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Implementing Game Mechanics as Classroom Activities

Joe Federer, TeachHUB.com

This article originally appeared in a recent issue of TeachHUB magazine, our award-winning, downloadable publication. For more informative articles, download the latest issue today!

As you’ve seen in Gamification as a Teaching Strategy, there are a number of different mechanics game developers use to keep players interested (maybe addicted is the right word?). In this article, we’ll break down some of those concepts and give you some ideas about how to use them as classroom activities.

Experience & Leveling Up -- The equivalent to “experience” in education is probably most obviously the scores they receive on their assignments and tests. But test scores and grades aren’t fun, which begs the question – Why not?

As mentioned in the previous article, gaining experience to gain levels is for the player. In order to gain experience, players complete quests, defeat monsters, overcome obstacles and coordinate with other players. Gaining levels allows the player to do more, be more highly regarded with peers, tackle larger obstacles, etc. And so do grades, in a way. But the game mechanic isn’t there, so where is the opportunity?

Try it out: Create a list of “Quests” to hand out to each of your students and weight more difficult quests with more experience. Here are some examples:

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  • Know It All: Answer 10 questions in class (100 experience).
  • Flawless Victory: Complete 10 homework assignments with perfect scores (200 experience).
  • Be My Neighbor: Help tutor a classmate with their homework (50 experience).
  • Tag-Team: Ask another student to help explain a question you have about class (25 experience).
  • At Least I Showed Up: Show up for class on time 10 times in a row (50 experience).

Rewarding Exploration

Now here’s a teaching strategy that educators have been trying for years (and with increasingly rigorous testing-focused curriculums, this is more difficult than ever). Rewarding students for exploring their own passions and interests is something just about everyone can get behind.

Well while we’re trying out the “Questing” strategy, why don’t we add another element to the mix? I’ve listed above a few examples for quests that students can do on a daily basis, but what about adding in some even higher value “Epic Quests”?

Try it out: Epic Quests are used in games to signify difficult challenges that often (but not always) require multiple players to coordinate. Epic Quests also tend to deliver more valuable items and rewards:

  • [EPIC QUEST] Dig Deeper: Study a subject (you could even write a list of potential subjects/”bosses” as prompts) on your own and create a 15-minute presentation to explain your research to the class (100 experience; BONUS: If at least 10 students complete this Epic Quest, experience is doubled for all participants)
  • [EPIC QUEST] Newton Rules: Perform an experiment demonstrating Newton’s Laws of Motion. Create a video of your experiment or perform your experiments in front of the class (100 experience; BONUS: If at least 10 students complete this Epic Quest, experience is doubled for all participants)
  • [EPIC GROUP QUEST] The Great Debate: Gather 4-6 teammates to discuss a controversial subject covered in class. Half the group will argue on one side of the issue and the other half of the group will argue the opposing side. Develop points and counter-points in your groups and debate your issue in front of the class.

Required: Full group must meet after school at least once. During this meeting, both sides will provide 3 main points of argument to be raised during the debate. Each group can then make counterpoints based on these main points

Evaluation: At the beginning of class, the teacher will ask the debate question to the class and take a vote. The teacher will also take a vote immediately following the debate. The group which changed the most minds in favor of their position wins the debate

Reward: Winning group: 400 experience; Losing group: 200 experience.

Unlocking & Competition

Every class is going to be different in terms of what kind of competitive stimulus works and what kind of special “unlockable content” will motivate the class. The underlying mechanic here is that a “player” needs to have successfully completed a certain amount of projects in order to “unlock” something cool. In order to track individual student progress, you could use a “level” system where every 500 experience = 1 level.

Then, in order to get students excited about “leveling up,” create a hierarchy of different opportunities/responsibilities/technologies that the student gets access to once they reach certain level – are there opportunities for more flexible self-study? Higher priority access to computers or technology? Classroom pets that are fun to feed?

Friendly competition can also be a potent motivator for students. Is there an educational computer game your class seems to love? Perhaps you set out a date by which everyone level 5 and up gets to enter a round-robin tournament (you could pop popcorn, dim the lights and put the “final match” on a projector for everyone to watch).

In the end, gamification is really a simple concept – it’s borrowing elements from the masters of user experience to motivate people to do something (and, ideally, to continue doing something over a long period of time). You can use gamification to totally revamp your classroom (as some of the ideas mentioned above might seem to do) or you can simply take bits and pieces of gamification to tweak your current curriculum.

Either way, we at TeachHUB see major potential in looking to game makers for engaging kids over time.