35 Quick Games to Play in the Classroom: Amp Up the Fun Factor!
We’ve all been there – bogged down in all the “drill and kill” of life as a public school teacher. Sometimes, you just need to mix things up a bit, lighten the mood, or take a moment to bond with your kids.
These quick games to play in the classroom should be just the ticket, whether you’re looking to get them moving, have some collaborative time, or review a recent concept with some tough competition.
Games are a fun way to reteach tricky concepts and review ideas that are best learned by rote memorization. They’re also important for building classroom community, and it’s okay if some of your games have no purpose other than having a moment of fun.
Below, I’ve gathered up quick games to play in the classroom, and I’ve also divided them up so you can easily spot what you’re trying to find.
Educational and Concept Refinement Games
The quick games below are great for reinforcing recent learning and reviewing before a test. They also work great if you have rote memorization tasks that just need lots of repetition.
Some of these games could be changed to support the memorization of math facts (if that’s a thing you still do), or learn spelling words.
1. Triple Play
- Give every kid a piece of paper and pencil.
- Put kids into groups of three, and assign each group a concept.
- One kid in the group writes the word or concept, a second student writes an example of the concept, and a third draws a picture.
- Every kid wads up their work and throws it across the room.
- Put on some music and have the kids remain with their teams of three. Let them begin opening up the paper wads.
- The first team who can match a set of three: concept, example, and picture (obviously not their own) wins!
2. Tricky Word Slap Jack
- Have kids write their tricky word spellings on index cards in nice, big handwriting.
- Have kids shuffle their deck of tricky words.
- Partner readers up together based on current reading level so the competition will be fair.
- Designate one tricky word to be the “jack.” In the original card game, the Jack is the card that always gets slapped.
- Each partner brings their deck of spelling words and holds them face down in their hand.
- Partners flip over a card in unison, reading the words together.
- If either partner reveals the “jack,” they should race to slap it, and see whose hand ends up on bottom.
- Whoever’s hand is on bottom gets to take all the cards. They designate a new “jack.”
- The goal is to end up with all the cards in the deck.
3. Around the World
- Seat all students in their desk and choose one student to go first.
- That student stands next to the friend nearest them.
- The clue is given by the teacher.
- Whoever responds correctly first gets to advance to the next person, while the losing student takes a seat in the vacated spot.
- Play continues “around the world” until time runs out.
4. Bananagrams Spelling Race Center/Station Activity
- Use a set of Bananagrams or the board game Scrabble as a center activity to play within a set amount of time.
- Tell kids that every word they generate should have the spelling pattern of the week in it. For example “ou” or “ow” or “ee.”\
- Allow students to compete against each other or work collaboratively to form the most impressive words featuring the spelling pattern you’re teaching currently.
5. Beach Ball Analysis
- Blow up a beach ball, and use a Sharpie to write discussion questions about your current text. Examples: Describe the protagonist in 3 words, describe the setting, tell about the problem or solution to the story, etc. Try to write about 8 good questions on the ball.
- Put students in a circle, and have them toss a ball until you freeze the music that’s playing.
- Whomever has the ball when the music stops should look at the question closest to their right thumb.
- They read the question aloud and attempt to answer it. If they’re correct, they continue playing. If they’re incorrect, they can sit out. Alternatively, let everyone continue playing and just enjoy a different method of questioning.
- Consider preparing two beach balls and divide students into two circles to give more students the opportunity to play.
- Deflate the beach balls for smart storage.
6. Musical Mix Freeze
- Put on some super fun music, and instruct kids to move around the room freely – here’s the “musical mix” part.
- When the music stops, kids freeze, and identify the person closest to them. This person will be their partner.
- The teacher asks a higher-order thinking question, and the partners try to answer it. When they have an answer ready, they take a seat on the floor wherever they are standing, or begin doing jumping jacks if you need them to burn energy.
- Call on students pairs to check for understanding.
- Play the music again and repeat the process with a new question.
7. Vocabulary Headbanz
- Purchase the game Headbanz. You may need 3 sets if you want every kid to play all at once, or you can use it in centers and just buy one game.
- Create concept cards that will tuck into each headband and replace the cards that come with the game.
- Follow the rules of the game included, but with homemade cards.
- Game instructions are included, but basically, kids put on a headband with a concept of your choosing, and they ask each other questions to figure out what word or concept they’re wearing.
8. Take a Stand
- Randomly assign kids to 4 corners of the room: A, B, C, and D.
- Give each group the same test question, and they have to say whether the corresponding answer choice for their corner is right or wrong. For example, all the kids in the A corner have to solve the problem and then explain to the rest of the class why A is either the correct or incorrect answer choice.
- Let all 4 groups give their answers and reasoning.
