Monday, June 20, 2011

Classroom Games or, how our teachers used up the endless minutes they couldn’t fill with educational material

It’s amazing how some childhood experiences can transcend both generations and state lines. I grew up over 1000 miles from my current residence, yet somehow all of my teacher friends here utilize most of the same games and time fillers I knew when I was a child. Either there is some super elaborate network of teacher communication that has been going strong for the last few decades or those who work with children aren’t always as creative as they like to think.

Whatever the reason, any good teacher or substitute always had a few of these classroom games up their sleeve to fill a dreaded five or ten minute gaps in the daily routine. To their credit, these brave adults were essentially locked in an airtight room with us for eight hours a day; even the most innovative of educators has trouble filling a few minutes here or there with no designated activity. In order to fill the void, our crafty teachers utilized some of the following games to keep us organized and discourage general classroom chaos:

Heads Up, Seven Up

Heads up, seven up is like the gold standard in classroom games: everyone played it and everyone inexplicably believed it was worthwhile. There is no real point to the game, but kids eat it up regardless. Many of us spent the better part of our youths with our foreheads pressed firmly against our wooden desks, thumb extended heavenward, obeying silently as a teacher or classmate ordered us, “Heads down, thumbs up!”

The seven lucky chosen ones circulate the room, each pressing down a single classmate’s thumb. Then “Heads up, seven up!” is called, and the players (who mostly cheat mercilessly with glances at shoes) attempt to guess who pushed their thumb. Some people would use tricky tactics like pressing lighter or harder than would be characteristically associated with them, but in general there’s very little chance we could blindly guess at who pushed our thumb.

Hot or Cold

Especially popular with young children, our teachers probably liked Hot or Cold because it was so time consuming. A student would leave the room and the teacher would hide an item somewhere in the classroom. When the student re-entered, the class would direct them toward the hidden item by rating each movement as either “Warm” “Hot” “Cool” or “Cold.” If your teacher was good at hiding things this process could take quite a bit of time, thus keeping us busy for as long as they needed.

Quiet Game

Ah, the quiet game. Is there no moment more satisfying to a teacher than to have tricked his or her entire class into being silent under the ruse of a game? It’s not a game; it’s just being quiet, but someone wins and most kids lose. For some reason, it remains an effective way to silence children in public or on long car trips. There doesn’t even need to be a prize. Just declare someone the “winner,” and children will continue to compete for your attention.

Around the World
At the very least, Around the World was more educational than the other distractions on this list. Usually played with math or other easily flashcardable facts, two students compete to offer the correct answer first. The loser sits back down in the seat, and the winner goes on to battle his or her classmates at flashcard mastery. Teachers used varying rules, but usually whoever made it all the way around the classroom was awarded some sort of prize and tricked into learning multiplication tables.


If you think too carefully about it, hangman is a pretty morbid premise for a children’s game. On the upside, we had a chance to practice writing and spelling, but on the downside, the poor man has to be hanged for your inability to guess letters correctly. For those of us who were really horrible at Hangman, our teachers would offer us consolatory hats and ties and other hanged man accessories to further delay ending the game before we finally solved the puzzle. Little did they know they were also setting us up for a lifetime of being awesome at yelling the correct answers out at Wheel of Fortune.

Silent Ball

Kind of like the Quiet Game with a Nerf Ball, Silent Ball was another crafty ploy by our clever teachers to keep us from chatting during downtime. Students stand near their desks and throw the ball quietly to each other. Any bass passes, out-of-bounds throws, or missed catches led to an “out,” meaning you had to sit down in your seat. The last students standing were the winners, but the true winner was the teacher, seeing as how she had figured out how to adapt the Quiet Game for older, less gullible students.

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