The First Game: Design and Implementation

This is the third post in a collaborative blog series telling the story of three teachers, in three different classrooms using gamification to create a more meaningful and engaging learning environment. The first and second post laid the foundation as Santha Walters, Liz Lambert, and Phillip Loomis discussed their reasons for infusing gamification into their English classrooms and how they got started. Not an English teacher, no worries! These strategies can be used in any subject or grade level.

“But what does it look like inside the classroom?” – Another random quote from the majority of teachers who hear a great strategy but have no idea where to begin.

For many teachers the key to trying something new is to first see its success in another teacher’s classroom, and that is the purpose of this post. Santha, Liz, and Phillip are going to provide you with a vision of gamification by taking you inside their classrooms.


Santha Walters (@santhawalters) – 8th Grade English Teacher, Logan Fontenelle Middle School

I use a four house gamification system, therefore, each gamified class becomes an opportunity for a house to pull ahead on the leaderboard in our room. Fridays are our gamification day. On that day students enter the room, sit with their housemates, and prepare to face a non-grammar challenge. Non-Grammar challenges are my way ounnamedf spicing up the curriculum and providing an alternative motivation for students who don’t care about grades. Only students who have completed the work in the grammar game can compete in the non-grammar challenges, so it’s a good incentive for them to help out their house.  

For the non-grammar challenges, we have used variations of the Minute to Win It games. For example, we’ve stacked golf balls and we’ve kept balloons afloat in the air using just one hand. This is simply a three to five minute “brain break” and team building session.  

After the non-grammar challenge is complete, I will follow one of three lesson plans. At the beginning of a unit, I will pre-test the kids to see which concepts in the unit are tripping them up. This allows me to design grammar units for the class and only spend direct instruction time on what is absolutely needed. The pre-test for the students does NOT count as a grade. It counts as “house points.” The house with the most points at the end of the day on Friday gets special privileges the next week, so again, there is a big incentive to get the work done. This also encourages students to help each other (so that their house gets more points).  

The next Friday, we will pick up the lesson where we left off. We’ll start with a non-grammar challenge and then move to either flipped lessons or direct teaching of a grammar concept. Students can earn house points during the practice and review section. Instead of doing a worksheet, students participate in games over the concept. They work in Quizizz or Socrative to try to get the high score. I also count participation in the review games as part of their house points (participation). Usually, these points are doubled because the bulk of their review happens here.

With the second step, it’s important to note that it may take more than one Friday to accomplish all the “learning” they need in order to be prepared for the formative test at the end of the unit. That’s why I use these middle lessons like shampoo–rinse and repeat.  Sometimes with more difficult concepts, we have several lesson and practice sessions to prepare for the Boss Battle—which is always the last lesson we do before changing grammar units.

During the Boss Battle, students actually put their skills against mine. I publish a test with a randomized test bank of about thirty questions. Depending on the level of the student, I then assign them a 10 or 15 question test. Students are free to practice the test all week until Friday. On Friday, they come into class and we do a non-grammar challenge. Then, I allow them some review time with their team. Finally, we either divide into houses and see who can do the test the quickest with the most accuracy OR I take on the entire class and anyone to beat me, my score and my time, get house points for their house. This is usually a really big award like 200–500 points.  

Here’s where it gets a little dicey. That boss battle (that randomized test) becomes their formative grade. However, for my SPeD population, I allow them and any student who doesn’t like their boss battle score to redo the assignment for a better grade. SPeD students are also assigned a reduced number quiz so that the formative grade adequately reflects their ability.  

This is my longest blog post.  Maybe I should try an infographic instead?


Liz Lambert (@LambertClass) – 7th/8th Grade English & Math Teacher, Lewis & Clark Middle School

The way I “gamify” my English class is pretty simple. I didn’t design my own game, but instead chose to use one already made. I modeled my grammar instruction after the board game, Pandemic. If you aren’t familiar with this game, all players work togethunnamed-1er to either all win or all lose the game. The actual game board is a picture of the world with several major cities highlighted. Each player has a specific role on a research team. The goal of the game is to contain infectious diseases before an outbreak or an epidemic occurs.

