Gamification in the classroom – how to use game elements and dynamics to motivate student learning

by Philippa Branson

As a non gamer myself, when I first heard about Gamification, I assumed that it only had to do with embedding online games into the classroom. However, as I began to read more and more about it I came to understand that it was a powerful tool for learning.

To clarify, some educational institutions define Gamification as the use of gaming software, such as Minecraft, linked with curriculum. What I came to realise is that it can also be the use game dynamics and elements in existing lessons to boost student motivation to learn. As such, rather than relying on gaming software to spice up the learning, you can teach existing curriculum through gaming elements.

Games make us happy. They are challenging, competitive and encourage us to overcome obstacles to reach the ultimate goal. The feeling of achieving that goal is satisfying and rewarding. However, before we can reach it, we must solve problems, follow certain rules and gain skills along our journey to reach the end goal. Now, translate this practice into a classroom environment.

We all want our students to be motivated, engaged and willing to work through problems to be successful in their learning. Games have been a powerful medium since the last century so why not gamify your classroom to motivate successful learning.

Gamifying learning and teaching means to employ game dynamics, mechanics, components and elements. Some of these you may already use in your classroom. These might be collaboration, quests, puzzles, points system, goals, rules, a feedback system and riddles. What combines all these game tactics as a powerful tool for learning is sending the student on a ‘hero’s journey’. Here the reward is learning. What motivates and excites the gamer/learner is to begin the journey with a compelling story.

So, how can this translate into the classroom?


The robots who we named 'Bottie'

The robots who we named ‘Bottie’

I decided to try it out in a Robotics workshop to see if it can really engage and motivate students. Please, do not be turned off by it being a Robotics workshop. I know nothing about robotics (that’s where my sister comes in) but rather focused on transforming a traditionally teacher led workshop into an exciting game for students to learn through.

My sister, Courtney Branson, teaches robotics and we worked together to develop this gamified workshop for year 7s. Here are some of the ideas and resources that we created:

  • Jigsaw puzzle – of the robot labeled
  • An interactive Moodle lesson – questions to answer to guide gamers/students through the game
Interactive Moodle lesson

Interactive Moodle lesson

  • Leaderboard – a feedback system on how the learning was progressing
Helped students to understand their learning  progression

Helped students to understand their learning progression

  • Player pieces (in the shape of robots) for groups to work their way up the different levels of achievement
  • Filming a compelling trailer called, ‘Bottie’s Quest’ – an exciting narrative to capture the student interest
  • Riddles to unlock levels
  • Transforming the classroom into a large grid using masking tape
We masking taped the floor into a grid to capture the imagine of the gamers/students

We masking taped the floor into a grid to capture the imagine of the gamers/students

How will we know if gamifying this robotics workshop was successful? We are hoping that the gamers/students are engaged in the activity, that they understand the process of programming the robot without explicit teacher led instruction and that they are able to move up through the levels on the leaderboard.

Well, we achieved that and a whole lot more!

What we noticed throughout the lesson was that there were no behavior issues. Once we explained the game and the end goal – to become a competent robotic programmer, the students understood what they needed to do. Students commented that they loved that there was, ‘no yelling involved’ (from the teachers).

Students enjoyed the fact that they could work through the problems in their own time through the levels of the game. The physical and collaborative work in the classroom was supported and directed through an interactive lesson on Moodle. Students completed puzzles, deciphered riddles and answered quizzes (on Moodle) and these unlocked the next activity or level. There was no time limit to the levels.

Students working on a puzzle

Students working on a puzzle


Students moving up the different levels

Students moving up the different levels

Students were fascinated with the leader board. When we created this, we knew that it encompassed the ideas of Visible Learning. Students loved knowing how they were going with their learning at all times. What we were surprised by was that students who never usually understand the process of learning were able to be successful at each level and use the language of their learning with teachers. The leaderboard gave a taste of competitiveness to the gamers/students and this motivated them throughout the workshop.

Some feedback was that the group size of 4 or 5 was too many. However they did enjoy choosing their groups and working with their peers. Interestingly, the group who was behind in the initial levels were the ones to come first in the final level.


Students programming the perfect square

Students programming the perfect square

The film, ‘Bottie’s Quest’, was an excellent motivator for students when they failed. When the gamers/students failed, we didn’t have to go and fix up the problem. The students felt that they had already been given the tools to correct their mistakes and try again. Throughout this trial and error phase of programming, they could be heard saying, ‘don’t worry Bottie, we will help you graduate!’ Clearly this shows resilience and a deep motivation to reach the end goal despite failures and obstacles in their way. Mostly though, we were impressed at how self-directed and motivated the students were at this final stage in the game.

At the end, each student was given a Microsoft sticker to identify them as a competent programmer. It was visibly clear that the learning intention had been a success. The students were proud to wear their sticker as a badge.


Students reaction as they finished the game and became a competent robotic programmer

Students reaction as they finished the game and became a competent robotic programmer

As a result of our experience, we would highly recommend embedding gaming elements and dynamics into your classroom. Using quests, quizzes, leader boards, puzzles, riddles, narratives and team work is effective in engaging and motivating students to direct their learning through different levels and processes to achieve an ultimate learning goal. We found students to have a deeper understanding of their learning, the learning intention and felt a greater sense of reward and success at the completion of the gaming workshop. Students demonstrated resilience and willingness to solve problems without teacher direction and enjoyed themselves in the process.

Some further resources about gamification and learning:

Game to Learn

Taking serious games seriously in Education

Jane McGonigal: Gaming can make a better world

Gamification – open learning course


2 thoughts on “Gamification in the classroom – how to use game elements and dynamics to motivate student learning

  1. Pingback: Gamification in the classroom – how to us...

  2. Pingback: Gamification in the classroom – how to us...

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s