5 Ways to Enhance Student Learning Using Free Rice

I have a confession to make: I’m addicted to online quizzing games regardless of the topic or content. I get enthralled trying to outwit my Facebook friends and move up the leaderboards, spending more hours than I’ll admit here trying to do so. I’m not the only one either. Millions of people share this same addiction, which got me to wondering: is there a way that teachers could tap into the quizzing craze, ideally using questions related to course content, to teach material and greater life lessons all at once?

Enter Free Rice.

What is Free Rice?

Free Rice image

Image via Flickr by Pritya Books

With banks of established questions in 8 topic areas, including math, humanities, English, and more, Free Rice tests student knowledge by asking increasingly difficult multiple choice questions while simultaneously facilitating students giving back to the world community. With each correctly answered question students see 10 grains of rice fill a virtual bowl, which signifies actual food that will be donated by sponsors via the United Nations World Food Programme to the hungry populations of the world. Both Free Rice itself and the Free Rice community provide ample ways to help teachers utilize the app to fit specific curriculum or classroom needs. Free Rice combines student learning and global citizenship; simply put, it’s a win-win for everyone.

As a teacher it’s hard to find the time to learn a new app and to figure out how to appropriately implement it while enhancing the classroom curriculum. To help you on your way, I’ve put together the following list, which identifies 5 ways to use Free Rice to enhance student learning, starting with the least planning and implementation time up to the highest.


1. Supplemental Learning Game Reward

Utilize Free Rice as a reward for early test finishers, or to fill the last 5 minutes before the bell rings with a fun activity that’s still contributing to the larger good. When you’re facilitating computer-based testing, or if you’re in a 1to1 classroom, simply allow your students to play this educational game to keep them occupied while the rest of the class finishes up.

Speaking of keeping them occupied, when you’ve finished up your activities for the day and somehow there are still 5 minutes hanging on the clock, Free Rice can be a fun, class-engaging activity that will keep them learning and, more importantly, keep them from asking to leave early. Just project your Free Rice game up on the board and have students earn rice together as a class. This is a great way to sneak a fun challenge and some altruism into those “neither here nor there” minutes at the end of class or between gaps in activity.

image2. Flipped Model Learning Activity

Another easy implementation is to direct your students to participate in Free Rice on their own time as preparation for a particular lesson. This can be particularly powerful in a flipped classroom, as students can participate in a drill and practice on Free Rice at home, and then bring their experiences with them to class to apply what they’ve learned. This could be carried out effectively in many ways, but one example could be using the Human Anatomy topic in the Sciences subject area to reinforce main ideas from an online lecture or content video as an introduction to a unit on the body or as an introduction to a research activity the next day in class.

Free Rice excels in automatically differentiating questions within a subject based on a level system as it repeats incorrectly answered questions to encourage learning and progression. For example, if a student incorrectly answers two Level 3 questions consecutively, the system will revert to Level 2 questions to build the student back up before challenging them with the Level 3 questions again.


3. Gamification, Digital Badges & Facebook

Use Free Rice as a method to gamify your classroom and award digital badges. Before you start handing out random badges, I recommend consulting Edudemic’s guide on badges in education to prep you on how to create a solid game plan for implementing gamification in your classroom.

A simple implementation would be to allow students to earn points in class based on how many grains of rice they earn, or perhaps allow them to earn badges representing new levels of expertise in class. For example, 500 grains of rice = Good-Doer, or 3000 grains of rice = Humanitarian. This can be awarded on a per student basis or even in small groups. Badges could also be aligned to learning outcomes or Common Core Standards, so each badge earned is curriculum-based and represents an area the student has mastered.

Incorporating social media can also add an interesting layer to your gamified classroom. If students use Facebook, their Free Rice dashboard will show how well they are performing against their Facebook friends. If you’re hesitant about allowing students to use social media in the classroom (and you probably should be) take a look at Edudemic’s teacher guide to Facebook for helpful tips and guidelines.

image4. Lesson or Unit Plan.

