10 Joy-Building Games Your Middle School Students Will Love

You’ve gotta be crazy to teach middle school. Mostly because Middle School is crazy! It takes a crazy teacher to survive this crazy time of life, especially in December. One thing that is saving me from the crazy this year, is community building games. I try to make time for them at least once a week per class. (And this can be hard because some classes I only see once a week.) Keeping some time for fun each class allows me to look for joy and be happier myself. Happiness breeds happiness. It was sooo worth it today to see some students who entered the room all grumpy, leave with a smile. One of them (not a strong student either) told me at the end of class how nice it was learning today.

  1. Siete (seven) I learned this at the ACTFL National Foreign Language Teacher’s conference, and it is fun! Students stand in a circle. One person starts by saying uno (one) and putting their right hand on the left shoulder. The next person says dos (two) and does the same. The counting continues until seis (six). Number seven (siete in Spanish) puts their right hand over their head when they say their number. Then the counting starts back at uno. If someone says the wrong number or does the wrong action, they are out. After one time around the circle, anyone can change direction when it is their turn. They do this by putting their left hand on their right shoulder as they say their number. If it is the number seven, they would put their left hand over their head. Play continues moving around for as long as you have time (or until everyone gets eliminated.)
  2. Animal Toss Another great game which I learned at ACTFL as well, but which is also floating around online is an animal toss. Students stand in a circle. One starts by making eye contact with another student, saying their name, then tossing a beanie baby animal to them. The second player says another player’s name and tosses to them, and so on. When everyone has it down (they will always toss to the same person and say their name), they can add in a question before they toss. If it is a language class, they can ask “How are you, (name)?” Then the person catching must answer before they ask the next person. The fun comes in when you add in a second, third, and fourth animals. See how many you can add before it falls apart. It is good for teaching teamwork and everyone is smiling by the end!
  3. Zip, Zap, Boing I learned this one a few years ago. I found it online. Again, students stand in a circle. One person starts by tossing a ball to their right and saying “zip.” The person on that side says “zip” as they also toss to their right. Play continues. If they wish, they may toss back at the person who pointed at them, but if so they must say “zap.” They can also pass across the circle and say “boing.” If you want to play with outs, when someone says the wrong word, they will be out. Make sure everyone is included, and no two people continuously pass back and forth.
  4. Zookeeper This game is super fun! I found it on a website about rec games. It is better with medium sized classes. Students form a circle. One student is in the middle. That person is the “zookeeper.” The “zookeeper” closes their eyes and tells the rest of the students to “run,” “walk,” “skip,” “dance,” “hop,” etc. The students in the circle move around the circle, but stay in their place in line. When the “zookeeper” shouts “Stop” everyone freezes. Still with their eyes closed, the “zookeeper” points randomly and says an animal name. Whomever is closest to where they point, makes the noise of the animal. The “zookeeper” has three chances to guess which student is making the noise. If they guess correctly, that student goes to the middle. The funny part is when the students make the animal noises. So. Much. Fun.
  5. Numbers Slap I have yet to try this but heard it at ACTFL and can’t wait to try it! It reminds me of the game “Taco, Cat, Goat, Cheese, Pizza.” Using a deck of cards, you divide the deck into piles depending on number of players. Each person takes turns flipping over a card and saying the next number. Person one flips a card and says “uno.” Person two flips a cards and says “dos,” etc. Aces count as one, Jacks are 11, Queens are 12 and Kings are 13. If the number said matches the card flipped, everyone races to slap the pile. The last person to slap must keep the cards. In order to win, a person must run out of cards and also be the FIRST to slap a pile.
  6. Four Corners An oldie but a goodie! I love playing in Spanish or French. It’s easy to do in other languages too! All you have to do is take a moment or two to practice saying numbers from 1-10 in the language of choice. One person counts to 10 with their eyes closed. The others choose a corner of the room to stand in. The counter, without looking, calls out a number between 1 and 4 (each corner is designated as one of these numbers.) All the students standing in the corner of the number called are out. I have also seen a teacher add a “cookie jar” in the middle of the room as twist. So the counter can choose that instead of a number.
  7. Graveyard/Statues A counter is at the front of the room. They count until 12 (for midnight). When they turn around all students should be frozen. The counter (or “gravekeeper”) walks around the room trying to spot people moving. The students all try to move without being seen. There is fun in the challenge and kids play with their interactions with the “gravekeeper.” If they are seen moving, the “gravekeeper” calls their name and they are out.
  8. Mumball /Happy Fun Ball I first witnessed this game 19 years ago when I started teaching. The dynamic young teacher who won the hearts of all his students has since passed from brain cancer. It always reminds me of him. Students sit on a desk or counter. The toss a ball around the room without talking. If they don’t catch it or it is a bad throw, they are out. When there are two or three students left, have them throw and catch with one hand, then with their weak hand. No pegging and no talking. Either of those also means you’re out.
  9. Write, Draw, Pass I learned this language game from Martina Bex, an amazing language teacher who has lots of resources on teachers pay teachers. She also has a curriculum she developed called Somos, as well as an online practice tool called Garbanzo. Write draw pass is a blast for students. Cut a paper in half vertically. Everyone starts by writing a sentence at the top of the paper. Then they pass the paper to the next person. That person reads the sentence, then directly below it, they draw a sketch of the sentence. They then fold the sentence behind the paper so it isn’t visible, and pass the paper to the next person. The next person looks at the picture, then writes the sentence they think goes with it. After, they fold the picture behind the paper so that only the sentence is showing. There should be room on the half sheet for four sentences and three pictures. Everyone is always writing or drawing simultaneously. At the end, it is fun to unfold it all and see how close the finishing sentence is with the starting sentence. This game is perfect for language classes. It would be fun though to play it in English. Cause why not?
  10. Hatchi Patchi This game has a lot of versions from what I’ve read or heard, but the way I play is as follows. All students stand in a circle. One student is sent to the hallway. Another student is chosen as “hatchi patchi” or the leader. They do a motion and change every 20 seconds or so. The rest of the class does the motions the leader says. The person comes back from the hallway and has three chances to guess who “hatchi patchi” is. In Spanish, I have them ask “What’s your name? or Como te llamas?” They can answer “Me llamo hatchi patchi” if they are the leader. Then they go to the hallway and a new leader is chosen.

Why use class time for games? Three reasons: Build classroom community, bring joy into learning and help students love your class. The last three years have been so challenging. It is wonderful to be able to laugh with students and see their faces. It is wonderful to turn their day around and let them build memories and jokes. As teachers, we have to constantly be showing our kids we care about their well being. Taking the time to play is one way to do that.

Here’s to everyone taking the time to build joy. Please let me know your favorite games in the comments! Gracias, amigos!

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