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Reasons to Use Critical Thinking Games in the Classroom

Are you looking for a way to boost students’ perseverance and instill a growth mindset? Use critical thinking games in the classroom! Giving students a chance to solve puzzles and challenges is not only engaging for students but also beneficial.

There have always been some critical thinking games in my classroom along with other indoor recess materials, but it wasn’t until recently that I worked more intentionally on finding these games or puzzles and carving out space for students to use them. I read Mindsets in the Classroom (affiliate link) by Mary Cay Ricci and in part of her book, she explains some of the benefits of critical thinking games in the classroom. Reading this, helped motivate me to incorporate time for these games in my classroom.

Picture of the book  "Mindsets in the Classroom" by Mary Cay Ricci with text that reads, "A great growth mindset book for educators"
Mindsets in the Classroom is a great book for teachers looking to incorporate Growth Mindset ideas all year long. Some of the information from the book relates to critical thinking games.

Please note that some links included are affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate, I receive a commission from purchases made using the links. I only recommend items that I have personally used and feel comfortable recommending.

Picture of critical thinking game Hoppers with text that reads, "Games that promote critical thinking skills"
Games like Hoppers help students develop critical thinking skills by motivating them to solve different puzzles.

There are many different types of critical thinking games, but for the purpose of this post, I am referring to games that require students to solve different types of puzzles. As students progress through different levels, the challenges become more challenging. Some of my students’ favorite games include Dog Pile (now called Dog Stax) and Hoppers. In Dog Stax, students have dog pieces of different sizes they try to fit on different grids. In Hoppers, students set up small frogs and try to have them hop through the game board.

Picture of the Dog Stax Critical thinking game with text that reads critical thinking games
Critical thinking games like Dog Stax allow students to solve various puzzles of increasing difficulty. In this game, students try to make the listed dog figures fit on the provided grid.

Some of the ideas below are summarized from Ricci’s Mindsets in the Classroom book. Her book, of course, offers many other practical mindset ideas to try in your classroom, too.

Help Build Growth Mindset Ideas

Picture of many hands putting together puzzle pieces in the shape of a light bulb with text that reads "critical thinking games support growth mindset ideas"

Many critical thinking games build in difficulty as you progress through the challenges. This allows students to continually work on a more challenging puzzle. This helps students continue to grow and improve.

In the Mindsets in the Classroom book, Ricci cites that critical thinking games allow students to feel “safe” in making a mistake. During a puzzle game, it is expected that students make mistakes, which makes mistakes less scary. Students can feel more comfortable during the low stakes of a brain teaser than during class instruction.

Help Build Perseverance Skills

We want students to persevere when content gets tricky. We don’t want them to give up easily or avoid difficult tasks. Critical thinking games allow students to take on challenges in a fun and motivating way.

While playing, they get feedback on if their ideas work or not when the puzzles are successfully solved or not. Students are motivated to solve different puzzles and can use this motivation to continue working through difficult challenges. Ideally, this skill of perseverance and stick-with-it-ness continues past gameplay and into academic tasks.

Easy to Differentiate

Thinking specifically about English Language Learners, these critical thinking games in the classroom provide great problem-solving experiences without the extra stress of English communication. Students can work through these games without having to use English skills. This gives a chance for students to achieve goals and participate while also taking a break from using English skills. This can be a great cognitive load break and allows students to feel successful.

Picture of Dog Stax critical thinking game with text that reads, "puzzles come in various levels of difficulty"
Different levels of puzzles allow for differentiation and also gives students practice with puzzles of increasing difficulty.

These games usually have different levels that increase with difficulty as students move through the activities. Students can start on easy, medium, or hard levels. This can be varied based on different students. They can also self-select what levels they want to work on.

Encourage Collaboration

Students can work together to solve different critical thinking games. This helps students improve communication skills and teamwork. They need to share their ideas to try and work together to solve different puzzles.

Working in pairs also helps students build their resilience. They can lean on each other and continue through the difficult tasks.

Picture of multiple hands putting together blocks that spell the word teamwork with text that reads, "Games and puzzles encourage collaboration"

There are many different ways to use critical thinking games in the classroom.

As Morning Work

A few years ago, I had my students have a “soft start” upon starting class. This year, I have students switching classes almost right after the bell, so we don’t have time. However, when I had my whole class first thing in the morning, a “soft start” was a great way for students to start the day.

Students could choose from different, quiet activities to work on. This included reading, coloring, and critical thinking games. Students were able to pick whatever activity they wanted each day. Many students loved the critical thinking games and couldn’t wait to work on them each day.

I like to store my critical thinking games like Brick by Brick in these storage containers for students to easily grab as part of our morning work or mindfulness time.

Mindfulness Time

Since I don’t have the option for a “soft start” this year, my students have set aside mindfulness time in the afternoon. During these 10 minutes, students can choose an independent and quiet activity. The idea is that we can take a short academic break and that students can work quietly on a task of their choosing.

My critical thinking games are usually the first activities selected during mindfulness time. Students carefully work through different puzzles.

For Early Finishers

I have critical thinking games available for students as they finish other tasks during the day. They work great as part of a “May Do” list. I especially like to have these activities available during math class since they often use skills like spatial reasoning to solve different puzzles.

Many critical thinking games are great for supporting spacial reasoning. For this reason, I love using them for my early finishers during math class.

During Indoor Recess

I make sure to have these games available for students to use during indoor recess. This is a great time when natural collaboration happens as students work together to solve puzzles. What a great way to have fun and build problem-solving skills.

Critical thinking games in the classroom have been very positive for my students. They enjoy using them, and I am happy they can work on their critical thinking skills.

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Signature that says, "Love, Julie from Llama with Class"
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