I have honed some techniques for introducing new games and puzzles into the elementary classroom. From my previous blog postings (and the video below) you will know that I do NOT recommend teaching the rules at the start, but rather to engage students immediately by getting them – one at a time – to contribute numbers, lines or whatever else is called for.

The technique I will present here is for introducing a new game. Sometimes this is best done teacher versus students with a tongue-in-cheek humour. After about 5 minutes of gradually revealing the rules about 80% of the class might get it and 20% are still learning. I’m going around student after student asking for a contribution. What happens when a student makes an obviously poor move? The other students groan. They will whisper the move that the student should make. This situation has to be dealt with subtlety. You need to rescue the student who is still learning and help them save face. You cannot say something like “Do you want to reconsider?” That is much too blunt. Instead, after a three seconds of student whispers of advice, you stop the rabble: “Only the king/queen should be speaking- it is your decision – not those peons.” Almost always, the king/queen will change their answer and save face so that they can keep learning.

You are relying on student whispers to get the message to the student. This technique will not work in cultures that have students behaving absolutely correctly, but in North America it works like a charm.

For the small fraction of students who continue with a bad move despite the whispers of discontent – I quickly follow up with a bad move of my own and then ask the students in mock horror – “Can I take that back???” Of course they answer that I can’t take it back 😉 This deflects any negative feelings directed at the student who erred.