How to Get Teachers to Embrace Gamification

Introduce your colleagues to this incredibly engaging approach to instruction this summer.

June 20, 2016
Suzy Lolley
Technology coordinator
Cherokee County Schools
Canton, GA
CATEGORIES In the Classroom, Professional Development

Do you want to capture your students' hearts and heads and increase achievement dramatically? Of course you do, and you can through gamified classrooms! Gamification is a hot trend, but it's more than that -- it's tapping into students' interests to give them the opportunity to explore, problem-solve, and build social skills while connecting with curriculum-based skills and concepts. But where do you start?

As an instructional technology specialist in our district with a background in middle and high school education, I have an opportunity to influence change, and gamification has been a tool to do just that. Here are three of my favorite tips I've used to help teachers "game" their classrooms.

Learning often comes through discovery.

Show before you tell.

Road TripI just finished teaching a 10-hour "Gamify Your Classroom" workshop to 20 teachers. Thinking back to my days teaching American literature, I turned the workshop into an American road trip theme. Teachers created driver's license avatars, they “leveled up” by traveling different famous roads, and they earned vanity plate badges. They even listened to road trip music while they worked to earn fuel for their tanks. One teacher asked when I was going to show them how to do what I was doing (gamifying learning). I reminded her that learning often comes through discovery. 

When it came time for the teachers to start working through the process of creating their own games on Day Two, they were better able to jump right in and brainstorm. My road trip theme led the teachers to turn their classes into surf clubs, safari tours, and space expeditions, and none of it felt forced or painful.

Encourage teamwork, modeling, and troubleshooting.

One of the biggest struggles I've seen as a teacher is pulling students into a group. The students (and teachers!) who love groups generally love them for the social aspects or the ability to rely on others' work ethics. Those who hate them cite the same reasons. Many teachers were overachievers who struggled to work in groups, so those of us doing professional development for them need to train them in collaboration techniques.

One of the activities that teachers in my games class completed was based on the book Zoom by Istvan Banyai. I gave each teacher a QR code to scan that led to a picture from the book. I asked them to put themselves in order as a class without showing their picture to anyone. All they could do was describe their picture and ask questions. The activity took them about 20 minutes to complete, and all that time was full of communication practice, teamwork, and uncertainty. Each teacher had a piece of the puzzle that was crucial to the rest of the group. As we processed the activity later, the teachers involved felt what it was like to truly work in a group and experienced the issues their students might face in such a situation.

Allow students to "play" to draw the teacher in.

Recently, my husband paid to be locked in a room and solve puzzles to earn his way out. You may or may not know, but these "escape room" experiences are sweeping the country. What if you could bring this into the classroom? Well, good news: You can, with Breakout EDU's breakout kits!

I recently used breakout kits in a few classrooms after our state tests were finishing up, as teachers in my district were scrambling to find purposeful and engaging activities for their students to do. I emailed several teachers and asked if I could push into their classrooms and do a breakout session with their students. With the briefest of descriptions for the teachers, I gave their students 45 minutes to break five locks related to math puzzles. Teachers, wide-eyed, learned right along with the students, and guess what? Several teachers are now ordering their own kits, which come with access to all kinds of free games and can be adapted to any content area. They opened a little window for me to do professional development with them, and it will lead to a wide door of practical classroom use.


Terry Marshal
Classroom teacher
New Brunswick Middle School
New Brunswick, NJ

Gamification is one of the most effective approaches to grab students' attention and keep them interested in what you're going to teach them. I am crazy about your idea of tracking American traveling-literature roads. Those roads mentioned by Kerouac or Steinbeck  or other authors will for sure make my students read more.