Maximizing Opportunities from Game-Based Tools and Gamified Instruction

Clear goals, strong modeling, and ample opportunity for reflection turn fun games into highly effective learning tools
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Classcraft Game-Based Tool

About This Strategy

Game-based learning and gamifying instruction provide many benefits beyond just being fun. Games promote critical thinking skills, collaboration, and real-world applications of concepts. Game-based learning takes many forms, from board games to online games, and even virtual worlds. Teachers can collect quantitative and qualitative data from game-based tools to assess learning and personalize instruction. Teachers and students should set norms for game play in the classroom, to keep engagement high and disruptions low. This strategy offers guidelines for how to introduce game-based tasks to students, and how to maximize this process through modeling, goal-setting, reflection.

Implementation Steps

  1. Determine a learning goal. Consider content-based goals, as well as skills-based or social goals. Choose a game that aligns with your goals (see the Game-Based Tech Tools list in the resource section for ideas).

  2. Play the game as a student. Set a timer so you don't get too carried away having fun! As you explore, pay attention to your initial instincts in the game. Anticipating what students will want to do first will help you set norms and plan for the game launch.

  3. Plan to collect data. If the game collects data into a teacher dashboard or spreadsheet, explore the settings. Many games provide teachers with a lot of data. Determine the specific data points you want to focus on for the initial launch.

  4. Plan to launch the game with your students using the Game Launch Planning Template included below. Consider procedures for setting norms, reflecting on initial play, and providing students with feedback using the guiding questions in the planning template.

  5. Introduce the game to students and allow for "free play." Time to explore the game will build excitement while also helping students learn the game features. As students play, observe for any challenges that arise.

  6. Meet with students to reflect on free play. Set norms with students for game play going forward, and discuss any challenges or misunderstandings that arose during free play.

  7. Frequently analyze data from the game to inform instruction. For more ideas about how to analyze and share data, see BetterLesson's Analyzing Student Data to Inform Instruction and Building a Data Dive Routine strategies included below.

Collecting Student Behavioral Data Using Game-Based Tools

Game-based learning provides opportunities to observe student behavior, social skills, and collaboration during less formalized learning tasks.

Implementation steps:

  1. Determine the data you want to collect. Create a data collection spreadsheet or chart to use while students play. Consider these questions:

    • What social or collaborative skills will you measure?

    • Will you collect behavioral data for the whole class? For specific students?

    • What speaking and listening skills will you measure?

    • What organizational or executive functioning skills will you measure?

  2. During the game, observe for target behaviors. Target behaviors can be positive (sharing, collaboration, etc.) or negative (arguing, withdrawing, etc.).

  3. Ask students to reflect on their behavior during game play using a reflection question or rubric.

  4. After game play, analyze the behavioral data. Determine next steps for sharing data with individual students, or share data with the class through a data dive.

Maximizing Opportunities from Game-Based Tools For Distance Learning

Tori Todd
BetterLesson Instructional Coach

Games engage students and support them to complete distance learning tasks while having fun. 

Implementation steps:

  1. Introduce the game to students during a synchronous class period. Model game play for students and demonstrate necessary game features.

    • To adjust this step for asynchronous learning, create a screencast video demonstrating game features and modeling game play that students can watch on their own.

  2. Provide time during synchronous class periods to reflect on game play. Ask students to share their progress, make space for student questions, and re-visit expectations as needed.

    • In asynchronous settings, gather student reflections through a survey, like a google form or PollEverywhere. Or, ask students to post reflective writing or videos on Padlet, Flipgrid or Seesaw.

  3. Monitor game-based data. Check in frequently with the class by sharing aggregate data. Consider holding one-on-one conferences with students to reinforce engagement in the game-based tool.

    • Asynchronously check in with students by sharing screenshots of their data or creating a screencast to show students their progress.

Special Education Modification

Nedra MassenburgDEMO
Special Education Specialist

Using Game-based learning and gamifying instruction as a tool to promote critical thinking skills, collaboration, and real-world applications of concepts is an excellent tool to help engage students with disabilities.   Building an environment where these students see a variety of opportunities to learn is an important building block to helping them form relationships in the classroom and thus build overall engagement and investment in their learning.

The multi-step nature of Gamified Instruction requires developed reading comprehension skills, writing skills, verbal expression skills, emotional regulation skills and/or executive functioning skills (task initiation, prioritization, working memory, etc.).  In order to support students with disabilities who have difficulty in these areas, consider the following modifications:


  1. Use visual timers and verbal reminders during the problem-solving process to help students with task initiation and task completion during games.  

  2. Consider giving students with disabilities different or more scaffolded methods to access when solving tasks in more complex gamified instruction. Intervene to push these students to refer to these methods when they are stuck or confused on next steps in solving problems. See the "Adapting Curriculum to Make PBL Accessible to All Students" resource in the resource section below for more information.

  3. Students with disabilities that affect working memory and processing can be given a template to record their thinking as they work through game-based learning tasks.

  4. Students with disabilities that impact their social interactions, verbal expression and/or emotional regulation can be given a role in group-based games to support their productive engagement.

  5. If multiple teachers are present in a setting, consider having one teacher work in a small group of students with disabilities to provide them both more scaffolded modeling of how to engage with Gamified Instruction and more frequent feedback on their completion of tasks.

