Jefferson Schools’ “The Great Escape” Board Games Enhance ELA Studies

Jefferson Middle School seventh and eighth graders in Elizabeth Rowe-Baehr, Kali Simko and Hilda Ocasio’s English Language Arts (ELA) classes created board games called The Great Escape to enhance their study of the books, The Long Walk to Water, about Sudanese refugees, and Inside Out and Back Again, about Vietnam refugees. The protagonists in both stories flee their country because of war-torn situations taking uncomfortable journeys to seek a better life in the United States. Students invited families into school to play the board games and also displayed posters and pictures with reflections on what they learned during the ELA units. 

“We wanted to see what Jayden is doing during the day,” said parents Nick and Lacey Glover. “It is important for parents to be involved in their child’s school and understand what they are learning so they can help at home. The more involved you are, the better your child will do. “

The board games were an engaging activity to help students see that the characters in the books had hopes and aspirations, but along the way, also had to face consequences and choices that made their goals difficult to achieve. Students included details from the book when they designed the board games such as: losing a loved one, being challenged by an environmental condition, or learning a new language and culture. They also began to see how each character couldn’t always control difficult situations. The board game was an interactive approach to reviewing the text, but also an exercise in empathy because students temporarily simulated the experience of the characters, imagining what it would be like to face such harsh experiences and transitions.

“The Long Walk to Water talks about how people go through war and their struggles with things as simple as just getting water,” said Jefferson Middle School seventh grader, Jadiel Johnson. “By creating the board games and flash cards, it helped us have fun while also learning about a serious subject.”

The students worked in small teams with designated jobs to create the games. Each group had “chance card” designers and art/symbolism partners. The board game had to fit the setting and journey of the characters by including images and scenes from the books.

“As our global community struggles with war and tragedy, the United States is struck, even now, with a real dilemma in how to respond,” said Mrs. Rowe-Baehr. “Long Walk to Water and Inside Out and Back Again have brought the refugee situation to the table with historical examples for the students. However, it’s important to help them process how this relates to current issues they may be seeing on the news with the Syrian refugee debates and continue the conversation. This event not only showed the efforts being done in class to help the students become better readers and writers, it also provokes compassion and understanding for how difficult leaving one’s family and homeland behind must be. These are heavy issues and parents should be helping to process these types of conversations at home.”

posted on 01/04/2016 - filed under: Academics, Common Core, ELA, Middle School, Parents, Spotlight, Staff, Students