George Lucas Educational Foundation Celebrating our 25th Anniversary!
Subscribe to RSS

Small, Safe Steps for Introducing Games to the Classroom

Andrew Miller

Instructional Coach at Shanghai American School
PrintPrint
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Pinterest
  • Share

Some educators are nervous about using games in the classroom or fully implementing all aspects of game-based learning (GBL). However, there are a few small, safe steps that all educators can and should consider to leverage the power of engagement that games can bring. Finding games isn't as difficult as it used to be. Sites like Educade provide game ideas, links, resources, and even lesson ideas. This is a great start, but educators should take some of the following next steps to feel even more confident and safe about using games in the classroom.

Play the Games

When educators want to know if a game is appropriate for the classroom, they shouldn't just rely on someone telling them it's great, whether that someone is a company or even a colleague. To truly understand if the game will work with your curriculum or your intended goals for learning, you need to sit down and actually play the game. Spend the time to explore this software, app, or board game to your satisfaction. As you play, you can experience what students will experience and learn how to support them when they play. You'll develop an understanding of what can be learned from this game, whether it's content, thinking skills, or both. One of the best professional development experiences on games and GBL is to play a digital game like Civilization solo or a board game like Settlers of Catan with a group of friends.

A Game Is Voluntary

You want to know what makes games the most effective? They are voluntary. If you make students play the game, you are missing the entire point of games and GBL. Jane McGonigal, author of Reality is Broken, states:

When you strip away the genre differences and the technological complexities, all games share four defining traits: a goal, rules, a feedback system, and voluntary participation.

Voluntary participation means that players actively agree to the rules and procedures of the game, rather than having those forced upon them. When we are forced to do something, the work we do in games actually becomes less safe and less enjoyable. Consider offering games as a voluntary activity for true engagement.

Games as Differentiation

Not every student in your class needs to be playing the same game at the same time. In fact, games can be used as just another tool to differentiate. As teachers formatively assess their students, they may find that some students didn't quite get either the content knowledge or 21st century skill they were focusing on. Also, educators might find that some students are ready for a greater challenge. Educators can use games as a tool to support either revisiting the material or pushing students farther on new material. Not only do games help differentiate for students, but they also free up the teacher to meet the needs of more students.

Team Games

Even though many games are played individually, playing games together can be a great way to build classroom culture. When paired with other culture-building activities, games can provide low-stakes, competitive ways to build collaboration skills. In fact, games that involve teams can help support the principles of "helping each other out" and sharing. Some games, like Pandemic, require that all players work together toward the same goal instead of working competitively. Collaboration is key in that game, so consider games like it for building classroom culture, and pair them with reflections and discussion to assess the learning.

Remember, depending on the access to technology, teachers can pick both high-tech and low-tech games, or offer both. Educators can try all or some of these steps to use games in the classroom. It's important that we start small with implementation, and that we continually reflect on the learning and push ourselves to try new things for the sake of our students, their engagement, and their achievement.

What games have you introduced in your classroom, and how did you make it happen? Please share in the comments below.

Was this useful?

Comments (14) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

ABTeacher's picture

I love using games in my classroom. I think games are a great way to practice skills in a fun way. It seems like lately I have less time to incorporate games into my teaching. Your blog has encouraged me to make sure and plan time to play games. I love to use games for differentiation. One game can easily be differentiated for a variety of learners at all different levels. Many different games can be taught and then can be used to differentiate the learning. By having a variety of games available to play that all students know hoe to play, can be a way to make playing the games voluntary. The students have choice of the game they want to play.

ABTeacher's picture

I love using games in my classroom. I think games are a great way to practice skills in a fun way. It seems like lately I have less time to incorporate games into my teaching. Your blog has encouraged me to make sure and plan time to play games. I love to use games for differentiation. One game can easily be differentiated for a variety of learners at all different levels. Many different games can be taught and then can be used to differentiate the learning. By having a variety of games available to play that all students know hoe to play, can be a way to make playing the games voluntary. The students have choice of the game they want to play.

annab3's picture

Thank you for sharing your thoughts in this blog. I especially enjoyed reading your insights on the importance of games being voluntary. I agree that when students feel like they have a choice and some control over their learning, there is better buy-in and they are more engaged. I do think it is important that students try new experiences, and while I don't think it would be a good idea to force the student to play a game, I wonder if it would be effective to ask students to try it before making up their mind on whether or not they like it, and then give them other options if they don't want to play that one?

Shana Newcomb's picture

What kinds of games would you recommend for high school math? I am always looking for new ways to teach or introduce a new concept. I was shocked at the comment of not forcing the kids to play the games that we do. That was a powerful comment, that makes me think twice when I have students play a game in my class. Thank you.

Asma's picture
Asma
ICT Teacher

Thank you for your post, I liked it and I agree with you about making games voluntary. I believe of the importance of games specially in the elementary level, games made my students more engaged in learning. The technology is available for me and my students can play individually, I use some apps and flash games that reinforce learning and my students are learning and enjoying at the same time.

Stacey12's picture

I love using games in the classroom. They help students learn while having fun. Most of the time the students do not even realize that they are learning. It also encourages the students to interact with each other. Students are not normally friends with every single student in the class. Games help give all students the opportunity to interact with people they may not normally speak to. Games can be an equalizer in the classroom.

Elana Leoni's picture
Elana Leoni
Director of Social Media Strategy and Marketing @Edutopia, edcamp organizer

Love this post. Sometimes you think you need to completely redo everything to start something like gamification or game-based learning but the truth is, starting small with easy steps is best. That way you can iterate -- and get feedback from your students on what worked and what didn't. In the Web world, this aspect of piloting small things and iterating is called Agile development and in fact, I know many teachers that use the word "experimentation" and/or "piloting" for things that they want to do but don't want to get formal approval process for. #YouDidntHearThatFromMe :)

Another great find that I wanted to mention is that The Institute of Play offers printable board games that you can use in the classroom that also have a bit of research behind them showing that they improve learning. Check them out: http://www.instituteofplay.org/work/projects/print-play-games-2/ (note: for grade 6-12)

Lisa Eschenbach's picture

I enjoy an Italian game called Scopa for math and probability. It is a bit like chess in that young students can also play, but it is a sophisticated game. Ingenious is another good HS math game. I also recommend Lost Cities for probability. Good games.

Gloria Rebolledo's picture

Technology just in general is engaging for the average student, but add gaming technology than you have one very engaged student. I think that educational games can be such a useful tool in the classroom as long as it is done in the correct way. Educational gaming should be a fun activity were kids enjoy are excited about learning and enjoying themselves at the same time. Really enjoyed this article!

julieroper's picture

I love using games in the classroom. I think it's a great way to make sure that students understand a concept, plus they don't usually even realize that they are learning, they are just having fun. I know that even a simple memory game using capital and lower case letters can be fun for very young children. I have learned that there are a lot of free games available for the I pad or computer that students can learn from. Because of trying to get in more content, I have got away from using the I pads in the classroom, I need to get back to this. Thanks for reminding me that the students are still learning and even though it seems like playing, they are learning.

Sign in to comment. Not a member? Register.