- If a group has weak logic or chooses the wrong answer, the entire group is out. Reshuffle the kids into 4 corners again for the next test question.
9. True or False Elimination Game
- Divide the room into two sides: true and false.
- Make a statement, and have kids move to the wall of their choosing.
- Every student who chooses incorrectly will be “out.”
- Play continues until only 1 student remains.
10. Sight Word SmartBoard Speed Game
- Divide the class in half and try to make sure the teams are fairly balanced.
- To avoid embarrassment, match opponents who are similarly capable. In other words, partner A from Team 1 should be about the same ability level as Partner A from Team 2, since they’ll be racing against each other to come up with the correct answer.
- Have them form two lines in front of the Smart Board.
- Give the students at the front of the lines – those who are currently in the hot seat – each a SmartBoard pen and ask the question.
- The first person to record the correct answer for their team earns a point.
- The first team to get a certain number of points wins the game, or just end it when the timer goes off.
11. Twenty Questions
- Choose a content-area word or concept, and whisper it to your student “answerer,” who will stand at the front of the room. It’s important to choose an answerer who knows the content well enough to answer 20 yes or no questions about it.
- The answerer gets to call on individual students to ask yes or no questions.
- If any student can identify the concept before twenty questions are asked, he or she is the winner and gets to be the new answerer.
- This is very similar to Headbanz or Who Am I, but it’s a great option for low-budget and low-prep situations.
- Gather older kids in front of the Smartboard or document camera.
- Give each student some monopoly money and reserve some for the casino or “pot.”
- Showcase an incorrect math problem, sentence, paragraph, or anything else with a single error.
- Set a timer to give students time to silently think.
- Call on a student to give their answer and place their bet.
- If they are correct, they receive the amount of money they bet from the pot, and if wrong, they give up that same amount of money.
- Continue play until you run out of time, then the winner is whoever has the most money. This supports math skills.
13. Who Am I/What Am I?
- Prepare index cards or half sheets of paper with concepts, characters, vocabulary words, historical figures, or whatever else you want to choose.
- Tape one to each student’s back without them seeing the card.
- Put on some fun music and let kids mingle.
- Each person can ask yes or no questions about who or what is on their back (much like 20 questions), and their partner answers the questions.
- You can give prizes to the first five students who come to you having guessed the word on their back.
14. Ball Toss Boogie
- Put students in a circle and have any kind of soft ball or beach ball on hand.
- Ask a question like “What’s one thing we learned today about ___________?”
- Toss the ball to a student so they can answer.
- That student then tosses to another and each student answers the question when they catch the ball.
- The ball continues being tossed around the circle until you need to ask another question.
- Play ends when the timer runs out or when every student has had a chance to answer.
15. Hilarious Haiku Race
- Quickly teach a mini lesson on how to write a haiku. Haikus are easy and fast to teach as long as students understand syllabication. Here’s a quick reminder of the Haiku format.
- Tell students they can write a haiku about anything they like, or restrict it to whatever you’re currently learning.
- Set a timer and leave time at the end for sharing.
- Students vote on the funniest/silliest haiku and the winner earns a prize.
16. Concept Bingo
- Prep your Bingo boards with your concepts or vocabulary words in advance. Here’s a handy website that you can use to quickly generate Bingo cards.
- Gather up some counters. Pennies work just fine, or counters for math. If you prefer, you can buy bulk Bingo chips on Amazon.
- Prepare a clue to match each word on your Bingo board.
- Remind kids that Bingos are achieved when they get 5 clues in any one direction: up, down or diagonal.
- Throughout the day, give out a few clues at a time and let kids leave their Bingo boards out. Or, knock the whole game out in one sitting.
Just for Fun Games
These quick games to play in the classroom are just for fun. Some are collaborative, team-building games while others will bring out your kids’ competitive sides.
17. Hot Potato
- Little students sit in a circle, and the teacher provides a bean bag or small toy to pass around.
- Music plays, the “hot potato” goes around the circle, and kids are out if they drop it.
- When the music stops, whoever is holding the “hot potato” is out.
- Play continues until there’s only one student remaining.
- If you have two adults in the room, form two circles to speed up play.
18. Human Knot
- This game works best for older elementary students who can communicate and problem solve together. Younger students might also be tempted to push and pull. For more elaborate instructions, see here.
- Students stand in a circle facing inward.
- Each student reaches out to hold hands with two different people in the circle, but not the two people on either side of him or her.
- This forms a “human knot.” Now, students must try to untangle themselves without ever letting go of their hands.
- Consider forming two knots in the lower grades because the more students you have, the more complicated the knots become.
19. Movement Memory
- Form a circle of students.
- The first student does a hand or body motion.
- The second student does a second hand or body motion, but must add the previous player’s motion, too.
