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Time to Play Games that Promote Thinking: 61st Friday@5

Updated: Oct 25, 2021

One of the three focus areas of the National Education Policy 2020 is to promote "thinking skills" in students through reforms in curriculum, content, pedagogy, and assessment. The policy clearly specifies "games" as one of the tools to advance students' thinking skills.

Games and sports are not synonyms. Sports involve individuals (gymnasts, cycling, shooting, etc) or teams (cricket, soccer, etc) competing with each other or themselves. Sports like gymnastics, cycling, or shooting are not games. Similarly, there are games that are not sports, such as monopoly, scrabble, sudoku even though some of these may exist as competitive events. Thus, it is very easy and expected for anyone to get confused with these two terms.

For simplicity, let us consider games as activities in which 2 or more people engage for fun, amusement, or recreation. Games involve a combination of luck (or chance), skills, knowledge, and strategy.

Games have a long relationship with mathematics. Games of chance were the foundation of probability. These games often involve dice or playing cards. Most casino games are games of chance. John Nash founded game theory on the study of games of strategy. In such games, each player decides their next play on the basis of their objective as well as the moves being made by the opponent. Tic-tac-toe is possibly the simplest game of strategy.

Research has established the positive impact of playing games and the cognitive abilities of students. For those interested, click here for a wonderful article.

If we need to use games as a means to promote thinking amongst students, we need to find answers to the following questions:

  • What kind of games are most likely to promote the thinking skills of students?

  • How often should students play such games?

  • How can teachers and schools encourage students to play games?

  • How can teachers monitor and assess the impact of playing games on the development of thinking?

  • How do teachers assess the impact of playing games on the students' academic achievement?

  • How can teachers design games of strategy and knowledge for their subjects?

On Friday, 22nd October 2021, the 61st episode of Friday@5 will try to find answers to some of these questions during a conversation with:


Note: You can register for future episodes of Friday@5 here.


Useful and Beneficial Takeaways

Dr. Golinkoff could not join because of confusion about the time of the eConvo. She stays in Delaware, USA and she thought that the webinar is on Friday at 5 PM (EDT). I am sure we will have her on the show very soon in the future. The good thing was that Mr. Balasubramanian, Chairperson of ICSL Advisory Board could join us to share his insights.

A video of the session is available here. Here are some of the major takeaways of the e-Convo.

Gamification of learning, using games as learning aids, and playing games to develop cognition are all different.

Educators must understand the difference between these 3 aspects, each of which involves playing games.

Gamification of learning focuses on learning outcomes that are delivered by playing a game-like activity. Once the learning is achieved, the role of the game is over. For example, we can develop a "word-picture game" to enable students to learn about volcanoes. After they have acquired the learning, students may not continue to play this game. So, the primary activity is learning while the secondary activity is gaming.

When we are using games as learning aids, we are associating certain elements of the game to concepts that students need to learn. For example, Carrom can be a great aid for explaining students concepts such as friction, angles, reflection, force, lines, etc. In this case, while students play games, they are asked to reflect on some concepts they have already learned.

The third aspect, which is often ignored, is of playing games without establishing any linkage to concepts in the curriculum. In this case, students are ONLY focusing on playing the game for leisure, fun, or entertainment. Playing these games results in the cognitive development of students that positively impacts academic performance. In comparison to the previous two usages of games, this is the easiest to be implemented in the schools.

Playing games is non-threatening

When students engage in playing games they are not threatened by the outcome. They understand that they may win or lose. If they lose, no one is being judgemental about their intelligence or ability. They play the game with equal enthusiasm. This benefit of playing games is in complete contrast to the highly judgemental nature of the academic environment of the schools. And, it is this non-judgemental, non-threatening nature of playing games that makes it a powerful tool to develop children's abilities.

Games may also be damaging

Some games may cause more damage than benefits. There are games that involve physical risk to students. Other games may have a negative psychological impact. And, then there are games with high addiction quotient. For example, when children are playing musical chairs, the weakest child may be the first one to get out of the game. This act of identifying the weakest child and excluding him/her from the game may be damaging for some students. Imagine the psychological impact of being the first one to be booted out every time you play musical chairs.

It is important for educators to consider such possible damages while choosing games for students or when deciding the rules of playing the games.

Playing games with a strategy

When students are playing any game, ask them to devise their winning strategy. After the game, let them reflect if the strategy worked or not. If not, let them find reasons and tweak their strategy. When they indulge in strategizing and reflecting, they develop thinking skills naturally.

Allow children to modify games

Another way to promote thinking skills is to allow students to suggest variations to the game to make them more fun and enjoyable. Ask them to identify the problem that their variation is addressing. Can they devise a new game that is similar to 'snakes and ladder" without the snakes or the ladder?

Change perception of parents towards playing games

As per Ms. Magee, the perception of parents towards playing games is changing. Parents are now choosing schools that lay emphasis on overall development and not just academic performance. However, it may help schools to mentor parents to show them the advantages of playing games including analysis, interpretation, inference, self-regulation, open-mindedness. Schools must work actively with parents to encourage children to play games.

Schoolwide survey to collect data

Schools interested in promoting games may want to first conduct a school-wide survey to understand the existing behavior of students towards games. In fact, this should be introduced as a student-led project. For example, students of class 11th who are studying psychology or sociology can be asked to design the survey. Students who are studying computer science can be asked to design an online form while students across all classes can be actively involved in collecting data. Students passionate about mathematics can then be asked to draw meaningful inferences from the data.

Apart from understanding the behavior of students towards playing games the survey may also help students discover the behavior of their parents or grandparents towards playing games.

Play Day: Build a culture of playing games

Teachers play volleyball with students at Westminster Christian School

Schools must "informalize learning" and motivate students to engage in playing games. But, this should not happen as a sermon. Teachers, school principals, and management must actively contribute towards developing a culture by actively participating in playing games with students. In fact, schools must have a "monthly play day" where no books are allowed. Children can bring their favourite games to school and play with their friends and teachers. Imagine the impact these 12 days will have on the lives of our students.

Build a games library

Board games at the game center at NYU
Game Center at New York University, USA

To increase access to games, schools should build a games library from where students can borrow games to take home or play during school time with friends. Most students who take these games home will play these games with their parents, grandparents, or siblings. One of the positive impacts of this initiative will be to strengthen the emotional bond of students with family members, including parents. Also, in a lot of cases, parents are not aware of the wonderful games available in the market and end up buying games that their children demand. Who knows this initiative will encourage families to make a game library at home or their apartment complex.


Playing games, even for fun, can have a strong impact on the academic achievement of all profiles of students. Thus, it is important for schools and teachers to take innovative and continuous initiatives to encourage students to play games on a regular basis. This demands a change in the mindsets, behavior, and culture of schools and individuals. Hopefully, the discussion on Friday@5 will be instrumental in initiating a change in schools that will positively impact student learning and achievement.


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