Resources for Gamifying Your Classroom

I am in planning mode.  All my tools have been gathered.  Markers, paper, books, computer, and a large block of time are all at my disposal.  I may have mentioned in a earlier post that I am the Monica Gellar of organization. Give me a label maker and a few file folders and I can conquer the world.  Let’s get down to business. Where to start when building a game-based learning unit? Hands down the best resource around is Michael Matera’s Explore Like a Pirate. The book is well worth the investment and filled with wonderful ideas!  Where to go from here? I have gathered a few resources to help in the planning process:

  1. Gamifying Education by Extra Credits: These guys have created a visual guide to gamification in the classroom. Packed with insightful reasons for using games and filled with useful examples, this is certainly the best place to start.
  2. Edutopia is just about the best resource around for anything current.  This wonderful site has an entire section devoted to Game Based Learning.
  3. Why Gamify in the Classroom? Let’s face it, for some it will be a hard sell.  Is it more than just playing in the classroom?
  4. offers a little more information into the whys and hows of gamification.
  5. Where would be without An Ultimate Guide to Gamification?  Edudemic does a great job of pulling this guide together.
  6. Personally, I had a difficult time with XP and how to level up.  This article was tremendously helpful in planning.
  7. Badges can also be a difficult  obstacle to overcome.  This article was helpful.
  8. The Institute of Play offers a few packs to help in the design process as well.

While this is by no means a comprehensive list of resources related to gamification, it is certainly a list that was very helpful in my personal planning.  Please add links in the comments if you know of a resource that would be helpful in this arena.  Best of luck in your planning!


Surviving the Testing Period

The long hot days of testing are upon us.  Schedules are changed. Students may stay with you for hours even though you only teach them one subject.  Always operating on the principle that if I am bored, certainly the students are bored.  There needs to be a mix of fun and review and perhaps a touch of adventure to make it through the next few weeks.  Due to an atmosphere of testing, it also needs to be a fairly quiet atmosphere. The solution? A little bit of Google magic.

Creating a Google Slides Choice Board

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I wanted the students to have choice and I wanted something a little different than the traditional printed choice board.  After gathering the art (, the board was created and the appropriate slides added.  Each icon links to a slide.  The first day the board had only nine activities.

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The activities were based on review content and current content for social studies and science (the subjects I teach).  My students also work on Duolingo daily.  Other great resources for interactive activity include Nearpod, Playposit, and Classtools.  My students also participate in Classcraft. This tool allowed me to offer XP, HP, AP, and Gold Coins for completing the activities.  A few of the activities are shown below:

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The students enjoyed having choices.  A big bonus is that it broke the time up.  Each activity is anywhere from 10-30 minutes.  This allows for a change in subject and usually the chance to do something funny to have a little break.

Each night I change the background, move the activities and add a few more to choose from.  This keeps the game current and keeps them guessing as to the reward amounts and/or penalties as well as the activities, including the funny ones.  The activities have been fun for the students, allowed for a quiet testing atmosphere, and allowed them to review in an interactive way.  A win-win for a tough time of year.

Take care,



Sketchnotes are all the rage in education right now! They are a way for students to use their WHOLE brain when taking notes or gathering information in a class. I have been doing sketchnoting before it was even a thing–like back in the 90s–teachers just thought I  was doodling; but drawing sketches, adding bold font, and inserting arrows into my notes was a way for me to control my wandering mind. By drawing while the teacher was teaching, I kept the visual/imaginative side of my brain busy so my language side could focus on what the teacher was saying. IMG_5284.JPG.jpg

(From: The Sketchnote Workbook, By: Mike Rohde – 2015)

“Sketchnotes are rich visual notes created from a mix of handwriting, drawings, hand-drawn typography, shapes, and visual elements like arrows, boxes and lines” (Rohde)

These notes are a way to capture big ideas from any lesson, and anyone can do it! Plus… BEST PART: It’s FUN!!!



Sketchnotes work best when teachers show examples and teach the basic elements to students. I plan on having my students use sketchnotes to have a visual/written record of what they learn about the differences between the North and the South before the American Civil War (as a part of my Civil War Game… more details on this soon!). My students have already been taught the basics of sketchnoting by the ELA teacher on my team; therefore, I will just be showing them this video of me sketchnoting to kick start the lesson!

Sorry it’s sideways… #techproblems #amateur #sketchnoteslookgoodthough

Try something new & HAVE FUN!


Port of Adventure

Recently, I had a student ask me for a review pack for our upcoming state test.

“I’m not giving review packs this year,” I said confidently knowing my time spent gamifying their content would surely payoff.  My ego was quickly put in check by the student’s pale and unnerved face.

“Wait. What?! No review packet?! I WON’T PASS THE TEST!” And she meant business. Her world was crumbling around her.  Noticing the panic in her face, I attempted to bring a little levity to the situation.

“Except the big, thick one packet you are getting tomorrow for your Social Studies test!” I said with the absolute cheesiest smile I could muster.

“OH THANK GOD! We were all talking and we just don’t think we’re going to be ready without a packet!”  Her backpack slid down her arm as her expression of relief vibrated through to her finger tips.  She bounced down the hallway, everything right in her world but I was left standing, mouth gaping and dumbfounded.

