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Dr. Fred Jones's
Tools for Teaching

Responsibility Training: Part 4
Having Fun with PAT


Before reading this column, you might want to read or review Dr. Jones's previous columns Responsibility Training, Part 1: Incentives Teach Lessons, Responsibility Training, Part 2: PAT: Learning to Give in Order to Get, and Responsibility Training, Part 3: Teaching Students to Hustle.

In the three previous segments, we have described the mechanics of Responsibility Training. Responsibility Training, which allows a teacher to generate cooperation from an entire class, with very little effort, while reducing wasted time, represents a leap forward in classroom incentive management.

In a nutshell, in Responsibility Training, students earn Preferred Activity Time (PAT) when they save time. Preferred Activity Time is something students look forward to doing. Once you master the mechanics of Responsibility Training, operating the program boils down to having fun with students and having fun with learning.

In this segment, we will look at having fun with learning. Once you get the hang of it, you will be able to generate preferred activities with the snap of a finger.


The fifth grade students had just taken their seats to begin the school day when their teacher made the following announcement:

"Class, before we start the day, I want to point out the art materials on the project table over by the window. The art project will be your PAT this afternoon. As always, I have set aside twenty minutes at the end of the day. You know, however, that once you start a project like this, you always wish you had more time. Well, you can have more time. All of the bonus PAT that you earn today will be added to the art project."

The students didn't know that, had their teacher never heard of PAT, they would have done the art project anyway. They only knew that all their hustle throughout the day would translate into art.

By using learning as a PAT, the teacher got "two for the price of one." She gave students a special enrichment activity that they enjoy and got motivation for free.


Teachers in self-contained classrooms have more potential PATs during a school day than they can use. They have art and music and reading stories to the class -- to say nothing of special projects. Add to that all the curriculum enrichment activities that are available for the units being studied, and you have quite a list. Rather than spending a lot of time planning PAT, these teachers just need to pick the best activity of the day and call it PAT.

PAT only becomes a potential headache in a departmentalized setting. Art and music now belong to other departments, and recess is just a memory. Of course, those teachers often will use curriculum enrichment for PAT just as their colleagues in self-contained classrooms do. But their choices are more limited because they only have their students for one subject.

With fewer "freebies" lying around, those teachers more often have to build PATs from scratch. If you teach economics, you will have to ask yourself repeatedly, "How do we have fun with economics?" The answer had better be cheap. I cannot grant you extra planning time.


Apart from curriculum enrichment activities, team competition is perhaps the most reliable and easy-to-use motivational "hook" in education. Anything can be taught in the form of a team game, and team games make terrific PATs.

The realization that lessons can be made into team games caused me to study team game rules. Did you know that there really aren't that many different games in the world? Did you know that the rules to baseball, football, basketball, hangman, and Jeopardy are all the same? With a half-dozen sets of rules, you can generate hundreds of PATs, and you won't need any planning time. You can do it on the spur of the moment!

Let me tell you what makes the best team games - time-on-task. Kids hate to sit and watch. They love to play. The more they play, the more they learn.

Academic Baseball

More Playing Time
In baseball, your team is "at bat" roughly half the time and the other team is "at bat" roughly half the time. If PAT lasts 20 minutes, your team will be at bat for only about 10 minutes. By having innings in which teams take turns at bat, you halve the length of everybody's PAT. How can we improve the rules of the game so kids spend more time playing and less time on the sidelines? The answer is defense. Make the students play defense, and they will be engaged in playing when the other team is at bat.

Playing Defense
You can play the game with questions at four levels of difficulty: singles, doubles, triples, and home runs. The questions usually come right off the top of your head. If you want to simplify the game, make every question worth a run.
Lay out two diamonds on the floor using small pieces of masking tape as bases. Arrange students into two teams. On the team that is at bat first, pick a student and say, "Batter up! Do you want a single, double, triple or home run?" The student picks a level of difficulty, and you "pitch" a question. If the student gets a "hit" by answering the question correctly within ten seconds, he or she is "on base." (Have students get out of their seats to "run the bases." They have fun strutting their stuff, and you don't have to keep track of who is on base.) If, however, the student misses the question, you turn to the other team and say, "Fly ball!" Repeat the question, and then wait before calling on anyone else.

