“Where is “U”?, she asked. “’I’ is here.” I responded. She scrunched up her face at me, refusing to giggle at my pun, as my classroom assistant and I roared with laughter. The whole class was upbeat when we used games. We loved differentiation with Christmas games and activities. 🎄
Why use games in the classroom? Differentiated math games are an effective tool for learning and reviewing concepts. They also support classroom community building, and provide an opportunity for students to practice multiple SEL skills.
What’s not to like?🤩
However, first I want to establish the basics of define differentiation in math, which follows the same basics as differentiation in the classroom.
According to Carol Tomlinson there are four main pillars of differentiation:
- Content – Multiple entry points to the material for students.
- Process – Multiple ways for students to access the content (ie. videos, tactiles, movement, etc,)
- Product – Multiple options for students to demonstrate their understanding.
- Learning environment – A classroom where students feel safe and comfortable in order to learn.
Games meet these criteria in multiple ways. Let’s take a look.
Content: Using games to incorporate differentiate content in the classroom
Differentiation with Christmas games and activities for content is the same as at any other time of the year.
Many games can become differentiated math games by allowing students different dice to create differentiation of numbers. For example, allowing students to choose either a 6-sided, 10-sided, 18-sided or multiple dice will change the entry level for the game or activity.
If you are warming up by practising math facts, or playing games, the content may be differentiated by having students playing the same games using different strategies.
To have all students working on the same math activity or game, creating differentiated math games requires you to have ways to incorporate different levels of challenge within the game.
Examples of differentiated math games.
For example, one of the differentiated math games that I have created the most of is Write the Room. With each set of task cards come worksheets with 3 different levels of differentiation math questions:
- Number bonds
- A supportive equation bank which is similar to a word bank but using number sentences.
- A more typical worksheet that is just a blank grid.
Additionally, each of these worksheets comes with or without a number line to allow for students who still need support with math fact automaticity, and without for those who are ready to go it alone. 😊
Each of these differentiated math games is a part of a bundle of 6 Write the Room games for that math strategy. Three of the differentiated math games are for different unknown number spots in equations, and three of the differentiated math games are for different unknown number spots using number bonds.
When you combine the 3 different levels of worksheets within the 6 different resources, it is possible to differentiate that math strategy a minimum of 18 times.
Or, are there 36 ways to differentiate practicing that math fact strategy when you factor in that each worksheet also has an option with a number line or without a numberline?
And all of that differentiation is just for the pillar of Content. 😍
Process: Differentiation with Christmas games and activities for learning style.
To examine “Process” let’s break it down by processing style.
Auditory learners: connecting their learning style to differentiation with games.
The social nature of many games, such as board games or card games, provide the discussion that supports many students.
During games, students who are auditory learners remember and understand new concepts better because they are shared out loud—even if they’re doing the speaking themselves.
Kinesthetic and tactile learners and how games meet their differentiation needs:
Write the Room games are a favourite differentiated math game of mine, because they do get students up and moving which has a number of benefits.
As students move the drive more oxygen to the brain which is also why I always started the school day by walking laps with my students. As a teacher I believe it is the first step in differentiation in the classroom.
The brain can function more effectively with increased oxygenation, which has a positive affect upon the student’s cognitive development and comprehension skills.
Movement while learning new materials stimulates areas of the brain that help kinesthetic learners comprehend and retain information more effectively.
Also, when we think we need to change the level of challenge within the content, we may just need to adjust how the student is supported in applying the content.
Even with games we can support the student with things like cuisenaire rods and rekenreks. These manipulatives support a more tactile learning style for the game.
Visual learners and differentiation with Christmas games and activities
Board games are automatically differentiated math games because visual learners benefit from the illustrated elements of board and card games. The game provides them with the opportunity to “watch” their learning. As they see cards go down, or game pieces be moved they can connect that to their learning.
They can also connect the images they see to the words or concepts they are learning.
Students can use their visual strengths when playing board games. They are able to analyze a situation, compare options, and determine a result
Depending upon the games, students may be able to visualize spatial relationships and compare options for movement of pieces using visual-spatial memory.
These opportunities often places children with these strengths at an advantage.
Product: Product Differentiation with Christmas games and activities
Once again I will break this down by learning styles.
As mentioned above students who are auditory learners remember and understand new concepts better because they are shared out loud.
Interestingly, many math games are differentiated math games simply because while students playing the game they are orally sharing their understanding of the content or strategy.
Something as simple as the movement involved in placing and moving cards in games such as War or Concentration can how to differentiation in math through movement.
However, one of the reasons that I am such a fan of Write the Room activities is that they are by their nature a differentiated math games because they provide the movement that allows kinesthetic students to process, and then they are more able to provide their understanding in a written format.