What have we done?  Learning is everything.  It is the gentle flap of butterfly wings in your stomach when uncovering new information.  It is the power of curiosity to take one down uncharted paths.  It is a continuous lifelong adventure that winds and twists with excitement.

Our classrooms should be where these adventures begin: harbors where students stockpile supplies and head out on daring journeys but may always return for safety and comfort, to restock and head out again.

Instead of instilling a passion for learning, we have created a generation that successfully maneuvers packets.  This is certainly a 21st century skill that will propel them well into the future.   The depth at which my sarcasm is running need not be quantified here.

Is it too late to rectify this situation?  Identifying the problem is the first step.  Our schools need to be design labs, rich, interactive environments where students explore their passions and are guided by us on an unforgettable journey.  This journey must by make them life long learners, individuals who are willing to search out information for the simple benefit of learning more.

Setting out to create this environment can be challenging.  There are financial stumbling blocks and perhaps even administrative deterrents.  Before you begin, know your facts.  Research is important.  Industrialized learning spaces seems counterproductive to what needs to be accomplished therefore, learning space design was the best place to start.

Research into effective learning spaces yielded an enormous change in classroom atmosphere.  Students no longer equated our classroom with their negative connotation of school, rather, they called it home.  Comfortable seating in areas called “the living room” or “the genius bar” led to increased student interaction and many authentic learning experiences.

While student engagement had increased, pieces were still missing.  How do kids authentically learn?  They learn through play and exploration.  The completion of a photocopied worksheet allows for little play or exploration.  Games, however, offer a whole new world of both. Enter game-based learning and gamification.  How this has not been identified as the Holy Grail of teaching is unknown to me.  It is content, set into a meaningful and interactive context where students, through play and imagination, acquire the knowledge and skills they need.  Often, they have no idea it is even happening!

As we look at our classrooms, we must ask ourselves an important question: are we exotic ports of call or run down docks parading as marinas?  Be the harbor master and set your course, building a port they will always return to and be inspired by.  It’s not easy but it is certainly worth it!


Review Time = Game Time

One of the easiest ways to implement game mechanics into your classroom is when reviewing material for a test. Many educators have their go-to review games that they use with their students before a test, but did you ever think to theme the review to meet the unit’s topic or learning targets? You could even make the review part of your overall gamified classroom. Earlier this school year, I allowed my students (that were playing the role of European Explorers) to play the “boss level: bonus round.” By facing the boss, students could play a review game where if they were able to “defeat the boss” (AKA: win the game), they were EXEMPT from the unit test! That’s right, I didn’t make those students that defeated the boss take the end of unit test. Here’s why: What is the point of a test? I consider my assessments to determine a student’s level of mastery of a particular set of content. I made this “boss” level in such a way that every learning target from the unit would be assessed through the review game. Students that could actually beat the “boss” couldn’t have done so without first mastering all of the content– they literally wouldn’t have known all of the answers to be able to compete in the review activity. Therefore, if they could beat the boss, they would have been successful on the test anyways. Why would I make those particular students prove their knowledge and skills to me again? I know what you’re thinking: “But you HAVE to give your students a test! That’s what teachers do, and that’s what administrators want!” To you I say, “No, I HAVE to teach my students a particular set of learning targets and I HAVE to make sure each student is not only meeting those targets, but showing overall growth in social studies. And I do!

I love theming my review to match my unit. For this past unit about Westward Expansion, I gave my students 2 class periods and literally a dozen review games to choose from as they prepared for their unit test. Here are some of the review activities students could choose from:

Here is a PDF version of the review stations to inspire you: Westward Expansion Extra Activities

I also had kids play other review games (at their own choosing) during this review time. I set up one game where they could throw a suction-cup ball to my board to hit a portion of a map that showed U.S. Territorial Expansion. Students were given clues about a particular area that the U.S. acquired during this time period, and were challenged to “hit” that area of the map with the ball in order to score points! Students were really able to practice their map skills and overall understanding of all learning targets through this game!

Here are some other review games I offered during this review time:

(Crocodile Dentist made a game of “Heads Up” a lot more interesting! Students had to place a card on their heads and have their teammates give them clues to what the word was without actually saying any part of the word. If they didn’t guess the word in time, they had to push down one of the crocodile’s teeth… hopefully it wasn’t the sensitive tooth that caused him to CHOMP down on your precious little fingers! My 8th graders ATE this game up! LOL, I love puns.)

IMG_5244.JPG(Review 4-U Tubs are great ways for students to ask each other review questions! Simple, cheap and a class favorite! I write down review questions on a note card, place them in the tub and if students answer any questions incorrectly, they must complete some sort of punishment–push ups, jumping jacks, etc.)

img_5245.jpg(Pictionary is a fun way for students to really have to think through content as they review.)

Listen, none of these review games in and of themselves are MIND-BLOWING ideas. I get that. I have found success in having students diversify their methods of review. This yields positive results! Plus, offering many different types of review can allow me to differentiate my review to custom fit each student’s individual needs (even though students are choosing which games they play, I can give them a gentle nudge in the right direction). Plus, students have multiple ways to have fun, they never get bored, and they are completely engaged in the review because they have a choice in how they review.

All for now,