All In The GameBy Sarah Powley, Education Coach
“We need more letters!”
“We’ve got too many vowels!”
“Get consonants! Consonants!”
And with that, the 8th grader in the blue and gray PE uniform of her middle school jumped up, skipped to the center of the gym, picked up three more tiles and returned, skipping, to her group. The four students quickly employed the new letter tiles to complete their entry in this round of Bananagram Fitness.
My colleague, Mrs. Jessica Oertel, invented the game when she was a student teacher, assigned to a school where the gym was under construction. She needed hallway activities that could engage the students—and contain them—at the same time they practiced fitness skills.
The game works like this. Students are grouped randomly in fours. (Naturally, my colleague had a quick and easy strategy for that.) While the students sat on the floor in front of her whiteboard, Mrs. Oertel laid out the rules:
“You need twenty tiles, all underneath the cone in the center of the gym. When the music starts, skip to the center, do five curl-ups, and then take one tile. Skip back to your corner of the gym and put your tile in the cone at your place. You have to do this five times. When you each have gotten five tiles, work together to create a bananagram that uses all twenty tiles.”
She had the students repeat the instructions—always a good idea.
“How many tiles does each person get?”
“Five!” the students roared.
How many trips does each person make?
“How many total does each group have?”
“No text words, no names of people, no abbreviations. If you start with a long word, you’ll have more success than if you begin with something like cat. Words that are side-by-side have to spell a legitimate word in both directions—across and down.
Need more letters? You can get them anytime, but you have to take three letters and you have to go through the routine again: Skip, curl-ups, skip.”
(In Round 2, the locomotion challenges switched to galloping and push-ups.)
Initially, Mrs. Oertel’s game was the product of necessity, but today, well into her second year of teaching, her objectives go beyond that. [continued on next page]