Search form

Seven Ways to Make Classroom Games More Effective

Educators have long used classroom games for everything from reviewing lesson content to reinforcing learning and motivating students. And given the incredible popularity of video games, teachers are increasingly “gamifying” traditional (and even low-tech) lessons by infusing common video-game motivators into the student learning experience. So what makes some classroom games better than others?

James Paul Gee, in What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy, notes that the learning principles inherent in effective games are supported by research in cognitive science, which studies human thinking and learning, including students’ learning in classrooms.

Some of these learning principles include the following. While Gee focused on video games, many of these principles also apply to simpler, low-tech classroom games. Use the following as a checklist when deciding whether to incorporate a particular game into your classroom routine.

  1. The game presents the opportunity to take on a new, engaging role and undertake some sort of challenge or “quest” based in the real world, or in a fantasy world. The quest poses a series of problems which require critical thinking to solve.

    A classic example is the hugely popular The Legend of Zelda video game, first released in the United States in 1987. Over more than 25 years, the various versions in the series have sold over 60 million copies. The game features a protagonist named Link (see above; author Unused000702) and his quest to rescue Princess Zelda. Today’s players continue to enjoy the game’s role-playing elements, along with a mixture of puzzles, action, adventure/battle gameplay, exploration and questing.
  2. Rather than competing with each other, students either compete as a single group (trying to achieve a class milestone) or compete with themselves (i.e., trying to get a better score than they did last time; trying to complete the quest more quickly).
  3. Playing the game is mildly frustrating and creates a just-right level of challenge, where students feel safe making mistakes and are motivated to try again until they succeed.
  4. The game progressively builds players’ skills. Once players gain the basic skills needed to solve the type of problems posed by the game, the challenges (and potential rewards) begin to increase incrementally. This continual “upping of the ante” maintains players’ commitment and motivation.
  5. Players get frequent feedback about performance, as well as frequent reinforcement for success. Likewise, the game presents (in small bites, right at the moment it is needed) information that players need to solve problems.
  6. Players have the opportunity to co-create the game world (personalize their game-playing experience and choose from among multiple ways to play the game).
  7. Tech-based games do this automatically, but for low-tech games, each student should create some sort of product or work, even if it means simply keeping track of how well s/he did and the areas in which s/he needs further practice.


Related resources

Infuse Video-Game Motivations into Traditional Lessons

Five Reasons to Use Games in the Classroom

Wary of Classroom Games? An Expert Addresses Concerns

Strategies That Work: Teaching With Games

Learning Games Archive

Developer Demystifies Game-Based Learning

Instant Feedback in Class: Go with the ‘Flow’

The Math Machine (free online math games)

The Science Machine (free online science games)

The Reading Machine (free online literacy games)



Article by Celine Provini, EducationWorld Editor
Education World®                      
Copyright © 2014 Education World