Getting down to the nitty-gritty of sex education may oftentimes be overwhelming for students of all ages (Buston & Wight, 2004; Henry, 2013). Topics like sexually transmitted infections, the functions of body parts you won’t even look at with a hand mirror, and exploring one’s sexual identity is a lot to process as an individual, let alone within a classroom setting (Buston, Wight, & Hart, 2002). So how can we as sex educators alleviate this type of pressure within our students?
Using games in the classroom is a fantastic way to encourage students to think in a new and creative way, while also instituting a fun and positive attitude in relation to sexuality. Much like the Synectics model of learning, games allow individuals to powerfully communicate with one another and establish an “understanding together” environment, while also encouraging individuals to problem solve and learn content in new and more self-motivated ways (Estes, Mintz, & Gunter, 2011). When it comes to promoting healthy sexual behavior, this self-driven form of play and learning becomes an invaluable and instrumental motivator.
Gameplay can be achieved through a variety of platforms – game boards, card games, strategy and fantasy games, video or computer games, and so on. What’s most important is that the content of your lesson be communicated through action (Perrotta, Featherstone, Aston, & Houghton, 2013). Students have to carefully navigate the rules, decisions, and consequences of the game at hand in order to move forward in the game and possibly even win! Due to the essence of enjoyment, games will often contribute to a level of learning within the student that typically could not be achieved otherwise (Bruess & Schroeder, 2014). As a result, one could say both the educator and the student are winners!
Games have undoubtedly been a favorite pastime of educators. They are fun and engaging, but are they an effective form of instruction when it comes to sex education?
Games are a great way to relieve pressures from students within the classroom. Due to the sensitive and often controversial nature of sex education, gameplay can provide a platform of comfort and reassurance in a subject that is often met with trepidation (Bruess & Schroeder, 2014). In a recent study on how the use of a board game enhanced the understanding of physical anatomy, it was found that factors like lack of confidence, fear, excessive stress, and loss of concentration or interest in the course were significantly reduced (Anyanwu, 2014). As a result, students were able to have fun, work together, and retain information in a more effective manner.
In addition to this, games have been found to positively change health behaviors (Gillis, 2003; Kouba et al., 2013; Lennon & Coombs, 2007). As sex educators, this is crucial because we want all students to not only learn about healthy sexual behavior but to actively engage in it as well. Games may be fun but in order to be effective, they should have a positive and visible impact on our students’ behavior. Various studies on the relation between games and health behavior have shown results such as an increase of self-efficacy in prevention of unhealthy behaviors (Lennon & Coombs, 2007), increased self-care (Kouba et al., 2013), and increased healthy behaviors into daily routine (Gillis, 2003).
It is also important to note that students are not the only ones learning when it comes to gameplay in the classroom. Using games can help educators identify which learning styles will allow individual students to flourish (Fedlman, Monteserin, & Amandi, 2014). As a result, educators can more effectively personalize how future content is presented and help improve overall group performance.
You might think, okay, great, I’ll just make a sex-themed Pictionary. This seems easy enough and sounds like it could be fun, but there are several important factors that should be considered before executing a new game in the classroom.
When deciding to implement a game within your lesson, make sure to consider these guidelines for before, during, and after your activity.
- When using games as a tool for teaching, it is essential to carefully plan ahead (Silberman, 1998). Once you feel as though you have enough knowledge on the topic your game will focus on, make sure to work out all aspects of how your game will be conducted. For example, outline your goals and objectives, determine what materials will be used and how much time will be needed, establish game rules, and so on. Planning ahead will contribute to a comprehensive and effective lesson. Shields and Keyes DiGioia (2012) recommend considering all of these elements for successful game instruction.
- One of the easiest ways to create a game in the classroom is to base them off of popular games modified to suit the needs of your lesson (Silberman, 1998). For example, you can take Monopoly and turn it into Instead of property, students can buy various forms of contraceptives, and lose turns when they contract sexually transmitted infections. All the while, incorporating solid information on different forms of contraceptives as well as contraction of STIs and how they can be treated. However, you can always get creative and create your own game!
