Playful Teaching Practices

Playful Teaching Practices by Bill Michaelis and Ezra Holland cover

Playful Teaching Practices: A Little Book of Leadership Resources, Techniques and Activities was written by Dr. Bill Michaelis and Ezra Holland and published in 2019 by Outskirts Press. The book offers positive and playful ways to facilitate a group, whether in a classroom, on a playground, at a meeting, or in other group settings.

This 100-page book is designed to create quick access to field-tested playful teaching practices through checklists and stories from the authors’ own experiences. These include “ideas for ways to get started, warm-ups, focus, the fundamentals of facilitation, partnering techniques, grouping techniques, group building, resolving disputes, transitions, side coaching and shifting your style, understanding the activity and group development cycles, empowerment, creative invention and adaptation and closure.”1

Chapter 1: Introduction to Playful Teaching Practices. This chapter explains the purpose of the book and how it is designed. Some of the goals of using playful teaching practices include modeling a caring, flexible, joyous leader who can help students understand that learning can be fun and that it can encourage them to have confidence within the group to continue to learn and feel successful.

Chapter 2: The Way We Lead – Principles and Fundamentals. The authors suggest that play at its best is an attitude that communicates the freedom and joy of doing what you want to do, and they desire to encourage play facilitators to have the quality of playfulness in their leadership. Their approach follows these principles: keep it safe, fun accessible and inviting; playful teaching is a continuum using different methods; facilitation eases players into the right spirit, mood, and energy for the activity; leaders should use shifting styles and flexibility to keep things moving; players should feel ownership of the play experience; the process of playfulness is more important than the performance; and playful props can set the mood for playful learning. The leader must be safety conscious of the physical environment as well as the players’ emotional safety and must exude enthusiasm throughout the activity.

Chapter 3: Getting Started – Warm-Ups, Focusing Attention and Forming Groups and Teams. The principles of Warm-Ups include creating a safe environment of simple non-threatening connections with others using icebreaker activities to loosen the group up for the activity to follow. Ideas for warm-ups include variations of handshakes, high fives, and partnering techniques. Focusing Attention principles help the group focus or refocus for directions, side coaching, safety, clarification of rules, procedures, boundaries, time limits, modifications, and adaptations of the activity. Playful attention-getters are listed with age appropriateness indicated. Principles for Forming Groups/Making Teams are designed to encourage individuals to get into groups quickly, randomly, fairly, and arbitrarily so no one is singled out and everyone feels valued. Creative ideas for forming groups are given.

Chapter 4: More Group Building Activities. The principles of Group Building are about building relationships that are a foundation of effective communication and teamwork. “The best teambuilding activities help foster problem solving, collaboration, communication, cooperation, initiative, empathy, caring, and other pro-social skills.”2 Activities for pairs, small groups, and then the larger group ease players into comfortably playing as the development of the group progresses.

Chapter 5: Activities for Dispute Resolution, Transitions and Positive Reinforcement Rituals. The reality of play is disagreements will occur. The principles for Resolving Disputes include getting the players back into play quickly without bad feelings and giving them the techniques to solve their problems on their own. Easing the group into Transitions from one activity to another requires techniques to give them a heads-up about the change that is about to occur. Positive Reinforcement Rituals encourage good behavior with a variety of verbal and nonverbal techniques given.

Chapter 6: Activities for Participant Centered Leadership: Power to the Players. The central theme of Playful Teaching Practices is to move the group to take ownership of the activity and feel empowered to modify it as they wish, so that the activity becomes less adult-led and more directed by the group.

Chapter 7: All’s Well That Ends Well…Activities for Closing It Out Positively. It is important to close the activity on a strong, positive note. The principles guide the leader to be aware of the group’s level of enthusiasm watching for decreased interest or tiredness. Techniques for ending well include activities and rituals that have proven successful.

Chapter 8: What Else Can Help?...Fine-Tune and Reinforce Your Playful Teaching Practices and Leadership Skills. Suggestions are given to be an effective communicator and storyteller, to be able to assess the group’s needs, to use differing leadership styles as needed, and to be able to go with the flow.

Chapter 9: Creativity and Playful Teaching Practices…Activities, Processes and Approaches. This chapter suggests being creative in the process of the activities used by changing them up with variations of rules, equipment, environment, and boundaries as well as other changes. A Create a Game Chart is given to help with the process of trying new ideas.

Chapter 10: Applications, Inspirations and Destinations. The authors wish to encourage readers of this book to use these Playful Teaching Practices in diverse settings as a leader. Meetings, retreats, classrooms, family gatherings, sports practices, and so many more situations can all benefit from adding a fun element to leadership practices.

Chapter 11: Resources to Build Upon and Enhance Your Playful Teaching Practices…Books, Websites and Organizations. Resources given are a condensed list that reflect the authors’ philosophy and practice. They specifically refer to The Leader’s Handbook throughout the chapters. It was written by Bill Michaelis and J.M. O’Connell as an in-depth and practical guide to showing leaders how to create fun for their groups.

  • 1. Michaelis, Bill and Ezra Holland. Playful Teaching Practices: A Little Book of Leadership Resources, Techniques and Activities. Parker, CO: Outskirts Press, Inc. 2019. p. 2.
  • 2. Ibid. p. 35