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 gamifying your classroom is complex and follows a five-step process:

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

Following these steps, here 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, 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 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 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 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 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 gamified environments.

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 aspect 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 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.

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 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.

Final Thoughts About How to Gamify Learning in Your Class

Following these approaches will help you smoothly and effectively gamify your classroom. As a result, you should notice 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.


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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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