So what does that look like in my class? Well, all of my students are put on “research teams.” They all have specific jobs within the group from being the team leader to being the materials collector. Each grammar unit is a major city in the world. Each team creates a flag and goes to each city (grammar unit) to contain the diseases (grammar activities). At the start of each unit, all students will take a pretest on that unit’s concepts. My district uses the LMS, Schoology, so all of my materials are loaded in my online Schoology course. If a student scores an A on the pre-test, they can immediately start on the activities tied to that unit. If a student scores less than an A, then the student will take notes on a video that contains instruction on the major concepts in the unit. I use the “flipped classroom” model with this, as it allows the students to learn at their own pace and allows me to interact with students on a more “mentor” level. When the student finishes their video notes, they have their notes signed by the team leader. Then, that student can start on the activities.

What’s the big deal about starting the activities right away? More time to collect points! Each activity that I offer students in a unit is worth a certain amount of points. The more involved an activity is, the more points it is worth! Each student works as an individual to earn as many points as they can each grammar day. These points will go to a team total. The winning team at the end of a unit will get a special prize from me (snack, special privilege, etc).

A lot of people have asked me if I make all of my grammar activities. Honestly, no! Below is a picture of what kinds of activities I offer in a unit.Screen Shot 2017-05-22 at 8.59.51 AMYou will see that I do offer some traditional book pages and worksheet options, but I also offer some very creative options like creating a how-to video using a green screen or a super slide video that explains the differences in one sentence to another. It’s all about providing students with a way to marry content with creation. Choice is EVERYTHING. I also use a few other resources like No Red Ink, Kahoot, and Quizzizz. Kids love using online games/exercises, because most give them immediate feedback. Although it does take some time at the beginning of the unit to get all of my materials ready and posted, I am saving time in the end, because I have far less students needing to do retakes on tests. The initial work is absolutely worth the reward.


Phillip Loomis (@TeachLoomis) – 7th Grade English Teacher, Logan Fontenelle Middle School

Designing the first game, I used a tenet from the PBL playbook in which I gave students ‘Voice and Choice.’ This first game was housed within our LMS, Schoology. There were three different paths students could choose from to reach the end of the scenario; Riding the Rapids (web-based), Across the Desert (textbook), and Climbing the Mountain (online text).  Additionally, I added a ‘Break from the Trip’ in which students could wa8cffed134ca4f139629ae75f3f87ba25_400x400tch related Kahn Academy videos. As an added option, I had the old-standard worksheets which students could complete in lieu of one assignment within their chosen path. Overall, the work was basically the same regardless of which path students chose, accept the web-based NoRedInk ( that provided a diagnostic and leveled assignments for where the students were performing, thus providing an additional albeit manageable workload.

Throughout the design process, I carefully linked the state and district standards to the conditions to reach the end of the game. While there were different paths to get to the end of the game, the finish line was the same; a district common formative. The question then, was how to make the test part of the scenario. The answer was to tie it to classroom rewards. Student groups were formed based upon their chosen path where they played competitive group review games of Kahoot! and Quizizz to compete for numerous rewards; preferred seating, music during work-time, work with a friend, and yes, even a snack! These reviews provided an energy boost the day before the formative and regained student buy-in.

Reflecting on this unit, I realized the element of ‘play’ was missing from this ‘gamified’ unit. Additionally, while I believed students would use their imaginations to see themselves as an adventurer, there wasn’t enough within the game design for the majority of students to see themselves as such. Yes, this game flopped. Having tested the gamification waters and seeing the problems firsthand, I better understood that each of the mechanics mentioned in our earlier post was crucial. Now, after a few more games since this, I would never use (or design) a game like this again. However, the missing elements could be incorporated to make this a far more enjoyable learning experience. Maybe next year…

Want to hear about our games? Look for our June post in which we summarize the games we tried, the games we want to design, and the continued list of lessons we’re learning!

Written by Santha Walters, Liz Lambert, Phillip Loomis, & Jeffrey Bernadt



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