EL Modification

Shannon Coyle
English Learner Specialist

Gaming engages English learners in applying language skills while having fun. Gaming can be used to allow learners to explore content, monitor behavior, collaborate with peers, all while using academic as well as social language skills in a low-risk, high-interest environment.

English learners may be required to use all four domains of language, reading, writing, speaking, and listening while engaging in gaming activities. In order to support English Learners consider the following modifications:


  1. Orient learners to process and tools. Ensure learners at lower levels of proficiency understand the norms, procedures, and game play routines. Consider meeting 1:1 or in a small group to walk through, model play from start to finish, and answer clarifying questions. Consider posting an anchor charter with game rules, procedures and/or expectations with graphic cues. Consider using a response protocol to check for understanding and guide question creation. See the "Extending English Language Learners' Classroom Interactions Using the Response Protocol" resource in the resource section below for more information.
  2. Design pre and post game activities. Create checklists or scavenger hunt-style worksheets to ensure English learners at lower levels of proficiency take away the expressed learning goals. Similarly, consider preparing post game activities akin to exit tickets that have learners reflect on what they learned and check for understanding. Use paper-based activities or seek out ways to embed such previews and checks for understanding within gaming platforms.
  3. Differentiate games. Observe game play and analyze game data to determine if some English learners may need further support. Effective games for English learners will include language they can understand, clear pronunciation and tasks, and is attainable. Consider providing coaching, partnering, limiting use to particular areas, and/or alternative gaming platforms as learners need it. See the "5 Free Video Games That Support English Language Learners" and the "Educational Use of Video Games in the ESL Classroom" resources in the resource section below for more information."

Questions to Consider

  • What do you know about your students that might help you to choose a game they will connect with?

  • How will you provide personalized feedback to students about game-based learning?

Coach Tips

Tori Todd
BetterLesson Instructional Coach

As much as you can, play the game alongside your students. Playing along lets you model appropriate game play, and gives you and your students a shared experience. And don't stop there - model reflective thinking and self-assessment, too, so students can fully benefit from game-based learning.

Tech Tools


  • Kahoot! Is a game-based quiz platform, with question banks or the ability to upload questions. Kahoot! allows images and videos and supports surveys and discussions as well. It can be used by individuals or teams, in classrooms or as homework. Questions and answer choices can be projected onto a classroom screen while students submit responses using an internet-connected device, or can be used asynchronously for homework.

  • Teachers can collect data from Kahoot! to inform classroom instruction. Teachers can download student response data after using Kahoot!


  • Prodigy is a game-based math program for grades 1-8. Students create an avatar, choose a sidekick animal, and interact with one another in a virtual world. When students encounter one another, they can duel by casting spells - so long as they answer a math question correctly! Teachers can view student data using the teacher dashboard, and can assign standards and skills to individual students for practice.

  • The Prodigy teacher dashboard collects information about skills mastered, time spent on task, and more. Teachers can share this data with the class to keep them focused while playing.


  • Socrative is a digital assessment tool that allows for recording of student responses on exit tickets, quizzes or spur in the moment questions. All students have to do is enter the teacher Socrative room via one code, always the same, and the class becomes interactive from there!

  • Socrative is a fun way for students to complete checks for understanding. The Space Race feature projects space ships for individual students or groups, and students can watch their own progress through the assignment.

Minecraft for Education

  • Minecraft for Education is a pixel-based world where students can create anything. Students can interact with one another to collaboratively build, and teachers can enter the world with their own avatar to work alongside students.

  • Teachers can maximize their use of Minecraft by setting concrete goals and learning targets and incorporating frequent opportunities for reflection.


  • Classcraft is a behavior and learning management tool. The platform allows for the creation of collaborative teams with customizable avatars. Discussion boards, an assignment dropbox, and self-paced quests are features of the learning management system. It has a leaderboard with the ability to add experience and subtract health points to individual students, teams, or the entire class. It’s ClassDojo meets the World of WarCraft.   

  • Teachers can use ClassCraft to "gamify" their classrooms. See the ClassCraft lesson plan from the BetterLesson master teacher project for more ideas. 

Stop Disasters

  • Stop Disasters is a simulation game developed by the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction. Players are immersed in a simulated reality facing a natural disaster, and must address the situation to stop the disaster.

  • Teachers can use Stop Disasters or other simulation games as opportunities for students to apply knowledge in real-world situations.

Related Lessons

  • Explore the Organelle Trail lesson by 7th grade Science BetterLesson Master Teacher Mariana Garcia Serrato included in the resources below to see how Kahoot! can be used to review concepts before an assessment.

  • Explore the Spaceship Earth: Concept Exploration lesson by 11th grade Science BetterLesson Master Teacher Daniel Babuta included in the resources below to see how video games can be used to develop deep concept knowledge.

  • Explore the Classcraft lesson by 9th grade Science BetterLesson Master Teacher Jessica Anderson included in the resources below to learn more about using Classcraft as a gamified classroom management system.

Consulted Resources

In developing this strategy, the following resources were consulted:

  • How Digital Game Based Learning Improves Student Success. Ryan Juraschka, Prodigy Blog. 

  • Why Game Based Learning? Gavin Kahill, The Learning Council. 

  • Game-Based Learning is Changing How We Teach. Here's Why. Kelli Anderson, EdSurge. 

  • 5 Free Video Games That Support English Language Learners. Louise El Yaafouri, Edutopia.

  • 3 Ways to Use Game Based Learning. Matthew Farber, Edutopia.