August 3, 2012 by ray_emily
My favorite non-academic classroom game is (drum roll, please) … SILENT BALL.
Yeah, you’ve heard about it before. Yeah, there are a million variations. Yeah, it is kind of silly. Regardless, it is awesome. Trust me.
In case you have not come across silent ball, before, I’ll give you the run down—and then sing its praises.
– Kids sit silently in their chairs.
– Kids remain seated and toss ball to one another. (Silently, duh.)
– No kid may hold the ball for more than two seconds.
– Kids sustain sitting and tossing and silence for as long as possible.
– Game officially ends when the ball is dropped – or hits a table/backpack/chair. (It can be touched by students’ hands only, essentially.)
– Game also ends if any other rules (see above) are violated.
Explaining the directions is quick and easy. One round of silent ball is, at the beginning of the year, an investment of not more than one minute of class time. (Trust me.) As kids get the gist of it, you might end up sacrificing up to 4 minutes (tops!) of class time per game.
Silent ball is practical. I often launch a round of silent ball when I need to pass back a pile of papers. Kids feel rewarded and energized by the activity, and I can do what I need to do in peace, err, dead silence. (You do need to be a bit cautious, so as not to interrupt the path of the ball when you’re up and moving.)
Silent ball is surprisingly worthwhile as a catalyst of team-building and rich conversation. Believe it or not, you can have some pretty interesting, meaningful dialogue with your kids, all prompted by silent ball. I have had such success with this, that silent ball is one of my go-to first week activities.
Here’s how it unfolds, in my classroom: I tell the kids the silent ball rules. I let them play two rounds, maybe three, if their first attempt was particularly pathetic. (They suck, at first, so this all happens quite quickly.) Generally, once those two or three rounds are up, I don’t even need to ask them, “What worked? What didn’t work?” After they have failed repeatedly at this seemingly simple task, they are itching to talk about it—and here’s where they offer up (without fail) an abundance of profound observations.
My kids will eagerly note, for instance, that showing off, excluding people, zoning out, failing to make eye contact, carelessness—these all lead to underwhelming results. But, they observe, finding creative ways to communicate, developing a game plan (when they start doing this, man, it is entertaining!), working together—these lead to success. And, huh, would you look at that? You’ve just snuck in an authentically student-driven conversation about classroom expectations and productive, positive student behaviors.
Oh, I almost forgot to tell you the most important part! In the corner of my whiteboard, I make a note of each homeroom’s record time. No big deal— I just jot it down nice and tiny in an inconspicuous place. Somehow—despite the absence of a prize or any sort of pep talk from me—it becomes a REALLY BIG DEAL to be the silent ball record-holding homeroom.
Clues that my kids are obsessed:
When a group of kids is silent-balling-it up, eventually, there comes a moment when they sense that, “Hey, the timer has been going for a while now, hasn’t it?” In these moments, you can see them grow giddy with excitement, wordlessly nodding and smiling support to one another.
When the game is over, I have seen many a homeroom nervously, intently track my every move as I make my way to the whiteboard. Once I’m there, I slowly, deliberately erase their old record time and replace it with the new, improved time. If that new, improved time happens to be the record-breaker, then (I kid not) the class erupts into joyous applause, cheering, and high-fiving.
– If you play silent ball too often, it becomes less of a treat. Don’t overdo it.
– There will be some kid who makes the jerk-move of glaring at whoever dropped the ball and blurting out something mean. There are a variety of ways of dealing with this. My kids know, however, that silent ball privileges are revoked (temporarily) when I see poor sportsmanship.
– I have seriously had kids tell me, on end-of-year surveys, that their favorite thing about my class was silent ball. Oof. Thanks, darlings. #facepalm