5 ways to bring games into the classroom

As I’ve said before, I love games. They’ve played an important role in my life, whether it was entertainment early on in life or to connect with loved ones later. I remember my sixth grade year of school. We moved from Washington State to Iowa to live with my grandpa. That winter of 1982 was a bad one. In one month, we had four three or four day weekends due to snow or sub-zero temperatures. What did a tenth-grader, sixth-grader, and third-grader do to keep busy and not drive Mom nuts? We found Monopoly, and sometimes still drove Mom nuts. To this day, I have most of the board memorized. There are ten spaces on each side. The fifth space is a railroad. The tenth is one of four special spots–jail, free parking, go to jail, or go. I discovered you can win a game without having Boardwalk and Park Place. Since my sixth grade year of school, I’ve moved on to other games–Settlers of Catan, Scrabble, Uno, Skipbo, and even role playing games. However, the draw of games is great.

They are a fun way to learn something new. For instance, recently I purchased a new laptop. With Windows 10, I discovered the XBox Microsoft Solitaire Collection. There is a game called Pyramid in the pack. To play pyramid, you have to collect cards that equal thirteen. Suddenly, I was doing math. I was memorizing that 9 and 4, 8 and 5, 3 and 10, and 6 and 7 all make thirteen. These numbers are now drilled into my head. Did I have to work hard to memorize them? Not really. The game taught me to look for those combinations. Another game that I learned with numbers like that was Kakuro. It’s a Sudoku style game that works off the number nine. You match numbers that equal nine in the squares. Again, it was a challenge, but I quickly learned which combinations equal nine.

This past weekend I had the privilege of attending Southern Oregon Ed Tech Summit. Our keynote speakers were a team from Fullerton School District in California. They presented a program called iPersonalize. Students are in a game to battle Generals Ignorance and Indifference. They want to learn things so they can progress in a game! My final session dealt with gamifying the classroom. It gave practical tips for creating a game around your curriculum. The presenter repeatedly stated, “Don’t change your curriculum to match, change your game.” So, that’s what I’ve done. I’ll take you through the process of what I plan to roll out today in my eighth grade classroom full force and what I’m half-way rolling out in the rest of my classes.

Last year this time, I discovered ClassCraft, an online game platform designed by a teacher for teachers. I played around with it a little bit, but didn’t work with it solidly until this year. I was impressed with how students worked to get a digital pet trained, or to gain gold so they could equip their avatar. The daily events brought a unique bonding to each class and a levity to the learning environment. However, now into April, the desire and appeal has seemed to have worn off. So, I took what I learned this past Friday and put it into use.

Choose a Theme

<img="ClassCraft logo">My theme was easy–ClassCraft is designed in a medieval or fantasy realm. I all ready have characters: Mages, Warriors, and Healers. I all ready have groups even. So, I made a list of everything medieval or fantasy I could think of from castles to peasants, battles to guilds, quests to knights. As I worked with that list, I then tried to think of my subject area–Spanish. Spain was a huge player in the medieval period! So, the king of ClassCraft became King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. From there, I did a bit of research and discovered they had five children. So, their children become the princesses and prince of the realm.

Choose Levels

In ClassCraft students gain experience points (XP) for working hard, finding errors in notes, helping another student (all teacher assigned). Once they earn 1,000 XP they level up. However, what I discovered was some classes advanced far more quickly than others. Their level in ClassCraft doesn’t necessarily reflect their knowledge and ability with Spanish. So, I was stuck–until I heard the last presenter.

<img="ClassCraft Mage XP badge"She gives XP as badges. These XP are earned by completing various style of challenges or quests. For vocabulary, a student may decide to do an additional quest above and beyond the normal work in class. The student has three choices: first level draw the vocabulary and label, second level creatively illustrate the vocabulary, and third level create a movie of the vocabulary. Level one is worth 50 XP, level two 100 XP, and a level three 200 XP. As students gain that experience, they are learning. By the time they have gained 250, 500, or 1,000 XP in badges they will earn different levels and with those levels special privileges.

I decided to take the classes all ready in ClassCraft and divide them into their logical divisions. So, a warrior has the three levels of peasant, knight, and baron. The Healer has apprentice, nurse, and doctor. The mage is divided into apprentice, wizard, and high mage. The lowest level will be able to use one 3×5 card of notes on a test. The middle level will gain one page of notes, and the last one will have demonstrated mastery all ready and not have to take the test at all!

Choose Daily Events

<img="In ClassCraft, each day begins with a random event. However, the teacher can choose which events are in the repertoire. My events had basically been the standard ones. I hadn’t really adjusted them to fit my classrooms. So, I began to think how could I change them? I came up with thirteen new random events that fit among my story line or theme. Students will face the dragons of Ignorancia and Apatia. I pondered what the cure would be for ignorance and apathy. So, for Apathy, students will immediately go to a Kahoot game of my choice. (Kahoot is a fun interactive game that gets kids and adults involved and excited; hence killing apathy.) Another option will be to have a random student sing a song. For Ignorance I have students prove their knowledge in a boss battle or have a random guild write as many sentences for a vocabulary word as they can in five minutes. The princesses grant a reward, and Princess Maria goes crazy and everyone loses HP.

Add Challenges

I now need to come up with the challenges. I will use Vocabulary as one, but I need to look through my learning targets and create leveled activities that students can choose from to have their challenges to earn their XP. These challenges should have student “choice and voice” to show what they’ve learned. These aren’t grades. They could be, but right now, I’m not going to.


So, today as I go into class, I am going to implement the process. I will share with the students what we are going to do. I may try to use my morning time to put together a video to show them. If I do, I’ll update and add it right here so you can see. Above all, I need to start with something small and reasonable to me and build from there.


So, what about you? Are you interested in gamifying your classroom? Can you think of ways to bring play back into school? Yes, believe it or not, the way we learned in school is changing. No longer does Kindergarten and first grade have play stations. Because of this, I want to enable junior high and high school students to play and learn at the same time. It’s time to bring play back into the classroom.

What's your take?