- With each new motion added as play goes around the circle, each player must complete all previous hand or body motions in the correct order.
20. Hot or Cold
- Have one student (the seeker) hide their eyes or face away from the room.
- Hide an object in the classroom and let all other students watch.
- As the seeker hunts for the missing item, students tell the seeker whether they are “hot” or “cold” depending on how close they get to the item.
21. The Cup Game
- This circle clapping game works best with older students, as the motions are pretty complicated.
- Begin by passing out a solo cup to every student.
- Show them a tutorial video on Youtube. Here’s one with a little girl from PBS Kids. I might introduce it with this video so they can see how it’s fun to play with two people. Here’s a music video of a whole restaurant playing the Cup Game and Anna Kendrick singing the Cup song. PS: There’s mention of whiskey in the song, so use your best judgement. No matter how you choose to introduce it, be sure to show them this slower-going tutorial. You may need to play it several times while students practice independently.
- As students feel confident, let them form circles around the edge of the room and begin practicing together while the others continue to master the motions. This allows the whole class to stay engaged in the activity.
- Note: this game can be played without moving cups, and the fun it made by just staying in unison. However, it’s often played in a circle group, where each cup travels around the circle. At the end of the sequence, each person just sets their cup down in front of the person to their right without ever breaking rhythm.
22. Randomized 4 Corners
- Divide students into four labeled corners. You can call your corners A, B, C, and D, or by color. Whatever you choose is fine, but tape a sign to each corner so kids can easily see which corner they’re at.
- Choose a student to call random corners from the center of the room. This person should be blindfolded.
- Each kid scrambles to speed walk to a corner by random choice. Give them 10 seconds to move.
- The student in the middle calls out a random corner. Every student in that corner is out.
- Students have another 10 seconds to either relocate or stay put.
- Play continues with students being eliminated until there’s a last man standing. This person wins and gets a silly prize, and then gets to stand in the middle.
23. 100 Cup STEM Challenge
- Bring 200 solo cups to school, and divide your class into two groups.
- Challenge the class to see who can build the taller tower with 100 cups.
- The winning team members can earn a special privilege.
- Smaller groups are better, so feel free to buy even more cups and create more teams.
24. Category Elimination
- Give students a category of any kind: animals, plants, things to pack for a beach vacation, etc.
- Have students go around a circle and quickly name something from the category.
- When a student can’t quickly name something, they’re “out” and play continues.
- Feel free to change the category at any time.
- To keep “out” students from being too bored, announce a second category to those kids and let them form their own circle.
25. Hello, Teacher
- Choose a student to stand at the front of the room with his or her back to the class.
- Point to one student from the class and have them say “Hello teacher!”
- If the student at the front of the class guesses incorrectly who said “Hello teacher,” they switch spots with the speaker.
- With younger students, consider having a “no silly voices” rule so that it’s not too difficult.
26. Magic Mess
- Silently spot two messes or pieces of trash in your room. If your students know your cleanliness expectations, this could be anything from a stray pencil on the floor to a wrinkle in your rug or even a stack of books that have fallen down.
- Tell students that it’s time to play Magic Mess, and let them know the rules if you’ve never played before.
- While students clean, stay focused on the two messes you found at the start of the game.
- Whoever cleans or tidies those two messes is the winner of Magic Mess and gets a Dojo point, coupon, or other small prize. (PS – I’ve got a super helpful post if you need help making Class Dojo classroom management work better for you).
- Play daily to keep your room looking gorgeous.
27. Hula Loop
- Form a large circle with the entire class and keep the circle broken in one spot.
- Put a hoola hoop on one student’s arm, and then close the circle.
- Students race to see how quickly they can get the entire hula hoop around the circle without breaking hands.
- This game can be collaborative and they can work to beat their best time, or with two hula hoops and two circles, they can compete against each other.
28. Seasonal Would You Rather Games
- Choose a set of Would You Rather games from my collection. These are available in the form of a free PDF or Google Slides for a small fee. Here are the slides you can purchase: Back to School, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Winter Break, Valentine’s Day, Summer Break.
- Either call out the Would You Rather questions without a visual cue, or use the Google slides to announce the two choices.
- As you state your choices, point to a side of the room. Kids who prefer one option stand on one wall, and the students who would rather the second option stand on the opposite wall.
- Allow plenty of opportunity for chatter and discussion.
29. Heads Down, Thumbs Up
- Choose 7 students to stand at the front of the room while other kids remain in their desks.
- Students at their desks should put their heads down and close their eyes, and put their thumb up on the desk.
- Your 7 volunteers circulate the room, and each one pushes down only one thumb from students at their desk.
- Once all 7 students have returned to the front of the room, everyone gets to look up.
- The students whose thumbs were pushed down now take turns guessing who tapped their thumb.
