Infusing Play for Adult Learners

Children often learn best through play and so do adults.

Last year the college I teach at had an education day and the keynote speaker spoke about the importance of play. Play is getting more air time these days as research is demonstrating that play not only benefits children but adults alike. This is a topic that keeps coming up in the discussion forums for PIDP 3250 as well. We explored the importance of humour and learning and then in creating a positive learning environment. Another way to infuse humour and fun can be through play.

When you play, you engage the creative side of your brain and silence your “inner editor,” that psychological barrier that censors your thoughts and ideas. This can often help you see the problem in a new light and think up fresh, creative solutions (Robinson et al., 2006). It also increases engagement of students in the learning process. They may not even be aware that they are learning when they are having fun. Play also releases natural endorphins so it feels good to learn. Any association that a student makes between learning and fun is a big SCORE (!) in my books.


  • keeps you functional when under stress
  • refreshes your mind and body
  • encourages teamwork
  • increases energy and prevents burnout
  • triggers creativity and innovation
  • helps you see problems in new ways
  • relieves stress (release of endorphins – the “feel good” hormones and cortisol is reduced)
  • improves brain function
  • improves relationship and connection to others
  • keeps you feeling young and energetic (Robinson et al., 2006).

Now I’m not suggesting that a bunch of adults go hit the playground and start swinging from the monkey bars. Let’s look at ways that teachers can infuse play into teaching and learning with adults. Here are but a few things I came up with or heard in the wonderful TED talk below about play and creativity:

  • Games: I love to play games with my students. I’m always looking for more new innovative ways to do so. I’ve found a few sites that have some FREE and easy to use formats for creating games, like Jeopardy or Bingo or matching games. I’ve done trivia games where the buzzer is a silly nurse duck they have to squeak before answering. Or have had each team make up their own unique buzzer sound, i.e. “honk-honk” “tweat-tweat” that they have to make every time they want to answer. Making up team names produces much laughter and creativity (and these can sure get silly). So that students don’t feel put on the spot I give them 2 minutes to confer with their team if they want. Games are something different, a change of pace, and a whole lot of fun!

The way that I do BINGO games is that instead of just calling out a word, the word is an answer to a question I pose. A way to infuse more learning and critical thinking. For example I do a medication Bingo game and will say “before administering this medication you must always check the apical heart rate for 1 full minute.” They have to come up with the answer “Digoxin” and find it on their BINGO card. I give the students the choice of collaborating and working together as a large group, small groups or pairs or individually. Some groups get competitive and do it alone.   I then share the answer key with the student after the games so they have both the question and the answer form which they can study from or refer to.

  • Humour: as talked about in our PIDP 3250 discussion board this creates more fun in the classroom. It can anchor learning in a deeper way. It opens up the right brain for more creative thinking. If learning feels good then students are motivated to learn as well. Motivation = Engagement. As the teacher we should stay away from sarcasm as it can easily be misinterpreted and be at the expense of another student. Some ways to use humour include using funny videos or cartoons
  • Time, space and freedom to play with technology, equipment, multi-sensorial objects, role playing.

Create silly learning activities for example:

  • Draw the person right next to you (they are given only 30 seconds to do it) “laughter embarrassment and sorry’s” are a common endpoint. It creates fun but also makes the point that we often have fear of judgment of our peers and embarrassment to show our peers our ideas. Fear makes us conservative in our thoughts so we don’t share our innovative, wild ideas. Kids don’t have this and they lose this as they grow up (Brown, 2008). This creates a good discussion to create a safe positive learning environment by highlighting they are safe to take risks and don’t have to fear judgment or embarrassment.
  • Toys/objects – have each student randomly pick a toy/object of their choice. Then describe how this toy describes who they are, or set up a story that they are stuck in a forest by themselves and this is all they have, and they have to come up with a creative way to use this toy/object to help them survive.
  • Toilet paper- pick any number of squares of toilet paper that they wish. Once everyone has chosen their squares now they have to come up with different ways to describe themselves based on how many pieces of toilet paper they have.
  • Blindfold- partner takes them around the halls and both people have to figure out how to communicate to ensure the other’s safety and comfort and how to build trust.
  • Finger blasters/paper airplanes- to refresh the classroom have students fire these off (safety rules: teacher uses protective glasses and no one look back). It’s silly fun…now fire away!) A fun mindless activity like this resets the brain. (Brown, 2008)
  • Icebreakers- fun shouldn’t stop after the first day, keep these going. Create breaks of learning with different short bursts of play.
  • Vote with coloured cards – go with your initial response (1 second to respond) helps to see what the subconscious ideas are on various topics. Can discuss in large group or pair up with peer and discuss.
  • iClicker voting
  • Give students a chunk of tinfoil and build themselves a hat
  • Hoola hoop voting: place your votes, ideas, etc. in a hoop
  • 30 circles – Students have 30 circles on a sheet of paper and are given 1 minute to transform them into any shape and fill in as many as possible. Who had the most different circles filled in? It proves the point that we self edit as we have ideas but that it is more productive to let the ideas flow. Some of the most innovative ideas have come out of this freedom to create (Brown, 2008).
  • Art projects: create collages to demonstrate ideas, emotions, themes; colouring as a mindful exercise and reset the brain
  • Role playing: project yourself into an experience, helps us to understand our social scripts, understand emotions, empathy tool, learn authenticity (Brown, 2008).
  • Have multi-sensorial supplies available for group, art projects, role plays, etc. We can learn from the Montessori schools who use a lot of multi-sensorial supplies for learning. Bringing these to class will inspire creativity and fun.
  • Take pictures or video of what transpires in class and post on a classroom website to create culture of fun and build community.
  • Have students make a skit: bring costumes/props
  • Friendship is a short cut to play. If there is trust then people are willing to take more risks (Brown, 2008). In the case of teaching we are not our students friends but we can build common ground, and power balances to build that trust.
  • Brainteasers, riddles, puzzles

Play can be effective in divergent modes to generate new ideas, think outside the box (Brown, 2008). So as a teacher effectively placing play at certain intervals in the class is critical. Play can also be used to re-energize the class or to switch modes/activities/topics.

Once I started generating ideas on how to infuse play into teaching they just flowed out of me and I felt as though I could go forever. I feel at this point in my teaching that I don’t infuse enough play and I would like to make more of a concerted effort in this domain. The ideas are there, they just have to lift off the ground. As a means to do this, I will tack these ideas on a wall to remind myself to infuse play into my teaching at critical points.


Brown, T. (2008). Tales of creativity and play. [Ted Talk]. Available at

Robinson, L., Smith, M., Segal, J., Shubin, J. (2016). The benefits of play for adults. Available at



About turnera2014

I am a Nursing (RN) Instructor taking the Professional Instructor Diploma Program at Vancouver Community College in hopes to challenge my current teaching modalities and inspire me to be the best teacher I can be.
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