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What Is a PBIS Game in Education?

7 Min Read
What Is a PBIS Game in Education?

The term “game” is often used to describe any interactive activity. But it’s important to understand what makes a game different from other activities.

To define the term “game,” we need to look at some qualities that make up most games:

  • A game is structured (i.e., it has rules).
  • A game has goals and challenges associated with those goals.
  • A player interacts with the game by taking actions based on feedback received and by interacting with the game’s rules (i.e., goal attainment).

The feedback received during the game enables players to learn more about how they might achieve their objectives in future playthroughs of the activity, resulting in improved performance over time. Through trial and error, players become more skilled at managing their resources and understanding how best to leverage them within each challenge level or task. The central goal is to meet those objectives successfully before time runs out or resources are exhausted entirely.

How Can Online Games in School Be Used to Support Learning?

Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) games can be used to support learning in a variety of ways. They can help students review for tests and exams, they can teach content knowledge, they can help students learn social and emotional skills and character education, and they can be used to teach language arts (reviewing vocabulary words or identifying parts of speech).

Games are particularly effective when they incorporate the following learning strategies:

  • Integration (using a variety of resources)
  • Interdisciplinary connections (creating links between subjects)
  • Student collaboration (group work and peer learning games)

What Kinds of PBIS Games Can Be Used to Support Learning?

Games have historically been used to teach and practice skills schoolwide. In fact, if you go back to the days of the ancient Greeks, who held competitions in the form of games to teach and inspire their citizens, you can see that games have been used as learning tools for many centuries.

Today, educators use games to teach all kinds of subjects and skills—from math and science to history and literature.

Online games in school can take many forms, ranging from simple to complex. They can include:

  • Card games
  • Traditional board games
  • Cooperative group projects, where students work together toward shared goals
  • Competitive puzzles requiring strategic thinking, debates about current events
  • Immersive role-play scenarios based on historical events
  • Interactive exhibits at museums
  • Role-playing video games played alone or against others online

Gamification in education can help students learn in different ways. They can help students review for tests, practice their knowledge of the curriculum, and develop social and emotional skills. They can also teach character education and language arts.

For more complex subject matter, games also offer an opportunity to bring a subject alive through play. For example, if you’re teaching your class about the civil rights movement or World War II, games will allow students to explore relevant themes, build empathy, and encourage critical thinking. Let’s discuss different types of games and how they can be used to engage learners and support their work toward learning goals.

Content-specific games

Some games are designed explicitly to teach content or specific skills. These are the games we usually think of as “educational” games. For example, The Oregon Trail teaches players about 19th-century American history by requiring them to make decisions about how their group should handle challenges along the way. The choices players make, which are based on the real dangers faced by those pioneers, offer a window into history.

Game-based learning in the classroom can also help students improve academic achievement by practicing skills found on standardized tests. For example, you could choose games that motivate students to practice math facts and the alphabet (such as “Math Blasters” or “ABC Animal Matching Memory Game”). Or use them to practice spelling words or definitions (such as “Spelling Adventure”).

Skill-building games

Other games have more general goals, such as fostering creativity or teaching teamwork and communication skills. These include team competitions, athletics, debate clubs, and others. These games help players practice skills in a competitive or cooperative environment.

Online games

Games are also used online as part of a learning management system (LMS) or other similar software applications. These support education by allowing students to interact with teachers and classmates via live video chat or virtual worlds like “Second Life.”

Games for Change catalogs a variety of online games that are designed to foster empathy, develop life skills, explore far-away places, and engage with historical events. Other educational game examples include ones where kids play online with other children from around the world to learn English as a second language (ESL) or explore science topics, such as geology or biology.

How Can Games Be Used to Support PBIS Learning Goals?

Students must be taught about positive behaviors and offered opportunities to practice them. Since not all students arrive in the classroom with an understanding of proper conflict resolution, communication, or problem-solving skills, teachers must offer opportunities for students to practice positive behaviors. Games can play an important role in teaching and reinforcing these fundamentals.

As a tool for engaging and teaching, games can be used in a variety of ways to support your school’s PBIS goals.

Games can help students practice PBIS goals

As previously mentioned, some games are designed to teach specific skills, such as cooperation, problem-solving, conflict resolution, or communication. Games provide a low-stakes environment in which students can practice PBIS strategies, receive feedback, and monitor progress toward their goals. Games can also provide opportunities for social development, team building, and leadership skills through cooperative play.

Games can help with classroom management

Games can also help with overall classroom management by providing an easy way for teachers and students to communicate behavioral expectations and provide feedback on how well those expectations were met. Further, by encouraging cooperative play, as mentioned previously, you strengthen bonds between your students and foster a sense of community.

Games motivate and engage learners

Motivation is one of the most important aspects of education. Learners need to feel motivated to learn. One way to motivate learners is by using games as a tool for education. Games are fun and provide rewards, which can make learning easier because students enjoy doing it.

Gaming in education is a powerful tool for motivating learners to meet their learning goals. However, choosing the right type of game isn’t always that easy. Do you want to encourage competition or cooperation? Do you want to reinforce academic concepts or nurture soft skills such as communication and problem-solving?

To make sure you’re using games effectively, you need to understand what makes them effective in the first place. Here are four key principles to keep in mind:

  • Games provide a clear goal, which is essential because it gives learners an immediate sense of purpose and direction. When students know where they’re going, they can get there more quickly.
  • Games give learners options for success. Games don’t just tell learners what to do. Games also give students choices about how to win or lose to increase engagement and help them feel like they were part of creating their own success or failure.
  • Games offer feedback on performance so learners can adjust course accordingly. We want to encourage students to welcome feedback and use it as a tool for improvement rather than view it as criticism. Through playing games, students have a chance to learn from their mistakes without feeling like failure is the final word.
  • Games can also provide a sense of accomplishment and social connection for players. The combination of all these factors makes games an ideal tool for motivating people who have low self-esteem or lack confidence in their abilities.

There are few things in this world that foster a sense of community like games. The principles of friendly competition, cooperation, and mutual assistance are all supported and reinforced through games with peers. Gamification in the classroom can also offer an opportunity to practice new skills in a supportive environment. These new skills will help students develop healthier relationships with others in and out of school.


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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