Understanding children's minds is key to mastering traditional games-based learning

Julia Damassa

Julia trained professionally as an actor and teacher, spending twenty-five years in both theatre and education. She is now considered to be a 'teacher-preneur' due to her success in BBC Dragons' Den as the inventor of play-based resources Story Shapes and Tapestory.

Follow @storyshaper

Website: www.storyshapes.com Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

I love the inclusiveness of games; how any focused activity can draw in people of all ages.

I love games that require creative and strategic thinking. It is refreshing to play a game where the emphasis isn't on winning and losing - but then again, I love it when they are.

I especially love seeing teachers demonstrate how flexible and innovative teaching approaches can be by incorporating games, puzzles and quizzes into lessons, and how one classroom can be transformed into a creative playground by simply moving some desks around.

As parents and family members, we all witness our children’s natural instinct to play. The frontal lobes of their brain are barely developed and yet it seems second nature to swap effortlessly between 'leader' and 'follower' roles, drawing on their basic knowledge and understanding of their environment, experiences and their powerful and infectious imaginative capacity.

There is a palpable spark when children play; this is not just a kindling of interest but an igniting of wonder and curiosity.

So what happens as we get older? Well, I think the desire to play remains as strong as ever, but the opportunities are less and the resources not quite so stimulating. There is nothing stopping us, however, from accessing our more playful and less serious disposition.

Become the actor

It is both part of an actor's nature and training to play - improvisation games, trust exercises, hot-seating and role-play - to explore, invent, experiment with new ideas and activities. This is different to Drama lessons. The training of the actor echoes and reflects the play of children.

I feel it would be wonderful if at times we could capture the essence of childhood in our classrooms and tap into all that amazing creativity and confidence. What a rich and rewarding learning experience that would be for our students! Imagination the buzz of collaboration, and that fulfilling moment when the teacher hears their student say "I want to make a difference".

So here's a fun and simple game with an infinite number of spin-offs for you to try with your students. It seems simple but it practices many different skills and gives you an opportunity to observe qualities that may otherwise go unnoticed.


Swoption is an inclusive game that practises 'combination play' and develops connective thinking through teamwork. You will need to collect ten random objects or images and put them together in a set. Present the set to the group and ask students to agree a length of time for the game. I believe it is important to always play under pressure and I like to give the group the option to get the clock ticking!

The purpose of the game is to simply organise the objects into five pairs before the time runs out. Ask the group to lay out the objects on the floor so everyone can access it and then begin. Anyone in the group can change any pair, as long as they shout 'Swoption' and give reasons for the change, so it's important everyone agrees it is worth 'swopping'.

There is no right or wrong answer with the combinations chosen by the group, and sometimes it is fun to include an eleventh piece so that there is an odd one out.

Is there a particular game that you like to play with your pupils to help and motivate them to learn about a topic, or encourage communication, teamwork and connective thinking? The most innovative activities will get a retweet on Twitter, so remember to mention us @InnovateMySchl!

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