You may, at first, feel a bit frightened to try what I am about to share with you but please, trust me, balls are brilliant! It is true that, upon being faced with a pool of balls, a pupil’s instinct is to get excited; they will want to bounce, play and throw these wonderful foreign objects around your room. However, if your reason for having these balls there is carefully planned and has clear purpose, then the balls’ existence in your room need not connote chaos, but instead achieve the desired effect of “learning is fun too”. What you can do with balls in the classroom is only limited by your imagination; here are two of my favourites.
1. Question Stems for Analysis:
This is an absolute gem if you have taught pupils the basic components of something, for example a poem, and you want them to apply this understanding to independent analysis. The best types of balls to use for this are the small plastic balls that you will find in children’s ball pools. They are fairly cheap and widely available. Write on each ball the opening of a question: “what if…” “Can I…” “What happens when…”. Put the question balls into containers in the middle of grouped tables along with the item for exploration and somewhere to write down their ideas. I recently did this using an unseen poem and a Venn diagram. Each section of the Venn was pre labelled with: “structure” “sounds” “sights”. This gave pupils a starting point for their questioning. They could write any other ideas, unrelated to the titles, in the space around the outside. They worked in teams to write as many questions as they could about the poem. They used the question balls as a stimulus as well as thinking up their own ideas. These questions inevitably lead to answers and without me having to teach a single word about the poem, the class had analysed, at the very least, its language, structure and meaning. The class have been taught to use SOLO taxonomy. This was a multi structural exercise in that they were gathering information for a purpose. They then related the information to another set question about the poem. Questions are a great way to think yourself to extended abstract and the question balls are a great, fun way to get pupils asking them.
2. Key Words and Definitions Balls:
This is a great way to introduce new terminology and develop team work. Use two different colours of balls for this. On one set of balls write the key words and on the other, write the definitions. Also, add some red herrings into the mix to get pupils thinking. I recently played this game to introduce pupils to specific language features that pupils needed to be able to identify and explain for their English Language exam. I wrote key words such as “pronoun” on one set of balls and an explanation of the effect on the other: “manipulates the reader by directly involving them”. The class had a visual diagram with space for each key word and definition that I had placed in the ball pool, as well as an area for storing red herrings. For extra points and better differentiation, the teams also had the opportunity to find an example of the language feature, once they had found it in the ball pool, in a past paper and answer questions about its effect. Pupils should do this against the clock to add excitement. Each team can only send one member at a time to the ball pools and that member can only retrieve one ball to take back to their team. They then decide if it is a red herring or a language feature and then write it in the correct space before sending a new member of the team to get the next ball. All of my red herrings were based on presentational features: “bold heading” and “Looks good to catch the reader’s attention”. When asking the class to pick language features, I would often find presentational features mixed in; as a result of this finding, I wanted to clearly define the two from each other in this exercise.
My top tips for using balls to make learning fun are: have clear boundaries and rules. Don’t take the fun out of the game but do clearly explain the boundaries and the consequences for crossing them. Balls can add fun to learning but don’t use them for the sake of it. Think through the merits of the exercise. For example, the question stems create an environment for higher order thinking and the key words and definitions game gets pupils to make decisions about what makes a language feature. Always think about the progress that pupils will make as a result of the fun that they are having. Finally, don’t be afraid to give it a go! Balls really can be brilliant!