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Find the Learning in Any Game

How to inspire deep, critical thinking through game-based learning.

Tanner Higgin | June 15, 2020

Every game has potential for learning. Sure, games made for in-school learning have been around a long time. But these aren't the only types of games you can use to help students develop and practice important skills. Instead, consider the educational value in some of the more popular games your students (and you!) already play at home. To do this, think of games as experiences rather than instruction -- as field trips, not textbooks. Not all games are school-appropriate, but you can approach any game from an educational perspective.

Ready to try out some games that weren't designed for classrooms, but still have tons of learning? Consider these tips and game recommendations.

Tips for game-based learning

Use the games your students already play.

  • Start with the games your students (or you!) already like playing. Use after-school play as a litmus test for engagement.
  • Consider titles with the potential to drive deep, critical thinking.

Treat games like experiences, not instruction.

  • Prep just like you would for a field trip or a film screening. Set some context, then explore with your students.
  • Resist the urge to offer instruction too soon; help students reflect and unpack the experience afterward. Offer this game journal for students to use while playing.
  • Even if students stray off course, that's bound to bring opportunities for great learning. Also, don't forget about board games! Find what works best for you.

Use inaccuracies to drive inquiry.

  • Many games come with inaccuracies, if not exaggerations or metaphors. Use these to your advantage.
  • As students play, help them see any inaccuracy as a learning opportunity. Have students keep track of what doesn't seem right, then follow up with research comparing the game's point of view with reality.

Games to try with older students

Gone Home

This profoundly thoughtful narrative game fosters empathy and self-reflection. Students will be compelled by their curiosity as they explore the scenes and unlock the story.

Kerbal Space Program

Players design and launch a rocket into space in this realistic astrophysics sim. The game is tough, but if students stick with it, they'll learn the fundamentals of rocket science.

Sid Meier's Civilization VI

This legendary strategy game is a hit with history buffs in school and out. Students pick a world leader to play and found a new civilization by building districts, setting citizens to work, founding religions, and much more.

More games to consider

The Most Engaging Games for the Classroom

Great games that'll hook students, plus promote critical thinking and offer opportunities for deep learning.

Games for Building Critical-Thinking Skills

Games that create reflective, independent thinkers.

Further reading