February 21, 2014

ThinkFun Review #1: Rush Hour Jr.

This week I received a very generous game donation from ThinkFun, and wanted to spread the word about how wonderful this company's games are for use in Speech therapy (or any other educational or private setting). I already owned several of the company's games, all of which are a hit with my students, so adding even more TF products to my therapy inventory was a windfall! What I love about ThinkFun games is that they are designed to build students' reasoning and critical thinking skills -- which many of our students lack -- through play.

ThinkFun's website features a nice little grid that designates the various skills that are addressed by their products. It may help you decide which of their games work best for your setting. Find it here.

Over the next couple of weeks, I will be reviewing three exciting new games that I am currently trialing with my Speech population: Rush Hour Jr., Zingo! Time-Telling, and Zingo! Word Builder. I will be breaking up my reviews into individual blog entries in order to prevent information overload, so keep checking back often! Here we go :)

REVIEW #1: Rush Hour Jr.
Rush Hour Jr. - Get the 2014 edition here!
I have to be honest, I was a little bit skeptical at first as to how to use this game in speech therapy to effectively build language skills, because it is advertised as a single player game and seemingly does not involve language. Given that frame of mind, I probably would have never bought it! However, after playing it with several of my groups this week, it actually turns out that this is one of the best games I now have in my Speech room -- I wish I had gotten a hold of it sooner!!

The premise of this logic game is as follows: A square grid is placed on the table and a variety of vehicles (including an ice cream truck) are placed upon the grid as depicted on a playing card. The goal of the game is to shift the vehicles in such a way that a path is cleared for the ice cream truck to move to the exit.

Here is an example of one of the set-ups ("Easy" difficulty level):
Make a path for the ice cream truck
The vehicles on the grid can only move in four different directions: left, right, up, and down. And here it dawned on me: most of my students have no clue which way is left and which way is right! These are important concepts that our students are confronted with on a daily basis. This is where I realized the value of this game... and knowing that my students are heavily dependent on visuals, I created the following cards:
I used Boardmaker, but you can just hand-draw these.
I played this game with 1st grade regular ed. language students, 3rd grade regular ed. language students, and 3rd grade Special Day Class students with mild cognitive delays. When my students arrived, we talked about what the term "rush hour" means and introduced the directional vocabulary. I presented the game grid and let my students know that the ice cream truck needed our help getting out of traffic. By this point, my students were really intrigued by the colorful little cars that were set up on the grid and the fact that they had this utmost important job of helping the ice cream truck out.

I was working with groups of three students, so I had them sit next to each other on one side of the table, with me across from them. The person seated in the middle was the "Driver". The students sitting on each side were the "Navigators" who had to tell the driver where to go. The navigators took turns giving the driver instructions and the driver had to follow through. Since a lot of my students struggle with basic sentence formulation, I also gave them the following sentence frame:
"Move the (color) vehicle ____"
A sample instruction might be: "Move the blue vehicle left." My students had an epic amount fun with this! They got so excited when it was their turn to be the driver.
This was the set-up from my view.
As we were playing this game, I recognized that a huge variety of skills can be addressed through this game, making it a true gem for any speech room. Here are just a few of the skills that are targeted by playing Rush Hour Jr.:

* Directional Vocabulary Concepts: Soon after starting the game I realized that most of my students didn't even have a solid grasp on "up" versus "down". Who would have thought? By the end of our session, I did notice some marked improvement for all four of these concepts with some of my students - they needed less processing time to tell the driver which way to go.
* Listening / Following Directions: The driver had to attend to the navigator's instructions and ask for clarification when they weren't sure what the instructions were.
* Providing Instructions: This is not a skill that I often work on (although I should), so this was great practice for my students! It is a very functional skill that we all use on a daily basis.
* Category / Color Concepts: This activity solidified the concept of what qualifies as a "vehicle". It may also be nice practice for color concepts with our younger population.
* Logical thinking / Planning ahead: Students had to determine which of the vehicles could be moved on a given turn and figure out which one would be the best option by planning two steps ahead. This was challenging for most of my students, but I know that with practice and scaffolding, they can improve in this area.
* Impulsivity control: Sometimes the navigator tried to move the vehicle for the driver and needed a reminder that he was just giving instructions, not driving.
* Blurting out: At times, the second navigator tried to butt in when it was the first navigators turn. Great opportunity to work on interrupting!
* Social skills: This was a truly cooperative activity! Not only did students have to take turns, but they also had to respond appropriately when the navigator gave them a wrong direction (and the driver knew that they were wrong).

This game is also great for working on Vocalic /r/! All it takes is some different vocabulary! Instead of vehicle, you could have the students say "car" and instead of "up/down/left/right" use "upward/downward/backward/forward".
Vocalic /r/ visuals
This game was a true success. When it was time to leave, my students were reluctant to go because they wanted to keep playing. They were also begging me to do the "super-hard" set-ups (we only did easy ones) because they thought they could handle it :).

If you only have money for one of the games I will be reviewing, I recommend that you get Rush Hour Jr.! I actually purchased the regular version of this game for myself around the holidays because it was on sale on Amazon (and because I love ThinkFun games!), but haven't had a chance to play it yet. I guess I know what I will be doing this weekend!

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