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Free Tools to Incorporate Game-Based Learning

Andrew Miller

Instructional Coach at Shanghai American School
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Portal screen shot

As I work with teachers to implement game-based learning (GBL), they are always looking for any free tools that exist. While some are willing to pay for iPad game apps or using the Kinect, these tools often cost money. Luckily, there are many tools out there that are free and that teachers could use in the classroom as soon as tomorrow. Some of these tools are not only the games themselves, but also lesson plans and ideas for using the game in the classroom. Here are some of my favorite free GBL tools.


Many of us know of iCivics, founded by former Chief Justice Sandra Day O'Conner to improve civics education. New games have been added over the past year. "We The Jury," for example, lets you decide a tough case for the Supreme Court. All the games come with curriculum materials to support classroom use. Not only do these units suggest activities grounded in the games, but they include other instructional tools as well. The game units are also searchable by content in the civics curriculum, from civil rights to foundations of government.


Math is the focus of Manga High. Here you'll find games that teach in a variety of math arenas, from shapes to algebra. In fact, you can search specifically for those games. If you pick algebra, you can search by learning target. This is a great way to ensure that you are picking a game that really focuses on a skill you need students to learn.


BrainPop has an excellent selection of games to teach a variety of subjects. In addition to the regular BrainPop games, there are also K-3 BrainPop Jr. games and BrainPop Games for ELL. While I might classify some of these as activities rather than games, there are plenty of resources here to teach everything from health to science. Some of the games overlap with MangaHigh and iCivics, but it's a great site that can serve as a "warehouse" for games. In addition, there are often lesson ideas and even quizzes that could serve as useful formative assessments. (Although I might argue that if students beat the game, then isn't that an assessment?)

Teach With Portals

I challenge anyone to play Portal and not feel engaged. Many teachers have submitted lessons or are using lessons from Teach With Portals. Here you can find lessons that target everything from Plot Structure to Gravity. Now, while Portal itself is a game that you have to buy, you can get Portal with Steam For Schools, which is a free tool to download Portal and another new game, Universe Sandbox -- a universe simulator!

These are just a few of my favorite GBL tools that I have used and played. There are also some tools out there that are offered at reduced costs such as Minecraft Edu, and even licenses for Premium Games at Filament Games, for example. Regardless, let us remember that these are tools to start the process. As you use them, ask yourself the question that I use when picking games for the classroom: "Is it a good game?" This is a subject for another blog, but it is a great driving question to consider as you implement game-based learning.

This blog is part of a series sponsored by TEQ.
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Comments (8) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Allison Clark's picture
Allison Clark
7th and 8th Grade English Teacher, Henry MS, Leander ISD

There are such amazing resources for math, science, and history, but where are the good games for ELA skills?

Charlene R.'s picture

These are some great interactive learning websites for kids that are new to me except for BrainPop. I agree that It is a good question to ask yourself if the game is a good one to consider incorporating into the classroom. Thank you for the resources!

Kami Reece's picture
Kami Reece
High school math teacher from Pulaski, VA

The use of GBL is such a new idea and one that I am struggling to get colleagues to embrace. This post is great, but it really just scratches the surface. The Manga High site is wonderful and one that we have begun using in the Math department, along with ixl. These are two sites I use together with the students, one as an activity, and the other as a reward. There are many more tools out there and I look forward to more posts that highlight some of the good ones. Thank you all.

wayneholmes's picture

Have you checked out It's free for educators and students to create games to support any subject (including ELA) at any level. You choose or create sets of questions, which your students play in games of their choosing. Then you can monitor progress using the gradebook.

Crystal's picture

I am new to the idea of GBL. In fact, for a long time I was against it because I felt it didn't provide the necessary human interaction. However, I am increasingly discovering its effectiveness in teaching children. Often times, they don't realize they are learning. Rather, they think they are just playing and being rewarded. Thanks for this quick list as I had not heard of any of these games before. I am eager to try them all out.

Chris Larsh's picture

I would encourage anybody considering gbl in their classroom, especially in grades 6 and up, to visit Students play, build, rate and review games. It has a strong language component, encorporates goal setting, has been a real catalyst for the reluctant language learners in my program. Best of all, it's free to start, and upgrades are only $2 per student.

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