In the first of this series of 3 blogs I identified 3 things that play can do to help bring university students to a place where they are ready to learn:

  1. Play can help people bond with each other; to relax in each other’s company
  2. Play can energise and awaken people
  3. Play can focus people

In the last blog I focused on play to energise and on strategies to cope with when my students are either not yet awake (my 9am Monday lectures) or are flagging part way through the class/Semester. Sometimes though I face the reverse problem: there is a lot of energy in the room but it is dispersed and scattered; it dissolves into giggling or discussion that distracts from the task in hand. At these moments certain types of play can be used to get the group into a focused state of mind.

Play to Focus

The Counting Game

This can be played standing in a circle or seated around a seminar table. The aim of the game is to count aloud to 20 (or another number that you chose). Each person must speak at least once. If two people speak at the same time then you go back to 1. It is very simple but can produce an extraordinary sense of focus.

Story Games

These can be played going around a circle but it can be more fun (and keep people more on their toes) to throw a soft ball from player to player to indicate who should speak next. You can play The One Word at a Time Game where the group tells a story one word at a time. Or you can play Fortunately/Unfortunately where each player says one sentence of the story, alternating between sentences that start “Fortunately….” and sentences that start “Unfortunately….”

The Chair Game

This game sits part way between Focusing and Energising and is one of my favourite games. You need a clear space and as many chairs as players. Each player takes a chair and sits somewhere in the room with all the chairs facing in different directions. A player is selected and leaves their chair, going to the other end of the room. They then have to walk (sometimes with knees together to slow them down) and sit in an empty chair. The aim of the rest of the players is to stop the walker sitting down. They do this by getting up and moving chairs. The rule is that once your bum has left the seat you have to go and you cannot return to your own seat once you have left it. If the walker manages to sit down then the last player left standing becomes the new walker. The game is very simple but the strategies and teamwork that develop are very interesting – and the group learns that the more calmly they play, the more likely they are to win. I sometimes part way through the game introduce a rule that it has to be played in silence.

A Post Script: Learning Structured Through Play

What I haven’t really touched on in this blog series is how curriculum learning itself can happen through play. I learned so much about this and the different technologies that can support it at the recent Playful Learning conference at Manchester Metropolitan University. It’s a really rich area and something I want to explore further this coming semester.

The following two tabs change content below.
Dan Barnard is a Senior Lecturer in the the School of Arts and Creative Industries at London South Bank University. He specialises in teaching acting technique, particularly the Stanislavski System of acting. He also teaches devising contemporary performance, which links closely to his own professional practice as Artistic Director of fanSHEN theatre company. His research and professional practice focuses on interactive performance and the field of performance and ecology.