- If they’re incorrect, they remain seated, but if they guess right, they swap spots with their thumb-tapper.
30. Mini Whiteboard HangMan
- Use this helpful video to teach kids how to play HangMan.
- Put students in pairs. Give them either a whiteboard and Expo marker or a sheet of paper and pencil.
- Let them play each other until your time runs out.
- I would add one rule to the typical HangMan rules: if the person who makes the puzzle misspells the word when drawing out their blanks, they automatically lose that round. You can’t guess a puzzle that’s spelled wrong, after all!
31. Secret Student
- First, select a “secret student” and don’t tell your kids who you’re watching as they complete any activity or transition.
- State your expectations of what good behavior looks like for the activity or transition.
- Secretly watch your “secret student” to see if they meet behavior expectations.
- If so, celebrate and announce their name at the end and give a small prize, Dojo point, or other reward.
- If they don’t meet your expectations, express disappointment to the class without naming a name. You can explain what went wrong, though if it helps to correct behaviors in the future.
32.The Classic Game of Telephone
- Sit in a circle with your students, and whisper a word or phrase into the ear of the child sitting next to you. You aren’t allowed to repeat yourself.
- That student whispers the phrase to the next student, and the word or phrase travels around the circle.
- At the end, the student on the other side of you will announce to the class what word or phrase he or she heard, and laughter will likely follow. The word or phrase almost never remains unchanged and can sometimes be quite silly.
33. Blind Artist
- Students are seated with their backs to one another.
- One student is the describer and the other is the “blind artist.” The blind artist is given a clipboard, blank paper and pencil. The describer is given a printed drawing, painting or other artwork.
- The describer describes the artwork in his or her hands while the blind artist draws. The blind artist is allowed to ask clarifying questions.
- When the timer goes off, the two pieces of art are hung side by side or placed on desks spread out around the room. The class gets to circulate the room and decide which blind artist most accurately drew the original artwork.
- Give a prize to the winning pair!
34. I’m Going to a Deserted Island
- Use a Smartboard or document camera and play this game with your whole group.
- Decide the “rule” you will use, but don’t tell the kids. Perhaps it’s words that have a /th/ sound in them.
- Call on a student. The student will say, “I’ll bring a laptop; can I come?” And you’ll say, “I’m sorry, but you can’t come.” Because this student didn’t name something with a /th/ sound in it.
- If the next student says, “I’ll bring a bathtub; can I come? And you could say “Yes, we need a bathtub.”
- The next student might guess something that starts with a B, something else you could sit in, something that rhymes with bathtub, etc. But unless they guess an item with a /th/ sound, they won’t get to added to the word list.
- Any words that are accepted, write on the Smartboard or jot down under your document camera so they can see the growing list of items.
- Over many guesses, students will start to notice what all the items have in common, and they’ll figure out the rule.
- Whoever figures out the rule first is the winner. But if a student guesses the wrong rule, they’re out.
- Hint: the first time you play the game or when you’ve got really young kids, make the hint something easy like choosing all words that start with the same letter. Once they master the concept of the game, you can make your clues trickier.
35. I’m Going to a Deserted Island (Option B)
- Give each student a piece of paper and have them draw something they might bring to a deserted island.
- Gather all the pictures, shuffle them, and pass them back out in random order so that no one has their own drawing.
- Have each student stand up and show the class what item they received, and have them try to convince everyone to bring that item.
- Students can only choose a certain number of items – you decide how many.
- The best part is when kids draw something silly or random that you wouldn’t normally bring on a deserted island, but the second student is so compelling and convincing that the class decides to bring the item.
- The students who win are not the ones who drew the pictures that were selected, but rather the student who used their communication skills to convince the class.
The Benefits of Classroom Games
Classroom games are a great way to build class community and social skills. You can use a fun game two as brain breaks, use a simple game during your small groups time, or play them in whole group on the day right before a holiday (when everyone’s brain is mush, anyway).
Better yet, roll out a bunch of fun games after your standardized testing season ends in late May or June.
Fun classroom games are essential to any grade level, because sometimes, you’ve just got to take time for a laugh or moment of relaxation. In public education, there’s almost never enough time for social-emotional learning, but it’s essential to growing happy, well-adjusted kids.
If you’ve ever heard the expression, ‘You have to Maslow before you can Bloom,” you know exactly what I mean. And if not, here’s a cool blog post about that.
So roll out a game once in a while if your kids (and you) need it. It’s a great idea to even consider building a couple of them into your lesson plans each week, so your leadership team knows you’re being intentional about the time you spend with kids.
Consider making a bucket list of classroom games from this list, and see if you can get through all of them in one year. That’s a good way to hold yourself accountable for injecting a bit of fun into your class family.