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Hungry Hippos

Gist:  Students gather balls to determine which problems they do.


Why Do It?  Students rarely care much about the work they do on a worksheet.  Playing Hungry Hippos gets them up and moving, narrows down how many problems they have to do, increases engagement and motivation, and generally breaks the doldrum of a regular school day.  This activity also requires them to work collaboratively in small groups.



-Ball Pit Balls (one per worksheet item or one per student)














Directions to Make:

1.  Use a sharpie to write one number, typically 1-30, on each ball.


Set Up:

1.  Push the desks out of the way, against the walls, leaving a large floor space in the middle.

2.  Place the balls in the middle of your floor.














To Play:

1.  Give every student a worksheet or a digital copy.

2.  Divide them into equal teams and have team members sit together near the edge of the playing space.

3.  Round 1--At your signal, one player from each team rushes to the pile of balls and gathers enough for each member of the team to have one.  If teams are unequal, have teams gather an equal number of balls.  They return to their team and distribute the balls.

4.  Everyone answers their question on their own worksheet and reports their answers to the player who gathered the balls.  That person records their team's answers on their own worksheet and brings it to the teacher to check.

5.  Teacher marks answers right or wrong.  The team gets one point for each correct answer.  

6.  Repeat with each player taking a turn being the one to gather balls and record answers.

7.  You can play that teams can't repeat problems they've already done, which keeps the game challenging.  Or they may repeat problems, which means if they've kept good track of their work, their responsibility may be rewarded.

8.  Game ends when every player has had a turn.

9.  The team with the most points wins.





Caution and Tips:

-Set clear expectations about how students may approach the ball pile (whether or not running is allowed, not to crash into people, etc) and how the balls are to be managed during turns (not thrown or rolled around the room, etc).

-If students cannot behave according to your expectations during the activity, they can be sent back to their desk to complete the entire worksheet on their own.

-If teaching middle or high school students, be prepared for giggling every time you say the word "balls."  Have a light-hearted conversation about it and embrace the laughter.  Come up with silly euphemisms for the balls (colorful spheres...).

-Contain the balls somehow.  I borrow a hula-hoop from the PE teacher.  Or use an inflatable kiddie pool or laundry basket.



-Tape questions or content directly to the balls.

-The game may be played individually instead of on teams.  More students will be running at each other, though, so be prepared.

-The game can be played in reverse, where the problems gathered are the ones they DON'T have to do.

-My favorite variation: Station different problems or worksheets around the room and assign different ball numbers to each page.  For example, if I had 10 worksheets around the room, each worksheet would have 3 ball numbers.  Every student draws a ball and goes to the corresponding problem.  Some students may be in a group; others may be working alone.  Give them a few minutes, then re-draw.  This lets students work in many different student arrangements and on many different problems.  Students going to a page after another group has already started it need to evaluate whether or not they agree with the work that's started and continue.

-DIFFERENTIATE! Make sure certain colors correspond to specific problems and have select students draw only that color.  You can arrange that specification top-secretly with individual students OR group students by color and have each team draw only that color.  The assignment is differentiated then without making "levels" obvious to the students--they just think that's the "blue team!"  You can even have a "rainbow team" that is allowed to draw any color.

-You can play Hot Potato with these balls.  Stand the students in a circle facing in and give each student a ball.  They pass the balls around the circle, behind their backs, while you play music.  When the music stops, they do the problem of the ball they're holding.  

-Students can be required to get any answers they didn't have from other students at the conclusion of the game.

-Hungry Hippos Writing Prompts: Make a numbered list of random plot events.  Students start a story, and then at your signal, they draw a ball out and include that numbered idea in their work.  Give them time to include it, then repeat.



See this blog post about using Hungry Hippos for Back to School.  


Hungry Hippos: Favorite Variation
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