The Ultimate Guide to Gamifying Your Classroom

No one wants to been seen as the stuffy teacher stuck in the past who lectures from the front of the classroom and doesn’t seem to care about student engagement. Students today are tech savvy and have wandering minds. They are able to process information coming at them from several channels at a time—walking, talking, and texting. Changing up how you deliver classroom content can keep kids’ attention, draw on their strengths, engage them as lifelong learners, and be amazingly fun. What is this magical method? It’s gamification, a word that, according to Merriam Webster’s online dictionary, wasn’t even in use until 2010.

Gamifying classroom image

Image via Pixabay and StartUpStockPhotos

What is Gamification in the Classroom?

Gamification is the process by which teachers use video game design principals in learning environments. The effects are increased student engagement, class wide enjoyment of academic lessons, and high levels of buy-in, even from your most reluctant learners.

When gamifying a classroom there are several things you’ll need to consider. The first is content, as in what are you trying to teach? Like any lesson or unit plan, you’ll need to figure out how to organize and assess new material. You’ll also need to consider your students. What kind of learners are they? What information do they already know? You’ll need to have a basic understanding of your students’ technology skills and how much support each student may need. You’ll want to consider putting together a training manual or some other support system for students who may need extra help. You’ll also need to consider your own comfort level with technology and the actual technology available to you. These considerations may lead you to designing your own game, or relying one a template or already built quest.

History of Gaming in the Classroom

Ready for a little throwback? It’s possible that you yourself grew up on some early versions of gamification. Did you place the Oregon Trail game in school? It was an early computer game simulation of the experience of pioneers travelling in covered wagons from Mississippi to Oregon. Users had to make decisions at certain points along the journey, as well as face sudden calamites like Cholera and broken wagon wheels.

Other educational games that lead the way toward brining video game design into the classroom include, Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego?, Reader Rabbit, Math Blaster, Sim City, and Rollercoaster Tycoon.

Components of Gamifying the Classroom

There are several aspects of video-game design that can be incorporated into the gamified classroom. Here are several:

  1. Points: In video games, users gain points as the travel through their quests. The more time they invest in the game the more points they earn. They also earn points for completing certain tasks, playing for a certain time, and gathering certain items. In a gamified classroom, points can take the place of grades. As a student gathers experience and time with a certain concept, they earn points.
  2. Badges: Badges are public recognition of achievement, with each one designed with a specific achievement in mind. Other players can see which badges another person has been awarded. In the classroom, badges mark a student’s completion of a lesson or mastery of material. Badges can be explained beforehand, though some badges can be randomly awarded to keep interest levels high.
  3. Levels: As a game goes on, players progress through levels that get progressively more difficult. In the classroom, levels could be lessons, or even units of study.
  4. Appointments: Thanks to the Internet, people playing a video game in the US can sign in and team up with players all over the world. Video game players can set up certain times to meet up with their friends, or even strangers, to work together to defeat a villain or clear a level. In the classroom, appointments can be made with the teacher or other students and act as check-ins. Students can receive additional assignments or feedback to help them complete their work during their appointments.
  5. Bonuses: Most games have hidden, unexpected rewards. Bonuses help drive player loyalty and keep them playing day in and day out. People get obsessed with earning extra points, finding useful items, or skipping levels. In the classroom, bonuses can also be unexpected rewards. Students can earn bonuses such as a homework free night or a two-day extension on a project.
  6. Infinite play: In many video games, players keep playing until they finish a level. They might lose points, or access to valuable items if they are attacked, but they are still able to keep playing. In classrooms, infinite play is allowing students to keep working on a lesson or skill until they achieve mastery, even if the rest of the class has moved on.

Triumphs and Pitfalls of Gamification

Now that you’ve seen some of the ways video game design can be incorporated into the gamified class, let’s talk pros and cons.