That brings us to the element of team game structure. Do you play this game open or closed book? Aha! If you play the game open-book, the team on defense can start looking up the answer as soon as they hear the question. As a result, the team on defense frantically flips through books, lab manuals, and notes to find the answer, while the student who is at bat attempts to answer the question. There actually is peer pressure to look up the answer, because dropping a fly ball means that a teammate was simply too lazy to look up the answer. Because kids hate to sit on the sidelines with nothing to do, the students on the team that is "at bat" usually start looking up the answer as well. A certain contagion for looking up the answer fills the room.
After you say, "Fly ball!" wait at least five seconds, or until the rustling of book pages dies down, and then call on a student. By calling on whomever you please, you can distribute questions more effectively, while assuring that weaker students get questions they have a good chance of answering.

If students on defense answer the question correctly, they "catch" the fly ball and make an "out" on the other team. If, however, they miss the question and "drop the fly ball," the batter is on base with an "error," and all runners advance one base. In real baseball, the team with the most runs wins, but not in this game. In this game, the final score for each team is calculated as runs minus outs. Catching a fly ball nullifies a run. In the final score, catching a fly ball is the equivalent of hitting a solo home run. Defense is serious business.

Baseball Becomes Double-Diamond Baseball
To play "Double-Diamond Baseball," alternate questions between teams: A team is up for one question and then on defense for the following question. By alternating questions between teams, each team has the same number of at-bats, and the dramatic tension is maximized since everyone can see who is ahead at any moment and what question difficulty is needed to score. Alternating the questions in that fashion eliminates innings. Rather, you have two games running side-by-side like a race. It is a race to see which team can get around the bases more often before time runs out. The generic name for this game format is Ping-Pong, because play continually alternates back and forth between sides. Because two baseball diamonds are on the floor, however, we've gotten into the habit of referring to this version as "Double-Diamond Baseball."

Baseball Becomes Football
To change baseball to football, draw two gridirons on the board, one for each team. Begin the game by saying to a student, "Ten, twenty, thirty, or forty yard question. What will it be?" Questions alternate between the teams as they move their footballs down their respective gridirons. If a student misses a question, turn to the team on defense, and say, "Sack!" If the student you call on answers the question correctly, he or she throws the other team for a ten-yard loss.
An alternative way of structuring academic football is to pit one team against another on a single gridiron as in the real game of football. Secondary students often prefer this variant. Start on the fifty-yard line. Rather than using the Ping-Pong format, each team gets three downs to score. Three downs to score forces students to choose long-yardage questions.

If a ten-yard question is missed, the teacher says, "Sack!" as in the previous example. A correct answer throws the offense for a ten-yard loss. If, however, a twenty-, thirty- or forty-yard question is missed, the teacher says, "Interception!" A correct answer gains possession of the ball at the line of scrimmage.
Of course, teachers can elaborate the basic format to suit their pleasure. You can have extra point questions after a touchdown. You can have difficult "Hail Mary" questions when more than forty yards are desperately needed. I've seen teachers have a classroom Super Bowl complete with a satirical coin-toss ceremony. One teacher played football so often that she made a felt board for the gridiron and a felt football to make changes in field position easy.

Football Becomes Basketball
Think of football as simply a "path game" like the board game Candyland. In path games, players move down the "squares" of the path in order to reach a "goal." A gridiron is simply a path with ten squares. Once you envision games played on courts or fields as path games, you can play basketball or soccer with students just as easily as football. By answering more difficult questions, students can move down the path several squares at a time in order to score more quickly. Basketball simply is a path game that requires seven "moves" in order to score, whereas football requires ten moves to score. In basketball, if the team with the ball misses a question and the team on defense answers it, that team "steals the ball" and the game switches directions.

