6 Essential Elements to Designing Games for the Classroom

There is a lot of talk about, and some movement toward, bringing game-based learning into the classroom. Experts have seen the benefits of engaging young minds with an educational game, from games causing neurological benefits to gaming teaching 21st century skills to a new generation.

Many teachers might understand the benefits of using game-based learning in their classroom, but do not know where to begin. How do you design a game? How do know what it should be about? What should the framework look like? Andrew Miller, a consultant for the project-based curriculum organization, the Buck Institute of Education, shares six easy to implement elements every game needs to be effective in the classroom.

  1. Create Individual Quests and Boss Levels: Every game-based learning unit should have multiple small quests that bring students to more advanced boss levels. The smaller quests are “engaging, game activities to have students learn and/or practice using content.” The goals for quests could be having students show what they’ve learned by finding a weapon or blowing something up. When students reach the boss they must synthesize everything they learned in the individual quests in order to move on.
  2. Overall Theme: All of the quests will be umbrellaed under one common theme or essential question. What is the purpose of the game? How does a democracy work? Miller gives the example of: What do police detectives do to solve crimes?
  3. Need to Know: In the game-based learning environment students must already know the information to complete quests and boss levels. They also need to be taught the skills it will take to beat the game before venturing into it.
  4. Trial and Error, Timely Feedback and then Success: Games encourage students to take risks. When they miss something, they have to go back and try again. There is a great sense of accomplishment for gamers who beat a quest or a boss because they feel like they really earned it.
  5. Incentives: When students beat the game they need to be rewarded with a badge or points that can be put toward arming their avatar.
  6. Avatar: Get students engaged in the game by allowing them to create their own avatar. When students can role-play that they are the character in the game, they’re practicing their 21st century skills and using creativity, while adding their own story to the game.

Have you designed a game for the classroom? Share your how-to tips in the comment box.


“Game-based learning units for the everyday teacher,” by Andrew Miller. 26 September 2011. Edutopia. 26 September 2011. <http://www.edutopia.org/blog/video-game-model-unit-andrew-miller?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=post&utm_content=blog&utm_campaign=game-basedlearningeverydayteacher>

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