any student holding one of those cards has to stand up and answer a review question. They then return that card to the teacher. If the student throwing the ball hits a card value that’s already been returned, the student throwing the ball answers the question instead. The game ends when there’s only one card value left – the four students holding that card are the winners.

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Stop or Keep Going

A quick and simple game for reviewing material and getting kids up out of their seats.

Draw a series of circles on the board, each smaller than the last. Assign a point value to each circle according to its size, and how difficult it would be to hit with a sticky ball. For interesting game play, make sure the line on the floor that the students throw from isn’t too near or far from the board – base the distance on your students’ skill with a sticky ball.

My standard target for Stop or Keep Going.

My standard target for Stop or Keep Going.

To play the game, the teacher asks students a variety of questions, and students answering correctly get to throw the sticky ball. They must hit the targets in order of size, from largest to smallest. After each successful throw, they can decide to stop and keep the score they’ve earned so far, or keep going and try to hit the next target. If they miss, they lose all the points they’ve earned that round!

Students can play as individuals or in teams, depending on class size.

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Spelling Target Practice

Set-up: Draw two rectangles on the whiteboard, of equal size, where the students can easily reach them. Mark a line on the floor about two to three meters (six to ten feet) away from the board.

The targets, with students' vocabulary words spelled inside them.

The targets, with students’ vocabulary words spelled inside them.

Divide the class into two teams. One person from each team comes to the front of the classroom to compete in front of the whiteboard. The teacher calls out a spelling word, and the students race to spell the word correctly by writing it in their team’s rectangle. Then the students run back to the line on the floor, grab a sticky ball, and hit their team’s rectangle with the ball. After hitting the word, they must spell the word aloud and pronounce it correctly to earn a point for their team.

Note: Because this game practices multiple skills (listening, running to the board, writing, throwing a ball, spelling aloud, and pronunciation) it makes the playing field a little more even – chances are every student in the class will struggle with some part of the challenge.

In lower level classes, I recommend writing the vocabulary on the board and going over the correct spelling and pronunciation before starting the game.