Developing an entire unit plan while implementing a new tool like Free Rice can be quite the challenge. Fortunately there are a number of resources available with developed lesson plans for teachers. Your first stop should be the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) website, where you can choose a WFP lesson or classroom activity that correlates with your content. These lesson plans include short units on vocabulary, world languages, social studies and more. You can also find teaching materials from Free Rice that can help spark ideas to formulate your own lesson plans and provides a Free Rice certificate that you can give out to your students at the conclusion of the unit.

As the World Food Programme has teamed up with the popular movie, The Hunger Games, consider teaching about world hunger by creating a theme-based lesson. Teach your students about the impacts of hunger on millions throughout the world utilizing the WFP Hunger information resources. Then taking a page out of the book, so to speak, organize your students into small groups or “Districts” to compete head-to-head on the World Hunger subject questions to see who can earn the most rice and become class “Victors”.

Many teachers have already integrated Free Rice in their own classrooms in one way or another, so you don’t need to reinvent the wheel. Borrow from teachers’ experiences in the Free Rice review at graphite.org. With over 50 teachers providing their reviews and experiences with Free Rice, you’re sure to find what will work best for you.

image5. Complete Integration & Curriculum Enhancement

A complete integration will require significant time and effort to build Free Rice into lesson plans and to gamify your class. First, consider how to align Free Rice to the Common Core and to your own curriculum map. This may seem daunting at first, but fortunately for you, other teachers on graphite.org have completed half the work by identifying how Free Rice aligns with Common Core (access under the “standards” section). Next, you’ll want to create leaderboards to keep student scores and to challenge them to continue earning more. Leaderboards are created automatically when you create a Free Rice group, but keep in mind that this will require time up front to help students create accounts. I recommend making your class group private to protect the privacy of your students.

What else do I need to know?

a. Establishing groups in Free Rice isn’t easy. There is a long convoluted process for private groups. However, there are new instructions for teachers to register your class that are much easier to follow. This will help you create a class group and establish accounts for your students to get started.

b. Unlike other popular apps, the Free Rice game interface doesn’t have eye-popping graphics. But, the web-based interface is functional and easy to navigate. It’s actually nice to know that they didn’t spend too much on developing graphics for the game, and focused on functionality for the user and feeding the hungry.

c. Nothing is Free. For most other sites, I recommend turning on some type of ad-blocker to shield your students from advertisers and malware. However, for Free Rice I highly recommend turning off your ad-block software because the advertising dollars spent on the page are paying for the rice that is donated. Someone has to foot the bill for all that free rice, right?

In Short

Whether you use Free Rice as a fun intervention for vocabulary acquisition or to reinforce algebraic principles, the bottom line is that playing this game is addictive in the very best way. Whether you only have time to use Free Rice as a reward game, or you completely integrate Free Rice into your curriculum, your students will love learning by answering quiz game style questions. What’s more, knowing that your class is actually fighting hunger will make you want to fill just one more bowl of rice before you quit, or maybe two more.


  1. ExcelinEd

    July 15, 2015 at 8:00 am

    This post raises an important issue, thank you for sharing. Have you heard about http://www.WhyProficiencyMatters.com? Another important issue every parent should know about as it will impact their child. Being proficient means a student has demonstrated mastery of a subject (such as reading or math) at a specific level. However, proficiency expectations vary from state-to-state and differ widely from the nationally and internationally recognized National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) proficiency expectations. This discrepancy in expectations is called a “proficiency gap.” States with large proficiency gaps are setting the bar too low, leading parents and teachers to believe students are performing better than they actually are. States must raise their proficiency expectations if they hope to create an education system where every child has the knowledge and skills necessary to be successful in the next grade – and most importantly – after high school. Find out more at http://bit.ly/ProficiencyMatters.

  2. Daily English

    July 19, 2015 at 4:25 am

    It’s a great idea. Help others while you’re learning. I think online education is the future and the possibilities are limitless.