- Consider Your Audience
- As mentioned earlier, all students have their own unique learning style. When deciding to use a game, ask yourself if it will contribute to the visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learning styles of your students (Gilbert, Sawyer, & McNeil, 2011). Furthermore, Shields and Keyes DiGioia (2012) emphasize using games that will be most relevant to the needs of your participants. In addition to learning styles, instructors will want to consider factors such as peer group dynamics, age and developmental growth, language, special needs, group size, and so on.
- Pay Attention
- Take note of how the game is working out. This way, you can make modifications for future use if needed. In addition, notice how students are interacting with the game. This will tell you more about how each student learns best.
- Enforce Rules
- Make sure students are following any established game or ground rules. This will provide consistency throughout the lesson and also offer further reassurance within a sensitive subject matter (Bruess & Schroeder, 2014).
- Have fun!
- Once you have worked through all the twists and curves, join in on the fun and engage with your students! Feel those Alex Trebek senses tingling!
- Silberman (1998) states that once games are finished, the instructor should always discuss the activity with students to help evaluate its effectiveness. You can review the information that was learned with the class, get feedback from students on their experience, determine whether your goals and student objectives were achieved and so on.
Creating your own game can be tons of fun, but also time consuming. Thankfully, there are lots of resources available to sex educators that have pre-designed games for many different topics within sex education. Some great resources include…
- Game On! The Ultimate Sexuality Education Gaming Guide by Jessica L. Shields & Melissa Keye DiGioia
- SexEd Project
- Teaching Sexual Health
- Games for Adolescent Reproductive Health by PATH (Program for Appropriate Technology in Health)
Anyanwu, E. G. (2014). Anatomy adventure: A board game for enhancing understanding of anatomy. Anatomical Sciences Education, 7(2), 153-160. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/ase.1389
Bruess, C.E., & Schroeder, E. (2014). Sexuality education: Theory and practice (6th Ed.). Sudury, MA: Jones & Bartlett.
Buston, K., Wight, D., & Hart, G. (2002). Inside the sex education classroom: the importance of context in engaging pupils. Culture, Health & Sexuality, 4(3), 317-335. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13691050110113332
Buston, K., & Wight, D. (2004). Pupils’ participation in sex education lessons: Understanding variation across classes. Sex Education: Sexuality, Society And Learning, 4(3), 285-301. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/1468181042000243367
Estes, T. H., Mintz, S. L., & Gunter, M.L. (2011). Instruction: A models approach (6th Ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson.
Feldman, J., Monteserin, A., & Amandi, A. (2014). Detecting students’ perception style by using games. Computers & Education, 71,14-22. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.compedu.2013.09.007
Gillis, L. (2003). Use of an interactive game to increase food acceptance – a pilot study. Child: Care, Health And Development, 29(5), 373-375. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1046/j.1365-2214.2003.00354.x
Henry, D. S. (2013). Couple reports of the perceived influences of a college human sexuality course: An exploratory study. Sex Education: Sexuality, Society And Learning, 13(5), 509-521. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14681811.2013.767195
Kouba, J., Velsor-Friedrich, B., Militello, L., Harrison, P. R., Becklenberg, A., White, B., Surya, S., & Ahmed, A. (2013). Efficacy of the I can control Asthma and nutrition now (ICAN) pilot program on health outcomes in high school students with Asthma. Journal Of School Nursing, 29(3), 235-247. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/1059840512466110
Lennon, J. L., & Coombs, D. W. (2007). The utility of a board game for Dengue Haemorrhagic fever health education. Health Education, 107(3), 290-306. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1108/09654280710742582
Perrotta, C., Featherstone, G., Aston, H. and Houghton, E. (2013). Game-based learning: Latest evidence and future directions. Berkshire, ENG. Retrieved from National Foundation for Educational Research, http://ocw.metu.edu.tr/pluginfile.php/10919/mod_resource/content/1/GAME01.pdf
Shields, J., & Keyes DiGioia, M. (2012). Game on!: The ultimate sexuality education gaming guide. Morristown, NJ: The Center for Family Life Education.
Silberman, M., & Auerbach, C. (1998). Active training: A handbook of techniques, designs, case examples, and tips (2nd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.