Turn Your Classroom into a Game!


Game Based Learning and Gamification are ever increasing buzzwords in the education world. It’s important to note that they are not synonyms and reflect different forms of pedagogy. Game Based Learning is using a game for students to experience content in a fun, interactive way. For example, using Kahoot! to review for an assessment creates a fun, interactive and competitive experience for students to review material; but, it’s still a review. Gamification is the act of creating a classroom experience that uses gaming structures to immerse students in an ongoing learning experience.  The purpose behind both of these systems is to help motivate students to strive for their best. A major outcome of Gamification is the change in philosophy that students should work towards mastery and as they improve they earn more points, level up and their level reflects their current ability.

I have incorporated both Game Based Learning and Gamification (mainly Gamification) for the last four years and believe the classroom experience it creates is how we should be thinking about education. With Gamification, you are creating a gaming experience for your students to experience your class by incorporating gaming structuring into the learning experience. These structures include avatars, leaderboards, ongoing challenges and quests, referring to points as XP (experience points), opportunities for Award XP (extra points – extra credit), and ultimately some sort of story that helps students understand why they are “playing.”

Here is how I gamified my AP United States History (APUSH) Class:

The Story:

Avatars and the Leaderboard:

What makes Gamification great is the reliance on student choice. One of the simplest but important ways students personalize this experience is by creating their avatar. This is their “code name” or “player name” that represents them and no one else knows who they are. Students always get creative with this and it helps give us some insight into what they like. You can go digital and use different platforms that allow students to also create a visual Avatar. Platforms like Edmodo are great with this.


The leaderboard is where students see their level as well as how they are doing in the game compared to the other players. I also had level names connect to the content in to inspire students to be aware of these terms.

Challenges and Quests:

This is essentially the typical assignments in your class. You do not need to completely change what you have done in the past but try to incorporate them into the story. Why are they writing the essay? Should the assignment by individual or can they work as a team to accomplish the quest? One of my favorite things to do is to create special challenges that are time-sensitive. Whenever I would travel, I would find historical locations and create a quick “Where Am I?” video. I would post these videos on Friday afternoon and students had until Sunday evening to answer correctly for 1 Award XP. Be creative and have fun with these!


Remember, Gamification is about creating a gaming experience for students and a big part of this is language. In my class, students earn experience points (XP) as well as earn extra points (Award XP) for bonus tasks. We don’t use the term points because in our game you earn XP. The biggest change, as well as mindset shift, is how students earn XP. In a traditional grading system, students start with 100% and their grade slowly lowers as more assignments are added and the overall average keeps changing. This is not how games work. In a game, you start with 0 XP and as you successfully accomplish tasks you earn more XP and increase your level. This means that on day one, all my students start with a 0% (an F grade), until they start earning XP. This is a huge shock for students at first, but quickly they start to realize that in this system, we only focus on improvement and growth. No matter how poorly a student does on an assignment, since they are earning some points, their grade will increase. No longer do they see a lowered grade due to less mastery than expected; they simply did not raise their level as much as they could have if they mastered the tasked better. The key is to continually remind students AND parents about the philosophy behind this system.

The best part about Gamification is that you get to be creative and have fun! If this seems overwhelming, start small with game based activities and then work up to incorporating these ideas. You will see more motivated and engaged students as well as a renewed energy in your own teaching.


Share your thoughts and classroom experiences in the comments below!

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