Co-operative games and activities for elementary & JH ages?

There is no doubt that competitive games can be useful in teaching. Even the old sticky ball has its place. The element of competition can give motivation. I often use a global team points system as well. Peer pressure is good for maintaining discipline.

But some of my most effective lessons have been when I’ve left out the element of competition and exclusively done more co-operative activities. A few off the top of my head are TPR-style activities, surveys, discussions and short skits. I think the reason that these lessons are effective is that the students are less stressed, they feel more confident and real language learning and use takes place. This is particularly important with students over 10 years old, as increased pressure from parents, teachers and peers seems to eat away at their confidence and spontaneity.

I want to de-emphasize competition and encourage co-operation and mutual encouragement among students in my classes. Not get rid of competitive games altogether, but certainly avoid the prevailing notion that one must win, and that if one does not then one is a loser. So much of educational culture here seems to reflect that notion. I’m not kidding myself that I can change the culture, but I’d like to create an even more relaxed, supportive and constructive space within my class time at least. Fun yes, but not a relentless scrambling to the top of the heap.

Can anyone suggest other activities and games that go well with what I’m trying to achieve? All suggestions gratefully recieved.

What I do for chain activities is draw a bunch of stick figures on the board. The students pass around a small ball. Whenever a student makes a mistake or drops the ball a man dies. This requires sound effects to be truly enjoyable. Don’t play it too much or the objective changes to kill the stick figures.

Draw a stick figure with balloons above a monster or shark. It is you. The students take a hammer and pop a balloon. The stick figure is you. It needs sound effect once again. This works best with young students.

A variant of the sticky ball game is to draw your own face on the board. This works really well if body parts have recently been taught. Sound effects rules and ham acting often rule out competition although I like to assign points for various body parts.

Team leader (the best speaker) sits at a desk with pen and paper.

The team wander around the school looking for pieces of paper that you have stuck in obvious places. No need for hiding places, although you could complicate matters by giving them directions too.

Each piece of paper has a phrase or sentence written on it.

The team has to memorise the sentence and speak/spell it to the team leader, who then writes it down. If you’ve pitched it at the right level, and got the teams well organised, then they’ll be helping each other to speak english. They really seem to enjoy this one and get very excited.

Another refinement is to have the sentences make a story, but they’re all jumbled up. The team writes the sentences onto strips of paper, and then organises them to make sense of the story. I like to make them stick the pieces together, making a long streamer telling a story which they can hang from the lights.

Works great at JH level.