Gaming in the Classroom: Why Folder Games Don’t Count

In January I’m going to be attending the FETC conference in Orlando, speaking about tabletop gaming in the classroom. As preparation, I’ve begun doing some research into game teachers already use on a regular basis. I encountered mostly older games like scrabble and Risk, as well as personally made versions of popular games such as Monopoly and Scrabble. But mostly, I discovered folder games. You remember those right? They’re built on manilla folders and usually involve a glued on game board and ziplock bag of pieces and maybe a spinner. They are often brightly colored and appear inviting.

In truth File Folder Games have a good deal of pro’s. They’re cheap, easy to customize for particular units and themes, they are simple to learn and implement, and they can be fun. However, there are cons as well.

  1. They take a good deal of time to create. Hours of cutting, pasting, laminating, and writing. This is time that could be spent on lesson planning, PD, or grading.
  2. They are routine and predictable. By this I mean that often there are so many in a room, that it’s just part of the day to do the activity or game, and not viewed as something “different” or relevant. It can get to be like homework if not handled correctly in the classroom. Also, unless you change up the format and basic running of the activity (have multiple ways to play the game or problems to solve,) the students begin to memorize the answers and bypass the intended lesson.
  3. The are sedentary.  They are often played on a desk, on the floor, or other flat surface and there’s little to no movement.  They’re aren’t mobile.
  4. They  don’t foster cooperative play. Most File Folder Games are competitive or single player. There’s little to no interaction with other players, and very rarely cooperative play.
  5. The rule are pasted on the side of the folder. The idea being that the students can play the games on their own time, with little to no instruction, so the directions are plain and simple and easy to find. This takes away from learning multiple step instructions. Rarely do you play a board game and have the directions right there at all times, but yet we managed as a child. Do the folder directions help or hinder?
  6. They are geared towards elementary age students. Specifically K-2. Some would argue that 3rd and 4th graders can benefit from them as well, which is probably true in some ways, but 3rd and 4th graders are older and most by now have been playing tablet games for years, or even other board games. File Folder Games have simple lost their appeal.
  7. They are obviously tools for learning. There’s no hiding the fact that File Folder Games are meant for learning a particular skill or subject. You can’t sugar coat it in bright colors and fun titles. No matter how fun it is, students know it’s for learning purposes.

So what am I trying to say about this exactly? Am I saying that folder games should be removed from classrooms and replaced with store bought tabletop games? Am I saying that this tried and true activity is faulty and all the teachers using them are teaching wrong?

No. For grades K-2, I believe File Folder Games are perfect. They are engaging, useful, and easy to manage. If organized logically, they can last for years and never lose their educational magic. But for those who are outgrowing Folder Games, I’m saying there are options. I’m saying there are ways to make it better and reasons why tabletop games should sometimes be substituted.

  1. They are already made. The rules are set, the pieces built, the board ready to go. The most you may have to do is punch out game pieces and place them in little baggies. Maybe creating a check list to make sure all pieces are back where they belong at the end of the lesson. Also, you know how you keep losing those nice pieces you spent so much time on coloring, gluing, and laminating? With board games you can just reorder the lost pieces, and they’re all online. Game CrafterVintage Game WorldBoard Game Beast NICE!!
  2. They change. Every time you play a new game, it’s different. Unless your students plan to memorize every trivial pursuit answer, Timeline date and event, and special ability skill, they’re not going to be able to memorize the game and just fill out the game board. Tabletop games are designed for multiple uses by multiple people, making each game different, if sometimes only slightly.
  3. While not all board games involve movement, several do. There are many games out there such as Cranium that involve dancing, acting, and other forms of movement. Also, a good number of popular games today have an app  as well. Ticket to Ride, Forbidden Island, and Pandemic are just a few, making these popular games portable and still able to be played by multiple players!
  4. Cooperative games are the new fad in boardgames. It’s a growing trend and it’s awesome! Pandemic, Forbidden Island, Betrayal at House on the Hill, The Republic of Rome, and Dead of Night are just a few. These games involve players to work together and communicate to achieve a common goal. I’m not saying all the ones listed are good for a classroom, but they do exist!
  5. You have to LEARN the rules! You can keep going back to the rulebook, but it’s time consuming and inconvenient. Make those kids learn multistep directions. It’s good for their character!
  6. Board and tabletop games are geared towards everyone. Family games, RPGs, strategy….there are games available in every category for every age person. As opposed to folder games, tabletop games are available outside the classroom, for everyone to enjoy. In short, they are universal.
  7. They can be used for learning, but it’s secretive, like a ninja. There’s very little to showcase the learning involved and the skills are usually more subdued and less transparent. You learn cooperative play, you learn strategy, critical thinking, memorization, and how to follow directions, but it’s not usually very obvious. Sometimes we have to trick kids a bit, yeah?

We don’t want to get rid of games all together, just because the students have gotten older. We just have to make them relevant. Everything can be a learning tool, we just have to figure out its place.



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