Keep students motivated: 5 ways to gamify your classroom

students engaging on laptop

Published: April 21st, 2021

Get your class in the game

Gamification introduces elements of game design to non-game scenarios, such as the classroom.  Applying the principles of game design within a classroom setting is nothing new; after all, the concept of incentivizing students with a points-based grading system has been around for centuries. But evolving tools, technologies, and approaches to education have put gamification at the forefront of the future of education. 

Point systems aren’t the only aspect of gamification used to keep students motivated in school. Today, educators are experimenting with everything from role play to scaffolding learning into “levels.” And gamification can be applied to anything from a short learning exercise to an entire class semester. 

The perceived benefits of gamification are manifold. Gamifying the learning experience can:

  • Drive student engagement through immersive learning
  • Power student motivation through narrative structures and immediate feedback
  • Give students ownership over their learning and create opportunities for student autonomy and self-directed learning
  • Help students visualize academic progress
  • Offer a framework for students to try and safely fail, without negative repercussions
  • Create more opportunities for personalized learning and differentiated instruction
  • Empower students to explore their identities through experimentation with projective identities
  • Strengthen student collaboration, teamwork, and personal connection
  • Keep the classroom energized, lively, and fun

Looking for new ways to gamify your classroom? Experiment with one (or all!) of these gaming-inspired approaches.

5 effective ways to gamify your classroom

1. Classroom escape room

Escape Rooms are widely popular with adults and kids alike. Why not bring the puzzle-solving fun of an escape room to the classroom? 

The goal remains the same: solve a number of puzzles to “escape” the room in a race against the clock. Start by picking a theme that aligns with learning subject matter. A unit on Ancient Egypt becomes a challenge to uncover historical secrets to escape King Tutankhamun’s tomb. Navigate a malfunctioning plane out of the Bermuda Triangle while learning about aerodynamics from Amelia Earhart, or save the planet from disaster by unlocking the power of alternative energy sources to reverse climate change—all before time runs out.

Create a series of puzzles designed to guide students through learning materials and apply their newfound knowledge to solving each riddle. Then, hide the learning puzzles around the classroom, which can be decorated to reflect the escape room theme. Teachers can build anticipation and excitement leading up to the escape room with fun, curiosity-inspiring signs and messages the day before the big event. Honor students’ successful “escape” with a badge or certificate of completion.

Classroom escape rooms use gamification to up the ante, creating a sense of urgency and purpose while encouraging student collaboration. Whether students are detectives solving a mystery or spies gathering intel, each escape room scenario casts students in a new role giving them valuable opportunities to explore identity through role play. While classroom escape rooms require some advance planning and preparation, these gamified immersive learning experiences can be well worth the effort.

2. Backwards grading and experience points (XP)

With traditional standards-based grading, students begin the semester with 100%. In this system, students’ scores drop with every test or assignment that’s less than perfect. This can be discouraging; students have nowhere to go but down. 

The gaming world offers what may be a better alternative. Some games, including many sports, flip this points system on its head: players start with zero points and then earn points as they go. In the classroom, this alternate approach emphasizes student success rather than student shortcomings. 

Another concept used widely in gaming that may have a place in the classroom is that of experience points, or ‘XP’ for short. In video gaming, players are rewarded XP based on their level of mastery of the game. XP can be awarded for making a discovery, learning a new action—any activity that develops a player’s level of experience in the game. 

Similarly, XP grading systems reward students for any activity that furthers their learning experience. In addition to points earned on homework, tests, and quiz grades, students are awarded points for experiences such as learning how to safely set up a science lab, helping out another student, or leading a fishbowl discussion.

By implementing a backwards grading system and honoring student accomplishments with XP, teachers may see a boost in student morale and sustained academic success.

3. Make progress visible

In board games like Candy Land, players can track their progress as they move closer to the finish line. Video games often feature a progress bar that fills as players advance. 

Progress visualization can be a powerful motivational tool both in games and in the classroom. Help students chart their journey towards their academic goals by visualizing their progress with point systems, leaderboards, and progress bars. Badges are another great gamification tool to help students track progress. These can be physical printed badges, or digital badges distributed through lesson delivery software.

Progress visualization tools celebrate how far students have come, imparting a sense of accomplishment, and making learning goals tangible.

4. Adventure quest

Common in video games, questlines structure learning in a series of different pathways that all lead to the same ultimate outcome. In the classroom, this “choose your adventure” format enables students to make decisions about their learning and builds confidence in their ability to be self-directed learners, while also offering a sense of discovery and progression.

Learning adventures can be self-paced and tailored to each student’s individual needs. Project-based learning lessons can be assigned under an overarching narrative or hero’s journey. In a gamified classroom, tests may also be reframed: big tests may now be referred to as “Epic Quests,” quizzes are called “Heroic Quests,” and homework might be called “Side Quests.”

5. If at first they don’t succeed

In video games, players are allowed an unlimited number of tries on their journey to conquering the game. This allows players to learn from their mistakes and build on their knowledge to overcome challenges.

In a gamified classroom, students can be given multiple chances to succeed at an assignment. Students who succeed on the first try may have the option to try again to raise their score, or move on to the next assignment. Giving students the chance to “try, try again” teaches students to view errors as learning opportunities rather than failures. 

Level up learning

Introducing gamification in the classroom can transform how students relate to their education experience and positively influence academic performance. Forward-thinking educators are exploring new ways to gamify their classrooms to level-up learning. 

Still wondering where to begin?

“I think gamification needs to be in the classroom of today, especially if you’re thinking K-6,” noted Promethean CMO Cheryl Miller in a guest appearance on The TeacherCast Podcast. “I think teachers that are wondering how they could get it started possibly could even just engage the kids in having that creative component. Let them determine how they want to gamify their day or gamify their projects… They might help guide the lesson in a way that unfolds differently and maybe even more accelerated.”