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How to Use Game-Based Learning in the Classroom

7 Min Read
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Imagine you’re sitting in a classroom and all the teacher does is stand in front of the whiteboard, project notes, and read them verbatim. Like most people, you’re likely to be bored out of your mind.

But classroom education doesn’t have to be mind numbing! Game-based learning in the classroom helps to engage students by directly involving them in the learning process. The result? Improved retention of material, increased student engagement, and an overall enjoyable learning environment.

Let’s take a look at how to successfully use game-based learning and gamification in the classroom.

What Is Gamification Vs Game-Based Learning?

While game-based learning is leveraging games to teach and deepen understanding of curriculum, gamification focuses on applying the principles of games to non-game situations, such as the classroom as a whole.

Gamification in education involves extrinsic and intrinsic risks and rewards that work to encourage both academics, behavior, and non-cognitive skills, including collaboration and engagement.

What Are the Benefits of Game-Based Learning?

1. Improved recall and retention

Attitude plays an important role in how well students are able to recall the material they learn. If all you do is ask students to read 40 pages a week from a dusty textbook, review presentation slides, or study flashcards, they’re going to quickly forget everything they “learn”—and be desperate to learn something more interesting.

Classroom games (especially video games) encourage creative thinking and problem-solving. They can even help students recall information better when the game takes concepts they learn and brings them to life.

Let’s say you’re teaching a history class and have assigned your students to read a chapter from a textbook on the forms of government (yawn). Reading and note-taking are certainly important skills for students to practice, but those alone won’t guarantee they’ll remember everything come exam day (or even beyond your class).

A better approach? Take a cue from roleplaying games. Combine readings and traditional lecturing with interactive classroom roleplaying to help cement the material. For example, you could split your students up into different groups of governments (democracy, monarchy, dictatorship, etc.) and present them with a relevant social issue. Then, ask them to draw from their readings to create a short enactment of how their type of government would respond to that issue. Students could even debate the merits and drawbacks of each type of government. This kind of memorable and engaging experience will stick with students well beyond your class.

2. Development of problem-solving skills

Another benefit of game-based learning is that is that it helps us to develop essential problem-solving skills. For children and teens, this is an especially important skill to learn early on, as it’ll serve them well into adulthood.

Maybe you’re teaching geometry. You could certainly show static images of shapes and calculations on your whiteboard, but let’s face it: for many students, that’s boring. As an alternative, you could consider how problems are presented in complex, immersive video games. Incorporate real-world problem solving or labs into your classroom by giving students actual physical objects to interact with. You’d still teach the same topics, but with more emphasis on practicality.

Regardless of what you’re teaching, the key is to get students thinking and answering questions, not just reading and memorizing. There are tons of ways you can make your class’s material relevant to the real world. Get creative!

3. Instant feedback

How do you measure whether students understood their readings or your lectures? You could quiz them the old-fashioned way, but some students experience test anxiety or otherwise struggle when faced with typical pencil-and-paper assessments. Classroom games not only improve student engagement but also give you instant, valuable feedback on how well students are really doing. In part this is because games are often designed to provide instant feedback. Make a wrong move, and the level ends! In addition, fun games add a social component; they can open up even the shyest of students and get everyone involved.

How to Choose the Right Games for Your Classroom

The games you choose to include in your lessons need to align with your teaching goals. Generally, you should consider the following characteristics of effective classroom games:

  • Ease of Use: Students shouldn’t have to sift through manuals and online tutorials to figure out what you’re trying to get them to do. Look for classroom games that are simple and to the point. At the same time, well-designed games also have the potential to be sufficiently challenging so class time isn’t wasted on trivial activities.
  • Engagement: If it’s a new class and you don’t know your students too well, consider distributing a survey at the beginning of a unit to determine what type of activity your students would like to do. Whatever game you settle on needs to actually be enjoyable for most (if not all) students. Otherwise, what’s the point?
  • Customization: What kid doesn’t want to play as a warlock rocking an elder robe and magic wand? Look for ways for students to create avatars, outfits, and other game elements. The best classroom games allow students to learn the material while giving them the creative freedom to express themselves in their own unique ways.
  • Purpose: Engaging classroom games also have meaningful and tangible goals for students to complete. In other words, you don’t want to give your students games just for the sake of entertaining them—the games you settle on should combine fun with deliberate and well-designed lesson plans.

For classrooms specifically, you may want to consider some combination of educational video games, role-playing group activities, or exploratory labs to engage students in the material they’re learning.

How to Successfully Implement Classroom Games

So, you’ve picked an appropriate and engaging classroom game and your students are bubbling with anticipation. Now, you need to actually put your game to use in the classroom. Follow these steps to ensure success!

1. Have a concrete plan in mind

Are your students going to play every day or only on certain days? Before or after lectures? For how long? At home or in the classroom? How you administer the game is certainly up to you, but we’ve found that students are often so eager to play classroom video games that they end up asking for extra assignments involving these games (yes, you read that correctly—students asking for more homework). In that case, we recommend you get students’ families on board and make sure they’re aware that these games are being used as an essential component of their children’s coursework.

2. Decide on the right format

With the availability of smartphones and handheld devices, digital games are very popular among children and teens; these are an obvious choice for classroom games if your school has a computer lab or in-class devices.

If digital games won’t work, you can use other kinds of in-class activities to get students out of their seats and eager to participate, like group labs, in-class presentations, quiz show-style assessments, and more. To that end, consider if you’d like your students to work independently or collaboratively. Many students are vocal and active in group work, and a common game allows them to develop their social and interpersonal skills. But plenty of students prefer independent work. Bottom line? Make sure the format you decide on works for you and your students and is easy to implement.

3. Assess effectiveness, gather feedback, and iterate

Ultimately, you need to make sure the games you implement are actually helping students master the content and make progress in your classroom. With educational digital games, it’s especially easy if your students have their own accounts and a built-in means of measuring progress and participation. These metrics usually correlate well to the amount of effort students put into practicing the concepts they learn in class.

Moreover, even though you’re the authority in your classroom, students should have some say in how they learn. If you find that some students are struggling with the format you’ve chosen, you should seek feedback from everyone to ensure that your games are working well. For example, if a class is divided so some students find a game too easy and others find it too hard, consider splitting your class into tiered groups where each tier receives challenges and activities that match its level of proficiency.

Game-Based Learning in Education Is the Future

Nearly everyone is playing games outside the classroom—why not play them in the classroom, too? After all, the paramount goal of education is to remind students that learning is a fun and worthwhile endeavor. Game-based learning in education allows your students gain valuable computer literacy and social skills, retain more of the content you teach them, and come to class excited to learn.

This article was adapted from a blog post initially developed by the education technology company Classcraft, which was acquired by HMH in 2023. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of HMH.


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