The ability to demonstrate their learning with worksheets makes any game that includes worksheets a differentiated math game for visual learners.
Although I would never recommend a curriculum that is based upon worksheets, even really cute worksheets, written work really does math game differentiation for the visual learner.
Learning Environment: Differentiation with Christmas games and activities and the learning environment
There are oh, so many variables to a learning environment. I will indicate just a few that show how games impact the learning environment.
It might be that the biggest impact of differentiated math games is, quite possibly, on the learning environment. And one of the biggest ways that games impact the learning environment is through SEL.
Social Emotional Learning:
- social awareness
- relationship skills
- responsible decision-making
These attributes work together to create cooperation between the students, because to be successful in a game requires cooperation from the children.
Through this cooperation children learn to take other perspectives into account.
As children learn to understand each other, their social interactions can gradually grow from being to becoming cooperative.
Differentiation with Christmas games and activities changes the learning environment in all of these ways, which make the classroom a safer place to learn.
Differentiating with games and activities can include individual, small group or whole group activities.
Depending upon how you have your classroom set up, differentiated math games can allow for student choice.
With the right differentiated math games, students can be free to choose:
- the game (ie. board game, Write the Room, digital game etc.)
- the challenge within the game (which math strategy, which dice, or, when using resources such as the ones I have shown you, which worksheet to accompany the game)
- a game with or without written output (ie. digital game, card game)
- or the type of written output (drawing pictures, differentiated worksheets accompanying the game or activity,)
Incorporating Student Interests:
As we incorporate student interests through differentiation with Christmas games and activities we create engagement and we show the students we “see” them.
Kids love play. They want to play. Kids are meant to play. 🤾
Play based learning is social, fun and it incorporates their interests which impacts the learning environment.
Although there are other attributes of a learning environment, these are some of the attributes impacted by differentiated math games.
The benefits of game playing beyond differentiation with Christmas games and activities
Gone are the days of rote learning. Games provide a context for engaging practice.
I remember standing beside my desk to repeat the times tables, out loud, with my class, every day until we had them.
Differentiated math games provide a similar opportunity for repetitive practice, but in an engaging way that supports their ability to remember the concept being taught.
This creates positive memories of and sentiments towards learning which can carry over to other parts of classroom learning.
But why differentiation with Christmas games and activities?
Incorporating student interests is another aspect of differentiation, and differentiation with Christmas games and activities is tough to beat as far as incorporating their interests go.
I loved to dive full tilt into celebrating the season with my kiddos. However, the challenge of that is it can also raise the excitement and energy levels and lead students to become dysregulated.
I used differentiated math games and activities all year round, and so my students had already developed an understanding of appropriate behaviour by the time I pulled out my Christmas games and activities.
Because I was, quite literally, incorporating games and differentiation into the curriculum from day one, my students were well aware of and well practiced in matching their behaviour to classroom expectations.
By the time I was incorporating Christmas games and activities they were well practiced and on task. I was able to engage student interests in way that met them where their hearts and minds were at.
We didn’t lose any learning time.
The students were super engaged so I avoided much of the dysregulated behaviour.
I was able to really stand back and enjoy that time with my students..
Other influences that make differentiation with Christmas games and activities a fantastic idea
The amount of time we have to teach is not enough time to teach all that is expected of us. Much as I love Christmas, I was not about to lose that time to cute but meaningless activities.
In my school there was a school wide concert for parents and others from the community. Our music teacher taught each class their own songs for the concert, and then he also combined all of the students for a few whole school songs.
This concert was the highlight of the season for many, and we practiced a lot.
Oftentimes the expectation was that we were not certain exactly when our class would be called, but we had to be ready to leave the room at a moment’s notice.
Obviously this meant that this was not an ideal time for lessons that I didn’t want to have interrupted.
We did not just do differentiated math games during these times, of course.
But math, spelling, and writing games were a large part of what we did during those times.
They had been practicing skills when they were playing the game, regardless of whether or not they finished. So, I wasn’t concerned if they were in the middle of a game, and could not get back to finish it.
Dipping your toe into differentiation with Christmas games and activities
If you haven’t been playing differentiated math games in your classroom, it is not too late. You may not have been practicing self-regulation since day one, but there is no time like the present.
The Christmas season or Winter season, before the break, is still such a time of excitement for the students.
Regardless of family and cultural beliefs and celebrations, our environment is saturated with Christmas.
Games are a great way to use this time in a way that will support your classroom management. Include differentiation with Christmas games and activities, and your students will continue to learn and grow.
If you have a favourite game or activity that you like to share with your class at Christmas, please share it in the comments below.