Gamification can increase student engagement. It is one way to bring multimodal learning into the classroom. Many students are not motivated by grades, but are avid gamers, and so are more willing to buy-into gamified lessons. Games require problem-solving and critical thinking based on a meaningful purpose. Players must synthesize many skills and ideas to make informed decisions. And possibly, the single best argument for gamification was made by teacher Alfonso Gonzalez on his blog where he offers insight into his gamification experience—every player starts at zero and builds their score, rising up as they progress, as opposed to traditional grading, where every student starts at an A that gets chipped away at throughout the year.

Gamified classrooms aren’t all sunshine and roses, though. Gamification can be expensive. It requires extensive planning and design. The schools that do it best employ game designers—something that isn’t in the budget for most institutions. In addition, there is additional work for the teacher to keep track of all the different assignments, tasks, progress, points, etc. happening for each student. This article from Edsurge makes some suggestions to help with tracking, but it’s still a lot of extra work. In addition, gamification isn’t useful in every learning situation. It’s not a magic pill that fixes everything; it’s a tool that can be useful, with the right amount of effort and buy-in. Which leads to another possible pitfall—gamification can lead to students only doing things for points or can lead to unnecessary competition, which is extremely stressful for many students.

How to Gamify Your Classroom

The process of actual video game development includes design, programming, graphic design, sound engineering, copy editing, project management, and testing. The process is so involved, it’s unlikely that a teacher would have the time or budget to create their very own digital learning quest. So instead, we’ve come up with some tips to easily add aspects of gamification to your classroom (or, as this NEA Today article calls it, making your classroom “game-inspired.”)

  1. Backwards planning: Any teacher familiar with Understanding By Design has already got a leg up in gamification. To start gamifying your classroom consider the end first. What is the goal? How will you get kids there? What evidence will you collect along the way? Classroom game design includes designing learning activities that lead to the desired outcome, measuring progress, and collecting evidence of learning.
  2. Use what’s available: Classcraft is a free, online educational role-playing game that teachers can personalize for their lessons. It includes progress monitoring and reporting for teachers, making the gamification process much more simple than going out on your own. Other online applications for education are applicable to gamified classrooms, like Duolingo, the language learning game, Goalbook, which helps students with IEPs track their progress toward goals, and Kahoot, a game-based questions and answer platform.
  3. Gamify one aspect: Rather than attempting to create an entire game with quests and hidden bonuses, start small. Gamify grading by turning assignments into experience points. Gamify homework by creating individual quests. Gamify personalized learning by allowing students to work on a skill until they’ve achieved mastery. Use badges to signify achievement. Allow students to create their own badges. Classbadges lets you download premade badges or design class-specific ones.
  4. Establish a marketplace: Allow students to buy, sell, swap, trade with each other and with you. Maybe students can swap a badge for an open-book test, or use points to purchase a homework-free night.
  5. Allow leveling up: If a student has mastered the material in a lesson, offer fun and engaging extension work.
  6. Just dive in: It can be difficult to know when your gamified classroom plan is ready for students, but the best advice is to just try it out. That’s how your students play video games – they power up the machine and just start playing, figuring out many important rules and lessons along the way.

In Short

A gamified classroom has many benefits. Students are required to think critically, problem-solve, consider alternative solutions, and analyze information from multiple sources. Gamification, though, is no easy chore and you may need a lot of support along the way. Our best advice is to smart small, dive in, see what works, and tweak your plans along the way. We’d love to hear about your experiences with gamification in the classroom. What advice would you give to other teachers about how to get started? Comment below or hit us up on Facebook or twitter.


  1. Callum Goss

    July 30, 2015 at 4:03 pm

    I am a 18 year old student and I’ve spent the past year studying a BTEC in IT. Thinking about this idea, it seems it could come across as patronizing to a group of older students like myself. Do you think it is possible for it to be made fun and engaging for students of my age, or is this article more aimed at teachers of younger children?

