How to Gamify Learning in Your Classroom

How to Gamify Learning in Your Class

Gamifying your classroom can take hours of preparation and has developed a reputation as a “hit or miss” teaching approach, but following research-backed advice can drive its success.

Not to be confused with game-based learning, gamification largely involves applying video game elements to non-game settings. This concept may be simple, but classroom gamification is complex and follows a five-step process:

  1. Understand the Target Audience and Context
  2. Define Learning Objectives
  3. Structure the Gamified Experience
  4. Identify Resources
  5. Apply Gamification Elements

Following these steps — while describing benefits and giving exampleshere is a guide about how to gamify learning in your class:

Understand the Target Audience and Context

1. Identify Your Students’ Trouble Spots and Pain Points

A students sits at his desk, staring at a blank sheet of paper and clasping his head.

Pinpointing student trouble spots and pain points will help you determine elements to include in your gamified classroom.

Typically, classroom gamification can help students with issues related to:

  • Focus — Students who have a hard time focusing may find it easier when tackling an engaging topic.
  • Skill-Building — Students can shy away from building certain skills until they see the relevancy.
  • Content Delivery — Students may have trouble processing content presented through traditional methods, such as textbooks.

For example, if you notice PowerPoint presentations disengage students, you can add interactive elements. Similar to an open-world game or choose-your-own-adventure book, include prompts at the bottom of each slide that let students choose the next one. This allows them to influence the lesson’s flow.

Most importantly, identifying student issues will put them at the forefront of your classroom gamification strategy.

2. Survey Your Class

A teacher stands at the front of class, delivering a lesson to her class.

Just as marketers survey their target markets before gamifying their products, you should survey your class to determine the best ways to engage them.

The purpose is to understand the games your students play, and guide your subsequent research into gaming. This, in turn, will help you align the gamification elements you introduce with their interests.

For example, if the majority of your students play role-playing games (RPGs) such as Pokémon, you may implement potions — in the form of stickers — as a reward for completing assignments. Used in RPGs to heal injuries sustained by the player’s character, students could exchange one with you for extra help on assignments — or something to that effect.

By using aspects from their favourite games, you should see a favourable response to classroom gamification.

Define Learning Objectives

3. Set Learning and Behaviour Goals

Gamifying your classroom should have clearly-defined objectives, typically in the form of learning and behaviour goals that address the trouble spots and pain points you identified.

Learning goals include helping students understand concepts and develop skills.

Behaviour goals involve helping students concentrate and work efficiently.

For example, you may set a learning goal to have students master a specific skill by a certain deadline. A behaviour goal may focus on empowering students to tune out classroom distractions.

Although these goals can remain private, they’ll help guide your gamified teaching experience.

4. Structure Open Projects to Help Meet these Goals

A group of four students work together to complete a project that involves constructing a model windmill.

Video games typically allow players to make choices that challenge them and suit their abilities, so consider offering choices when it comes to projects.

As long as they serve the same academic purpose — such as demonstrating knowledge of a particular topic — allow students to complete the project as a:

  • Presentation
  • Creative piece
  • Paper or essay
  • Unique product that’s appropriate for the given topic

Presenting choices encourages students to test themselves in new ways and demonstrate their strong suits.

In doing so, you’ll learn more about their distinct learning styles, which can help you structure future lessons.

Structure the Gamified Experience

5. Adjust Your Scoring System

Many students see their marks as the most nerve-wracking part of school. So, structuring your gamified classroom should involve modifying how you present grades, highlighting progress instead of mistakes.

On tests and assignments, you can give scores both traditionally and in the form of experience points (XP). You can also award XP for completing extra-curricular assignments, participating in class or anything else that demonstrates an effort to learn.

For example, if a student scores 75% on a quiz, give them 7,500 XP.

You’ll add this amount to the XP they’ve earned throughout the year, giving them a clear reference point to see how much they’ve learned and accomplished.

This gamification element helps change how they look at grades instead of going downhill from 100%, they’re going uphill from zero XP.

6. Use Stages

A teacher stands at her whiteboard with three students, one of which completes a math equation on the board.

Similarly, you can change how you refer to topics and units, clearly illustrating skill-building progression.

Try calling them stages.

Whereas topics and units have clear implications for teachers, students may not easily see how they fit together. On the other hand, it may be natural for students — especially gamers — to understand that to reach the next stage you have to overcome precursory challenges.

You can emphasize this by framing certain tasks as prerequisites to reach the next stage.

Unless students do homework, participate in class and complete quizzes, they won’t be ready for its challenges.

Identify Resources

7. Create an Instruction Manual

Creating and distributing an instruction manual is not only a way of gamifying a rubric or course outline, but acclimating students to classroom gamification in general. 

Instruction manuals — either digital or physical — come with almost every video game. They explain how to play and progress, sometimes including tips and secrets.

Your version should contain information such as:

  • How stages work
  • The kinds of assignments that students will tackle
  • Your new scoring system, including the ways students can gain XP
  • How students can obtain rewards, and what kinds of rewards are available

It will act as a reference for students, explaining what they must do to succeed in a gamified learning environment.

8. Organize Studying and Learning Teams

A group of three students, along with a teacher, sit around a table and play on tablets.

Dividing students into studying or learning teams not only opens the door to group work and collaboration, but helps replicate a core element of almost any game — instant, adaptive feedback.

