epic guide to game based learning in the classroom

Epic Guide To Game Based Learning

Games are fun. We can use them to teach. It isn't that hard. Game based learning excites learning in my classroom. It can ignite your classroom too. In this post, I'll share what I'm doing in my classroom. Additionally, I'll give you 100+ of my favorite game based learning resources. These links and ideas will jumpstart your journey. 

[callout]This post is sponsored by Samsung. All thoughts and opinions are my own.[/callout]

Game Based Learning in My Classroom

Three houses are at war in my keyboarding classroom. Not only do they battle the monsters of ignorance in quiz battle-games but when they type faster, they earn gold coins to buy awesome outfits for their avatar. Ordinarily, each day begins with a random event of the day. While the whole class is a game, there’s serious learning happening.

And despite what some may think, the game is not required to motivate great behavior because I don’t even try to reward everything. In essence, I’ve entered the realm of Game Master and I’m never going back!

What are serious games?

Welcome to serious games. Despite what some may think about the games, serious games are designed for a purpose. In essence, serious games are not just for entertainment. As shown below, well-designed serious games can teach, educate, and inspire. In summary, serious games done right can engage students and help us become better teachers.

Not only do we want our students to be excited about learning but we also want them to be intrinsically motivated. Simply put, intrinsic motivation comes from within. In the final analysis, it is demotivating to “point-ify” everything students do. But in the long run, adding a game based layer to your classroom can get students hungry to win in the classroom and life.

Interestingly, as can be evidenced by the kids running to my keyboarding classroom each day, effective game-based learning does release dopamine (which activates the pleasure centers of the brain.) It can become a powerful and positive motivator for this reason.

Nevertheless, just because an activity has points and is called a game doesn’t make it an effective game-based learning tool any more than putting me in a Doritos bag makes me a chip.

Therefore, we educators need to educate ourselves on game based learning. We should learn how to do it right. We should also learn how to avoid the pitfalls of poorly implemented game based learning.

Let’s dig deep into the resources, research, and tools that will help you become start using game based learning in your classroom. 

[callout]I've also included my Quicknotes that I use to reference the most important Game Based Learning information that I want at my fingertips.[/callout]

100+ Game Based Learning Resources

Blog Posts and Current Resources

Some games are computerized worksheets. That is what Game Designers Mean by 'Chocolate on Broccoli." Dr. Lee Graham

School-Wide Game Based Learning

Game Based Learning Sketchnote Vicki Davis

These are my notes on the essentials of Game Based Learning. I keep Quicknotes like these with me as I work to become better at implementing effective game based learning in my classroom. Also note that quite a few items from the Gamifi-ed project are also included in my quick notes because I find them a useful reference.

Interviews with Experts

Matt Farber - game design

Matt Farber – game design

Tools to Help You Implement Game Based Learning in the Classroom


  • Games for Change – This website and organization sponsors contest to create games for change. You’ll find many ideas for game based learning for social good on this site.
  • Common Sense Education – formerly Graphite, this organization ranks and evaluations apps, games and activities for kids. I like that they recently added a feature to evaluate the privacy policies and COPPA compliance of websites. A great place to find games.
  • Gamifi-ed Website – 9th Graders in the classroom of Vicki Davis (author of this blog) and Masters students at the University of Alaska Southeast analyzed and tested more than 50 serious games. This website has many resources and an overview of what makes an excellent serious game.
  • Appolicious – This site pretty much evaluations iPhone/iPad games but has lots of them in the index.
  • Game Based Learning Insights on the Samsung Insights Website has articles on recent implementations of game based learning in more fields than just K12 including health care, retail, etc.


  • Builder BowlsBuilder Bowls revolve around a wide range of immersive technologies, including Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR), simulations, video games, caves and domes, 3D printing and robotics.
  • Game On – a Wordpress plugin used by teacher Kevin Jarrett and others to make their whole classroom a game.
  • Classcraft – This is the game tool I use to turn my keyboarding class into a game.
  • Rezzly – Used to be 3D Game Lab
  • Student Shark Tanks – I wrote this about how we had a competition to see which apps would get funded.
  • Drama in the Classroom: 2 Bellringers with Activities – Drama in the classroom can have game-based elements. I use this all the time in my classroom.
  • Kahoot – This fun gaming tool is being used for classroom tool and review games everywhere. Students can play as individuals or in team mode.
Pedagogy first, then technology. Kae Novak

Pedagogy first, then technology. Kae Novak. This applies to games as well.

Science, Technology, Engineering & Math (STEM)

Social Studies and Geography

Economics & Financial Literacy

Literature and Composition

Health and Physical Activity

With the explosive growth of wearables and the increasing use of gamification in health care, we’re going to see more apps for physical education that will gamify PE class. (See Wearables Market Has Potential to Dramatically Increase Student Engagement for information on how this is already being used in higher education.)


