Want to stop ugly behavior in your classroom?

Play more games. Seriously.

How boys behave in class affects a teacher’s perception of their intelligence and potential for academic achievement. Negative behavior lowers a teacher’s expectations of his academic prowess.

This is another finding from the book Reaching Boys, Teaching Boys: Strategies That Work and Why, reported in The Atlantic by Jessica Lahey.

Behavior is such a consistent barrier to effective education that I wanted to share in this blog a powerful and practical way to implement one of the Top 10 strategies for engaging boys and eliminating behavioral problems.

Peppering instruction with friendly competitive activities is a key way to engage boys, and all children, in the learning experience.

Vocabulary “BINGO” is one of my favorite recreational/educational tools. It also was a big hit with Special Education middle-schoolers in D.C. who informed us they wanted to play more than learn academics. Homing in on a tactic to keep the students happy and still teach academic lessons, I invited them to create vocabulary game cards based on rhyming words, proper nouns, historical figures and places, and themes from our reading materials. We used those cards to play a “BINGO”-style game. Instead of B-6, for example, they’d place their chip on the vocabulary word. Their teacher and I awarded quarters (because I just so happened to have several rolls in my purse) and Reese’s Cups to the winning students.

A 6th grader, who represented the biggest behavioral challenge because of his unbelievably foul mouth and pugilistic attitude, won the most vocabulary games. He was the chief advocate of playing more games, and this particular day he was going home the biggest winner with $1.75 and three Reese’s Cups. He sat quietly, looked up, and then a wide grin spread across his face as he solemnly declared, “This is the happiest day of my life.”

The vocabulary game inspired a major turning point for him and the class. No longer did he curse a blue streak or threaten to beat up his classmates after his winning experience with the game.

Friendly and competitive games are not just about playing, although in a school setting, playing ought to be allowed and encouraged. Recreation, indeed, is also about healing. If our students and we teachers need anything, we need healing. Boys (all children) also need opportunities to succeed, and a game such as Vocabulary “BINGO” is an easy way to provide such opportunities. Each success inspires confidence that another one is possible. Soon the children become hungry for them.

If we routinely feed boys chances for success, we can look forward to classroom experiences where engaging boys is a cinch and a joy! Try vocabulary “BINGO” with your students and let us know how it goes, especially with boys that have exhibited troubling behavior.

Here’s to more Happy Teaching!