After a player makes a choice in a game, he or she will quickly learn if it was correct. Especially when handling a full class, you can’t provide observations at the same rate.

But peer feedback can hasten the process.

Devote a brief lesson to teach students about sharing constructive criticism, encouraging them to actively give comments while working in teams.

You can provide support and insight as needed to strengthen this fast feedback loop.

Apply Gamification Elements

9. Make Progress Visible

Displaying student progress and how much they’ve achieved since the start of the year is a social element of classroom gamification, promoting a sense of student community.

You can create and share a bar chart that contains each student’s progress towards mastering a skill. Whenever a student achieves a certain score on a quiz or completes homework and assignments, you can fill in his or her appropriate skill-mastery bar with the amount of XP they earned.

A stacked bar chart tracking student progress.
Click to expand.

Because most teachers keep these charts posted on walls or boards for students to see, consider allowing them to submit code-names for themselves that suit the game’s narrative. This way, your class won’t know who’s struggling and excelling.

But they’ll still be motivated to complete their progress bars, building essential skills in the process.

10. Offer Rewards

A trophy sits on a desk in front of a blackboard, smudged with erased chalk markings.

Giving rewards is a self element of classroom gamification, encouraging students to acknowledge their accomplishments and continue to progress.

This is a mechanic used in most modern video games — players receive trophies for completing certain tasks.

It is also a feature of the Khan Academy. The online learning resource incentivizes students by awarding points and badges as they watch videos and answer problems. The more difficult the task and lofty the achievement, the larger the reward.

You can hand out your rewards-of-choice accordingly, giving small badges for completing an assignment and larger ones for — as an example — having perfect attendance over the course of a unit.

This hallmark element of contemporary gaming plays a key role in creating an engaging experience, continuously incentivizing and motivating students.

Benefits of Gamifying Education

Four children sit in a row, each using a desktop computer to play an educational game.

Based on the above strategies, you may have determined that the gamification of education has inherent benefits such as:

  • Engagement — It may seem obvious that most students would enjoy gamified exercises. A 2011 study from a South Korean university investigated this notion, measuring student engagement depending on the activity they were doing. Researchers found that gamification indeed correlates with more motivation and engagement.
  • Tangible Progress — Progress indicators, such as skill-mastery charts, allow your students to clearly see how much they’ve learned. The idea of filling one of these charts can serve as further motivation.
  • Increased Comfort — Take a quick poll to see how many of your students are gamers. Odds are, they would be more comfortable in a gamified environment than a classroom without any sort of differentiation.
  • Improved Retention — It doesn’t explicitly apply to elementary education, but a popular book called Corporate Universities posits that interactive learning games can boost long-term knowledge retention rates “by up to 10 times.”
  • Resilience to Failure — Often, players must fail before succeeding in a game. Borrowing this concept, by allowing students to re-do certain assessments, can teach that failure isn’t always an end-point. Instead, it’s another step in the learning process.
  • Near-Instant Feedback — Students should quickly correct each other’s mistakes when you’re not available, as long as you’ve taught them how to do so.
  • Consistent Homework Completion — Refer back to the point about tangible progress. You’ll likely find that more students regularly complete homework if you award XP for it.

If you’re on the fence, the benefits make a compelling case for the gamification of education.

Examples of Gamification in Education

A young man sits at his school desk, smiling as he uses his smartphone.

If you want an established classroom gamification model to follow or borrow ideas from, the most robust example is Quest To Learn (Q2L).

A public school in New York, its curricula are rooted in gamification and game-based learning principles. For example, 9th grade students in biology class are workers in a fictional bio-tech company, cloning dinosaurs. There are common game-like practices across courses, too. For example, teachers refer to sub-par products as “iterations.” Students typically get chances to improve these iterations, working to achieve high grades.

But if you want examples that are ready to implement in your classroom, consider using programs such as:

  • Free Rice — Spanning subjects found in most curricula, this website gamifies fact fluency. And it uses an empathetic twist. For each question a player correctly answers, Free Rice donates 10 grains of the cereal to those with limited food access. Gratification is instant, and there are leaderboards to motivate competitive students.
  • Ribbon Hero — This Microsoft Office integration helps elementary students familiarize themselves with the software suite’s features. Players must complete guided challenges within Word, Excel, OneNote or PowerPoint, continuously reaching higher levels with increasingly-complex scenarios. In doing so, they’ll become proficient Office users.
  • World Peace Game — An engaging supplement to your interdisciplinary teaching efforts, this tabletop game is a political simulation. The goal is to free countries from dangerous political, economic and environmental situations. To extricate these countries, students group together to represent specific nations and find solutions to diverse problems.  

Armed with these examples, gamifying your classroom should be a more straightforward venture.

Final Thoughts About How to Gamify Learning in Your Class

Gamifying your classroom should yield benefits such as increased motivation and engagement.

Keep in mind, there’s room to experiment regarding what you gamify. Just because students aren’t receptive to gamified lessons, doesn’t mean gamified projects will disengage them.

Ask for student feedback to hasten this process and guide your efforts.


>>Create or log into your teacher account on Prodigy — a free, adaptive math game that adjusts content to accommodate player trouble spots and learning speeds. Aligned to US and Canadian curricula, it’s loved by more than 500,000 teachers and 16 million students.

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Marcus Guido

Marcus is Prodigy's content marketing specialist. He has academic backgrounds in journalism and professional communication, and avoids semi-colons at all costs.

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