Play as Learning

Saifer (2010) delineates the benefits of play for development and higher order thinking for all ages. How might you use play in your classroom to enhance student learning? Provide several examples or one detailed example.


I feel extremely fortunate to have been placed with a coop teacher this year who makes meaningful play an ongoing and important part of his Social Studies and History classes. I think History classes are often assumed to be dull, primarily because the teaching is often lecture based and involves taking notes, answering questions, and writing an exam. My coop teacher, however, prefers to take alternative approaches to instruction and assessment, and the activities in his classes are extremely engaging.

One of my favorite examples of using play as learning opportunity comes from his grade 9 social studies class. They were learning about the development of civilizations and had learned about a pyramid for civilizations that you can look at by clicking on this link: P of C. To help them understand the order in which the elements of civilization came together (for instance, the reasons that domestication of plants and animals had to happen before political organizations took shape) the class divided into groups to spend two days playing the board game Settlers of Catan.

Settlers of Catan board For those who are not familiar with the game, players are given the game board of an unsettled area of land and their goal is essentially to become the most successful settler by collecting things like resources (e.g. brick, wool, grain, lumbers, and ore) as well as by building things like armies, libraries, churches, and universities. By playing this game, students not only learned about important considerations when faced with building a civilization and what is needed in order to accomplish this, but they also had a great time making these realizations. It helped cement the pyramid of civilization in their minds in a way that simply copying it down and having it explained to them could not. After playing the game, the students were asked to fill out a reflection to demonstrate what they learned from playing the game.

This is only one example of a game being used in one of my coop teacher’s classes to develop understanding. We also used a lot of simulations to learn about things like cultural awareness, Canadian unification, imperialism, and systems of government. All of these games and simulations engaged both us as teachers and the students, provided us with opportunities to interact with and get to know students, and allowed us to bring content to life. I am determined to make play a part of my future classes as I have seen the benefits of it first-hand.



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