"What'll it be? One, two, three, or four body parts?" To use the Ping-Pong format, draw two gallows on the board, and alternate questions between teams. Add fingers and toes to make enough body parts so the game lasts longer.

"Pick a ten, twenty, thirty, or forty point question. The category is" All games from television make great PATs. Jeopardy, Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?, Pictionary and Twenty-One can be used to review factual information; some older game shows, such as What's My Line? and To Tell the Truth, are particularly great for history questions. In addition, coffee table games, such as Trivial Pursuit easily can be adapted to the classroom. Questions come from the unit you are teaching.

Academic Volleyball
This game is perfect for vocabulary. In volleyball, a team only can score when it has the serve. When a team has the serve, it can score points in succession. If, however, the team misses, service goes to the other team. Then, that team can score points in succession until it misses. In that kind of game, you wouldn't want to use questions that require explanations for answers. A team could be on defense a long time if the other team were to run up a string of points. For such questions, baseball would be a much better choice. For volleyball, questions must come "fast and furious," with quick answers to keep the game from dragging. The quick pace of questions makes volleyball ideal for vocabulary. Volleyball, therefore, often is used by foreign language teachers and biology teachers.

The Rules
Arrange students into two teams, and say, "I will begin by giving a word to one of the teams. Then, I will point to a person on that team. You will have one second to give me the first letter of the word. Then, I will point to another person on the same team, and he or she will have one second to give me the next letter of the word. If someone misses, the word will go to the other team. I will point to someone on that team, and he or she must pick up where the first team left off. The second team will keep the word as long as they spell it correctly. If they miss a letter, the word goes back to the first team. The team that gives me the last letter of the word gets the point and the next word. Ready? Here we go! The first word is 'photosynthesis.'"
Point to a student, and you are off and running. Drive the pace of the game so students must be on their toes. You are a high-energy game show host. For younger students, whose attention spans are short, you can reduce the burden on memory and attention this way: Give the word to the entire class, and have every student write it down. Then, as the word is being spelled, everyone can follow along to keep track.

Perfect for Math
What kind of game rules work for math? The whole class could fall asleep while the person who is "up" attempts to solve a quadratic equation. The game described below keeps everybody busy and eliminates paper grading. Arrange students into two teams. Pair each member of Team A with a member of Team B, and have the pairs place their desks side by side. Write a math problem on the board, and give each problem a time limit as follows: "All right, class, you have two minutes for the next problem. (Write the equation on the board.) Ready? Go!" Give students a warning as time runs out: "Class, you have fifteen seconds."

Work Check Routine
When time runs out, go through the following routine: "Time! Exchange papers. The answer is..." (Students check them and return them.) "How many got it right on Team A? How many got it right on Team B? The score is now___ to___. Class, you have three minutes for the next problem."
Would people on Team A let people on Team B have extra time to work on the problem? Hardly! They'll say, "I'll take that!" and grab the paper. Would anybody on Team A cheat for anybody on Team B? Not likely! After the papers are returned, would students on Team B let their counterparts on Team A hold up their hands if they did not get it right? What do you think? The whole check routine takes seconds, and each team keeps the other team honest. With every additional problem the score mounts and the tension builds.


The examples of PAT games above are meant to whet your appetite. There are many more examples of PATs in Tools for Teaching. In addition to a 13 page appendix containing protocols for 18 different learning games, Chapter 23 (Initiating Preferred Activity Time) provides ideas for making PATs out of research reports, science, and foreign languages. Finally, check our Web site for PATs. We have a collection of PATs contributed to our PAT Bank by teachers.

Every teacher has good ideas for PATs. If you get together with some of your colleagues, you can develop your own PAT Bank. As your repertoire of PATs grows, you will find that the notion of having fun with learning increasingly permeates your teaching.

  • This article is condensed from Dr. Jones' award winning book Tools for Teaching. Illustrations by Brian Jones for Tools for Teaching.

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