The Ultimate Guide to Gamifying Your Classroom

No one wants to been seen as the stuffy teacher stuck in the past who lectures from the front of the classroom and doesn’t seem to care about student engagement. Students today are tech savvy and have wandering minds. They are able to process information coming at them from several channels at a time—walking, talking, and texting. Changing up how you deliver classroom content can keep kids’ attention, draw on their strengths, engage them as lifelong learners, and be amazingly fun. What is this magical method? It’s gamification, a word that, according to Merriam Webster’s online dictionary, wasn’t even in use until 2010.

Gamifying classroom image

What is Gamification in the Classroom?

Gamification is the process by which teachers use video game design principals in learning environments. The effects are increased student engagement, class wide enjoyment of academic lessons, and high levels of buy-in, even from your most reluctant learners.

When gamifying a classroom there are several things you’ll need to consider. The first is content, as in what are you trying to teach? Like any lesson or unit plan, you’ll need to figure out how to organize and assess new material. You’ll also need to consider your students. What kind of learners are they? What information do they already know? You’ll need to have a basic understanding of your students’ technology skills and how much support each student may need. You’ll want to consider putting together a training manual or some other support system for students who may need extra help. You’ll also need to consider your own comfort level with technology and the actual technology available to you. These considerations may lead you to designing your own game, or relying one a template or already built quest.

History of Gaming in the Classroom

Ready for a little throwback? It’s possible that you yourself grew up on some early versions of gamification. Did you place the Oregon Trail game in school? It was an early computer game simulation of the experience of pioneers travelling in covered wagons from Mississippi to Oregon. Users had to make decisions at certain points along the journey, as well as face sudden calamites like Cholera and broken wagon wheels.

Other educational games that lead the way toward brining video game design into the classroom include, Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego?, Reader Rabbit, Math Blaster, Sim City, and Rollercoaster Tycoon.

Components of Gamifying the Classroom

There are several aspects of video-game design that can be incorporated into the gamified classroom. Here are several:

  1. Points: In video games, users gain points as the travel through their quests. The more time they invest in the game the more points they earn. They also earn points for completing certain tasks, playing for a certain time, and gathering certain items. In a gamified classroom, points can take the place of grades. As a student gathers experience and time with a certain concept, they earn points.
  2. Badges: Badges are public recognition of achievement, with each one designed with a specific achievement in mind. Other players can see which badges another person has been awarded. In the classroom, badges mark a student’s completion of a lesson or mastery of material. Badges can be explained beforehand, though some badges can be randomly awarded to keep interest levels high.
  3. Levels: As a game goes on, players progress through levels that get progressively more difficult. In the classroom, levels could be lessons, or even units of study.
  4. Appointments: Thanks to the Internet, people playing a video game in the US can sign in and team up with players all over the world. Video game players can set up certain times to meet up with their friends, or even strangers, to work together to defeat a villain or clear a level. In the classroom, appointments can be made with the teacher or other students and act as check-ins. Students can receive additional assignments or feedback to help them complete their work during their appointments.
  5. Bonuses: Most games have hidden, unexpected rewards. Bonuses help drive player loyalty and keep them playing day in and day out. People get obsessed with earning extra points, finding useful items, or skipping levels. In the classroom, bonuses can also be unexpected rewards. Students can earn bonuses such as a homework free night or a two-day extension on a project.
  6. Infinite play: In many video games, players keep playing until they finish a level. They might lose points, or access to valuable items if they are attacked, but they are still able to keep playing. In classrooms, infinite play is allowing students to keep working on a lesson or skill until they achieve mastery, even if the rest of the class has moved on.

Triumphs and Pitfalls of Gamification

Now that you’ve seen some of the ways video game design can be incorporated into the gamified class, let’s talk pros and cons.

Gamification can increase student engagement. It is one way to bring multimodal learning into the classroom. Many students are not motivated by grades, but are avid gamers, and so are more willing to buy-into gamified lessons. Games require problem-solving and critical thinking based on a meaningful purpose. Players must synthesize many skills and ideas to make informed decisions. And possibly, the single best argument for gamification was made by teacher Alfonso Gonzalez on his blog where he offers insight into his gamification experience—every player starts at zero and builds their score, rising up as they progress, as opposed to traditional grading, where every student starts at an A that gets chipped away at throughout the year.

Gamified classrooms aren’t all sunshine and roses, though. Gamification can be expensive. It requires extensive planning and design. The schools that do it best employ game designers—something that isn’t in the budget for most institutions. In addition, there is additional work for the teacher to keep track of all the different assignments, tasks, progress, points, etc. happening for each student. This article from Edsurge makes some suggestions to help with tracking, but it’s still a lot of extra work. In addition, gamification isn’t useful in every learning situation. It’s not a magic pill that fixes everything; it’s a tool that can be useful, with the right amount of effort and buy-in. Which leads to another possible pitfall—gamification can lead to students only doing things for points or can lead to unnecessary competition, which is extremely stressful for many students.

How to Gamify Your Classroom

The process of actual video game development includes design, programming, graphic design, sound engineering, copy editing, project management, and testing. The process is so involved, it’s unlikely that a teacher would have the time or budget to create their very own digital learning quest. So instead, we’ve come up with some tips to easily add aspects of gamification to your classroom (or, as this NEA Today article calls it, making your classroom “game-inspired.”)

  1. Backwards planning: Any teacher familiar with Understanding By Design has already got a leg up in gamification. To start gamifying your classroom consider the end first. What is the goal? How will you get kids there? What evidence will you collect along the way? Classroom game design includes designing learning activities that lead to the desired outcome, measuring progress, and collecting evidence of learning.
  2. Use what’s available: Classcraft is a free, online educational role-playing game that teachers can personalize for their lessons. It includes progress monitoring and reporting for teachers, making the gamification process much more simple than going out on your own. Other online applications for education are applicable to gamified classrooms, like Duolingo, the language learning game, Goalbook, which helps students with IEPs track their progress toward goals, and Kahoot, a game-based questions and answer platform.
  3. Gamify one aspect: Rather than attempting to create an entire game with quests and hidden bonuses, start small. Gamify grading by turning assignments into experience points. Gamify homework by creating individual quests. Gamify personalized learning by allowing students to work on a skill until they’ve achieved mastery. Use badges to signify achievement. Allow students to create their own badges. Classbadges lets you download premade badges or design class-specific ones.
  4. Establish a marketplace: Allow students to buy, sell, swap, trade with each other and with you. Maybe students can swap a badge for an open-book test, or use points to purchase a homework-free night.
  5. Allow leveling up: If a student has mastered the material in a lesson, offer fun and engaging extension work.
  6. Just dive in: It can be difficult to know when your gamified classroom plan is ready for students, but the best advice is to just try it out. That’s how your students play video games – they power up the machine and just start playing, figuring out many important rules and lessons along the way.

In Short

A gamified classroom has many benefits. Students are required to think critically, problem-solve, consider alternative solutions, and analyze information from multiple sources. Gamification, though, is no easy chore and you may need a lot of support along the way. Our best advice is to smart small, dive in, see what works, and tweak your plans along the way. We’d love to hear about your experiences with gamification in the classroom. What advice would you give to other teachers about how to get started? Comment below or hit us up on Facebook or twitter.