Gamification in the Classroom

Gamification in the Classroom

Gamification of learning has taken the education world by storm. This innovative technique combines the two most important missions of schooling: engaged students and valuable learning. You can see evidence of my very own attempt at gamifying the classroom above! For my 9th grade Honors English Language Arts class, my students read Mark Zusak’s The Book Thief. For their final project, they wrote several essays and applied their learning by constructing a novel-themed board or card game. The kids loved it. Liesel Meminger’s experience in Nazi Germany was immortalized in Monopoly, Candyland, Crazy 8’s, chess, and a suspicious card deck that claimed to be an Apples to Apples’ dupe (but was formatted eerily similar to Cards Against Humanity…). 

My personal favorite is pictured in this blog post: The Book Thief Twister. Each colorful spot was an answer to the novel-based questions that were painstakingly written on a traditional Twister spinner. The kids were extremely proud of their work, and I was extremely proud of them. If only my students had ever gotten a chance to play these wildly creative and amazing games. 

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That’s right, folks. My kids never got to play their games in class. Stick me in the proverbial ‘bad teacher’ corner and write DUNCE on my hat. It is well-deserved.

The thing about gamifying the classroom is that it takes a significant amount of forethought. You, as a naive (and slightly dumb) first-year teacher, may think you can just throw it into your lesson plan willy-nilly and reap the benefits. You, the (slightly dumb) first-year teacher that you are, would be wrong. In the hours of assisting the other English teachers in the composition of our curriculum, it never occurred to me to build time for the playing of the games my students had made. They were heartbroken when they realized my faux pas. After grading their games, seeing their magnificent work, and realizing the learning experience they all had missed out on due to my mistake, I was riddled with regret. I had been so close to an amazing teaching moment, but my poor planning led me astray. 

This experience has allowed me to reflect on my own varied experiences with gamification and consider what makes gamification worthwhile. Hopefully my musings make the gamification of your own classroom a little bit smoother! 

Creating Tangible Evidence of Learning is Meaningful

When I was in Mrs. Carson’s fifth grade class, we made a board game for our history lesson on the Civil War. My board game was classically modeled, with several decks of cards in the center of the board, surrounded by a winding path that consisted of different colored blocks. When you landed on a certain color of block, you drew the card from the appropriately colored deck and answered the trivia about the Civil War.  If you answered correctly, you moved your game-piece forward on the path towards victory. The game box was wrapped with turquoise Christmas paper and the nameplate was a mustard yellow piece of computer paper stating “The Civil War Game” in red marker. My color sense has not improved much since fifth grade.

The overall game was a flop amongst my fifth grade peers, because the questions were incredibly difficult. Do you know Q: “How many soldiers were killed at the battle of Ft. Sumter?” (Answer at the bottom of the page.) Fifth graders don’t, so you’d probably do well on a gameshow. Regardless, the creation of that board game is one of my most prized elementary school memories. I worked hard on that board game. For several nights, it was the bane of my existence. In fact, that board game still sits on my mother’s basement shelf, waiting for a true challenger who is ready to rigorously test their knowledge of the Civil War. 

More than the knowledge I learned about Social Studies from this activity, I also learned valuable life skills.

① You have to manage your time well. If you come to your mom asking to buy poster paper two nights before a huge board game project is due, you can’t expect any favors over the next week or two.  

② You have to be aware of your audience. Fifth graders will throw tiny sticky-note paper airplanes at you if you create a game with crazy hard questions. 

③ Creating something tangible that showed my progress was probably one of the best feelings in the entire world. Pride is an extremely powerful motivator. 

Students Can Explore the Content (Rather Than Just Experience it)

When I read books, I am awed by the ability they have to transform my living room into Hogwarts, Tralfamadore, or Panem. It pains me to think some of my students are unable to access that ability to travel across space and time through a good novel. Gamification can help students become immersed in the world of their novel through the assistance of Role Playing Games (RPGs).

The most well-known RPG in existence is Dungeons and Dragons (D&D), which consists of a group of people creating their own characters, plotlines, and adventure to build an amazing gaming world experience. In Ki Sung’s article for Mind Shift KQED News, “Book-to-Games: Transforming Classic Novels into Role Playing Adventure," she discusses using D&D to create the world of the novel inside the classroom. 

Students read their class novel, rereading when necessary, to gain a full comprehension of the setting of the book. From their understandings, they create their own characters to interact in the world of the novel. This works especially well with science fiction or fantasy novels that take place in a world significantly different from reality. This type of interactive gaming allows students to experience the novel from a new angle. The classroom becomes the novel’s world, and they can create new chapters of experience for their characters. By building on the foundation of the classic author’s ideas, kids can elaborate on plot elements that interested them or develop characters that have personal meaning. It’s more than sitting in class listening to a lecture on symbolism, or even having a group discussion about the importance of a plot element. 

Kids who engage in RPG with classic novels are living their learning, not just listening to it!

In the article, ELA teacher, Kip Glazer, implements this technique with Ray Bradbury’s novel Fahrenheit 451. It just so happens that my Honors ELA class is reading that book next semester... I may have a chance to redeem my gamification failures!

Kids Have Fun BECAUSE of Learning (Not In Spite of It!)

When I was student teaching, my kids had weekly vocabulary words while reading F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. In order to motivate them, I started weekly Trashketball competitions. Trashketball consists of placing a trashcan at the front of the room, and delineating different areas of the room that are worth different points for shots made. If you can correctly answer the question relating to the vocab term, you can take a shot and get points for your team. If you decide this is a fun idea for your own classroom, here are my recommendations from my experience: 

  • Start a tournament! Keep a weekly or biweekly game and have a bracket posted on your wall. Get a cheesy prize for the winner (a trashketball trophy, if you will).
  • Keep the team members consistent. The kids need to buy into their team members.
  • Use masking tape to determine where point values are, and denote one student to be the “toe-watcher” for avoiding crossed lines.
  • Put the teams together yourself. Organize kids with appropriate personalities, who can help motivated your unmotivated students. Also, to help avoid the “nobody wanted us” group of kids.
  • Have a word bank somewhere visible in the room. It is really difficult for kids to remember all of their vocab terms at once. Have the word bank cumulate words over the course of the tournament.
  • Have a code for “Hey, you guys are too loud and the math teacher next to us is doing important things.” Consider deducting points for that behavior.
  • Always save time at the end of Trashketball to clean up missed shots.

My kids adored Trashketball, up until they felt it wasn’t helping them learn. At no point in time did they openly acknowledge this, but because I did pretty much the opposite of all the suggestions above, the kids stopped progressing educationally and lost interest. But there was definite potential, and I’m hoping to build off of that. 

Let’s face it, friends. Quizzes, tests, and PowerPoint presentations get old. They’re no fun to write, to complete, or to grade. It might be worth it to put in a little extra time in curriculum planning to make your assessment an exciting Trashketball tournament, a classic novel-based RPG, or a book themed Twister.

If you have any questions, please feel free to email me at You can also find me on Twitter at @msmarshbank, Instagram at @amarshybank, and Linked In at Andrea Marshbank

Answer: None in the opening of the conflict, but one was killed in an accidental explosion later on.

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