These books are listed in alphabetical order and are part of my personal library at home. I reference all of them. Some great ones here!

Game Based Learning Research and White Papers

Boyle, E. A., Hainey, T., Connolly, T. M., Gray, G., Earp, J., Ott, M., … & Pereira, J. (2016). An update to the systematic literature review of empirical evidence of the impacts and outcomes of computer games and serious games. Computers & Education, 94, 178-192.

Carvalho, A. A., & Araújo, I. (2016). What Do Portuguese Students Play on Mobile Devices: Inputs for the Development of Educational Games. In ICT in Education (pp. 69-95). Springer International Publishing.

Donahoo, D. (2016). Playing games teaching human rights. Ethos, 24(2), 22.

Gee, James Paul. “Good Video Games and Good Learning.” (n.d.): 1-13. Web. 2 Oct. 2016. <http://www.skatekidsonline.com/parents_teachers/Good_Video_Games_and_Good_Learning_Updated.pdf>. Summary: Jim Gee has examined what makes a good game and found that identity, interaction, production, risk taking, customization, and agency make a game “good.”

Hacker, D. J. (2016). The role of metacognition in learning via serious games. Handbook of Research on Serious Games for Educational Applications, 19.

Slota, S. T., & Young, M. F. (2014). Think games on the fly, not gamify: Issues in game-based learning research. Journal of graduate medical education, 6(4), 628-630. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.4300/JGME-D-14-00483.1

Build Your Game Based Learning PLN

Game Based Learning Hashtags

  • #gbl – Game Based Learning Hashtag
  • #ipadgames – Games for the iPad
  • #minecraftedu – A hashtag about all things Minecraft
  • #Gamification – I've typically found more on gbl but sometimes people who don't know the other hashtag will use this one and you can still find some good articles.

Game Based Learning Pinterest Boards

Twitter Accounts Who Share about Game Based Learning

Game Based Learning Video Resources

The Gamifi-ED Open Online Community was co-created by Verena Roberts, Dr. Lee Graham, Colin Osterhout and me. We spent three weeks digging up ever interview of every awesome Game Based Learning expert we could find. These 17 videos include many experts on the leading edge of game based learning.

Jane McGonigal: The Game That Can Give You 10 Extra Years of Life

Michael Matera – Realm of Nobles

This interview on the Gamifi-ED OOC forever changed my view of how we can use games in the classroom. 

Yu-kai Chow: Gamification to Improve the World

Primary Years and Early Childhood Panel: Why Games?

Alice Keeler: Getting Started with Game Based Learning

Higher Education Panel: Why Games?

[callout]Disclosure of Material Connection: This is a “sponsored post.” The company who sponsored it compensated me via cash payment, gift, or something else of value to edit and post it. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I believe will be good for my readers and are from companies I can recommend. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.) [/callout]

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Vicki Davis

Vicki Davis is a full-time classroom teacher and IT Director in Georgia, USA. She is Mom of three, wife of one, and loves talking about the wise, transformational use of technology for teaching and doing good in the world. She hosts the 10 Minute Teacher Podcast which interviews teachers around the world about remarkable classroom practices to inspire and help teachers. Vicki focuses on what unites us -- a quest for truly remarkable life-changing teaching and learning. The goal of her work is to provide actionable, encouraging, relevant ideas for teachers that are grounded in the truth and shared with love. Vicki has been teaching since 2002 and blogging since 2005. Vicki has spoken around the world to inspire and help teachers reach their students. She is passionate about helping every child find purpose, passion, and meaning in life with a lifelong commitment to the joy and responsibility of learning. If you talk to Vicki for very long, she will encourage you to "Relate to Educate" or "innovate like a turtle" or to be "a remarkable teacher." She loves to talk to teachers who love their students and are trying to do their best. Twitter is her favorite place to share and she loves to make homemade sourdough bread and cinnamon rolls and enjoys running half marathons with her sisters. You can usually find her laughing with her students or digging into a book.

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1 comment

Shaun D McMillan October 11, 2016 - 9:49 pm

Wow, what a great resource. I especially recommend Jane McGonigal’s talks. That really changed the way I teach.

I’m all for gamification, but it would be great if we can bring serious games into the classroom that allow students to learn from gaming as opposed to gamifying learning. I’m a teacher and a game designer so to try this out my students and I created ALLIANCE, a political science megagame that allows students to role-play as world leaders much like John Hunter’s megagame. Now we are experimenting with the crises to bring real learning into the game. This method takes more preparation for teachers, but the experience for students is SO powerful. It’s indescribable.


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