    • Leah Levy

      July 30, 2015 at 7:09 pm

      Hi Callum – There are many ways to use gamification as an older student. In fact, I may be wrong, but I think the gamification movement may have started with companies looking to engage their adult users. Mashable covers gamification extensively, so this is a great place to start, though it’s not specifically education-focused: I’ll let others comment about gamification ideas for adult students. They definitely exist, and on a large scale.

    • Dan Hoffman

      July 31, 2015 at 9:57 am

      Hi Callum,

      Leah is absolutely right and many companies provide gamificaton and engagement solutions for enterprises looking to motivate and reward their employees. While some classroom gamification solutions incorporate features that make it only applicable to elementary students, others are appropriate for all ages. I encourage you to check out In RedCritter achievements can be customized to fit any age while being the only COPPA compliant badging platform in the industry.

  2. Erica Armstrong

    July 30, 2015 at 9:30 pm

    I am a French teacher and spent the whole past year gamifying my classes. I agree that it was a lot of up front work and also expensive. I could not find any tools already available that fit my needs. I needed my digital badges to *not* be more work for me, but instead a part of a workflow that was efficient. I knew that if it was “one more thing” that I had to do that it would not be effective because I would fall behind with managing it.

    I ended up building my own website to manage it – – to be a complete learning management system where the badges were a natural part of the workflow. The website lists the possible badges and explains to students how to earn them, students login and submit finished work on each badges’ page to show evidence, I am notified of new submissions and have the opportunity to review them & provide feedback, and finally with one click I can award badges when evidence meets the criteria. The website automatically tallies points, publishes badges to each students’ profile, etc. It worked beautifully.

    More important than the badges themselves, my students were so motivated by having choices and having control over their class time. I trusted them to learn. And they did. They thrived.

  3. John Edelson

    August 2, 2015 at 9:42 am

    I have a slightly different take on Gamification. I think making a game out of a learning activity is a concept that predates the use of digital technology. I went to school in England which like in the Harry Potter books, had an ongoing color war which made a competition, a game, out of many school activities.

    Teachers for years have been holding spelling bees and using other games to add some zest to learning. There were popular consumer educational games such as The Phonics Games.

    It’s true that the use of technology and the powerful example of videos games has added vast amounts of excitement to the idea of making education more engaging, more of a game. Personally, I switched over a decade ago from making Playstation games to educational games. As an aside, for many employers, there’s also an effort to gamily work.

    I run a popular digital learning service which gamifies word study. This means that we have over 35 learning activities and games which can be used to help students learn words, improve spelling, build phonics skills, and to generally automate the study, assessment, and record keeping associated with building some literacy skills.

  4. Karl Kapp

    August 4, 2015 at 6:48 am

    While I agree that gamification can include points, badges and leaderboards, I think that is only one part of gamification. I believe that there are two types of gamification. One is structural gamification which is when a game “structure” is placed around content. Awarding points for correctly spelling words or giving badges for mastering some type of learning but, in reality, no one plays a game just for points or badges. People play games because of the challenge, sense of mastery and enjoyment of collaborating or competing with others. This brings me to the other type of gamification which is structural gamification. In structural gamification,the content itself is made to be more game-like. So, instead of starting a lesson with instructional objectives, one starts the lesson with a challenge or a mystery. Stories are used to draw the learners into the content and immediate feedback and scaffolding are presented to move students from concept to concept. And, no, it doesn’t have to be digital. Digital helps because it is more scalable but good/great teachers have been “gamifying” instruction for decades if not longer. And the absolute best is to allow/encourage student to create their own gamified lesson and have others play it to learn. To learn more about the gamification of learning and instruction check out these resources: and

    • Lakshmi Sudarsan

      August 5, 2015 at 7:13 am

      It great to read comments and insights from experts in the area. Do you have any thoughts on how the structure of gamification changes while we are addressing different age groups. To be more specific, it’s popular knowledge that the concept of reward / badges is a strong motivator for kids to attempt games. How do you design games for different age groups while still maintaining the structural integrity of game design and making sure the activity ultimately is building on the strengths it was designed for? Any books or studies you can recommend that sheds some light into that will be very helpful.