When I was a full-time classroom teacher of both elementary and high school students, I often created miniature learning opportunities for my students through very short spurts of activities or games. Why? It was a way of reinforcing a very specific skill that was student-centered, but that could hold students’ attention and maintain motivation. These short, one-minute games tended to be the highlight of most lessons, and my students looked forward to the next ‘game minute’.

The real advantage of these mini games is that you can easily fit in a few in any given lesson or school day, and as they are target specific, a teacher or parent can easily identify where the student is having difficulty and adjust the game as a result. Another major advantage is that a creative teacher or parent can invent mini games with virtually any school subject. You also don’t need to be in the classroom to play—these can be done anywhere or at any time—all you need is one minute and a positive attitude. Here are just a few examples to get your game on, both in and out of the classroom.

Literacy-based games

Imagine that as a classroom teacher you have just finished introducing to students the concept of the various parts of speech in a sentence (verb, adjective, adverb, common noun, proper noun, etc.) Using a ‘Mad Lib’ printout (free from the Web) call upon random students to provide you with a word needed to complete a sentence of the text, only telling the students the category of word needed (ex. adjective) and write that word in the blank of the printout. For example, a sentence the teacher could have on paper (hidden from the students) is the following: While walking to the ____________ (adjective) park yesterday, I saw a ____________ (adjective) _____________ (common noun) on a bike, holding a ___________ (common noun). After filling in the blanks with the students’ help, the sentence might end up sounding like this: While walking to the sticky park yesterday, I saw a giant octopus on a bike, holding a clock.

Teachers and parents can shorten this activity by inventing just one sentence or two on a slip of paper with the required blanks, and then playing the game to create silly sentences. Alternate roles between the adult and student—one person creates the sentence(s) with blanks, and the other must provide the words without having seen the sentence or text first. This activity works well for all ages, and the level of the written text can be adjusted to match that of the student or class. It takes one minute, but worth the giggles!

Another simple one-minute game uses small plastic letter cubes, the kind you would normally use when making name bracelets with preschoolers—the cubes are slightly larger and have the same letter printed on all sides of the cube. Using one or two sets mixed together, a player closes his eyes and picks out ten random letters. With a one-minute timer, the player must then form as many words as possible using the letters he has in front of him. Letters can be reused to form new words. For example, say a player randomly selected the following 10 letter cubes: b, c, r, a, g, t, h, y, f, e. Once the timer is on, the player could potentially find the following words by moving the cubes around on the table or other solid surface: bar, car, rag, the, get, bet, yet, they, etc. Each correctly spelled word earns the player a point. This game can be easily adapted to have two players play at the same time for one minute, such as a parent and child, or in a classroom setting with multiple letter cube sets and students paired two by two. One minute goes by fast, but this game is great for improving phonics, spelling and vocabulary skills for students of all ages. Encourage players to try to beat their own score each time they play.

It’s a numbers game

Like any skill one must master, practice provides the opportunity to improve. That being said, there is no need to do drill after drill with a lengthy session of study. Short bursts of practice can be just as effective—if not more—for helping a student master or reinforce a skill being taught in the classroom.

Say a student is struggling with the concept of ratio. Mini one-minute practice sessions provide an opportunity for targeted practice in and out of the classroom. For example, at home at the dinner table, have your child say out loud the ratio of those who are drinking water to those who are drinking milk. You can reverse your wording to show your child how the ratio changes. In the classroom, you can put up two or three ratio concepts on the chalk board or SMARTboard (such as the number of students wearing glasses to those who are not), and have two volunteer students walk around the room to calculate the correct answer in under a minute. Alternatively, the adult or teacher provides the ratio in numbers (ex. 3:2) and the student(s) must figure out what the ratio is referring to, such as three people drinking water to two people drinking milk. As a parent or teacher, you can commit to one-minute mini games to target a specific skill, or just have fun with several concepts at once.

Another simple one-minute game idea for Math is to play ‘Shout Out’. Students in a classroom can all line up with their backs along a wall. If the target skill is skip counting by 3’s, then the teacher instructs the students to shout out their name if they are in the position of the next number in the skip counting series. This requires the first student in line to shout out his or her name, and all the other students must pay close attention visually to their position in line in order to know if they are to shout out their names or not. This can go very quickly given that the average classroom size is approximately 25 students, so it would be possible to do several rounds (lasting 15-20 seconds each) of the game by moving students around in line and repeating the procedure, or changing the skip counting instruction to another number (by 2’s, by 5’s, etc.).

If a parent is doing this at home, an easy way to compensate for the lack of students is to place several random household objects all across the floor or on a long table, and ask the child to shout out the name of each object that is in the position required for the skip counting series. It is quite comical to hear a child shout out (while visually skip counting), “Fork! Sponge! Napkin! Book! Spiderman! Envelope!” It is a silly and funny way to practice an academic skill, and it only takes a minute!

Science and nature

A significant amount of Science instruction requires reading of text, learning terminology and interpreting images meant to explain a scientific concept. Remembering a lot of Science terminology or definitions can be tricky for some students, and mini one-minute refresher games can help with that. Imagine that your child (or class) must learn the definition of several scientific terms within a unit in the textbook. A mini one-minute game could consist of a student pulling a card from a hat with a term written on it, and the students must try to describe the term without using the actual word on the card, while the rest of the class attempts to guess the word. This could go quickly, so a handful of words could conceivably be covered in one minute or so. For example, if a vocabulary word on the card is germination, the student in front of the class might say something like: “This is when something first begins to grow from a seed.”

Vocabulary aside, there are lots of conceptual items students must learn in Science class, and much of these are presented in the form of diagrams. Imagine that students have recently learned about the cycle of rain formation, the stages of a volcano eruption, and the cycle of plant life. The teacher can provide students with blank sheets of scrap paper and when the one-minute timer begins, he or she can call out a concept name (ex. cycle of rain formation) and have the students draw a diagram as quickly as they can to represent the concept. After the minute is up, students can compare diagrams and see what they may have omitted compared to their peers. An extra minute or so of discussion and comparison can lead to learning about how others present information in images and how it is interpreted.

Don’t forget that FUN is the name of the game

Though strengthening students’ understanding of a concept is the ultimate goal of these mini games, the overlapping idea is that learning can and should be fun. When a short game can be played to reinforce a skill, it can sometimes have a more far-reaching, positive effect than lengthy homework assignments or classroom seatwork. See how far your minute can take you!

About the Author

Lisa Cipriani is the Director of Centre Pédagogique La Renaissance, a tutoring center in Laval that provides academic services for primary, secondary and adult learners. As an experienced teacher, Lisa has been working in education for almost 15 years. Visit www.cprenaissance.com

Her book, 15 Minutes a Day for Your Preschooler’s Literacy—A Parent’s Guide to Preparing 0-5 year olds for Reading Readiness, will be released in 2016. This article is adapted from a section of the book called, “Have You Got a Minute?”