How Learning Through Gamification Keeps Students Engaged

Misty Hance
Misty Hance
Assistant elementary school principal; Ed.D. in School Leadership, Carson-Newman University, TN

Ask most students what they enjoy doing in their spare time and more than likely the answer will involve some sort of game, and most likely that game will involve technology. Because we know this, as educators, we can use this knowledge to our advantage to engage students in activities they will enjoy. Incorporating standards through gamification can be one of the most advantageous strategies to use in any academic grade and can easily be incorporated in initial instruction, review, and even in the assessment of skills learned.

What is Gamification? 

Gamification is a way of teaching that involves challenges and game-like strategies to teach, review, or scaffold skills and standards. The idea of using games to engage students is not a new concept. In my early years of teaching in the middle 1990s, it was a trend to incorporate review of skills through a Jeopardy-like game created with index cards and library pockets. Later teachers became more tech-savvy and classroom response clickers were used for students to respond to questions and compete in answering quickly and correctly. Today, with many schools having access to better technology, and some even having one-to-one classrooms, gamification is even easier to implement.

Why Does Gamification Increase Student Engagement?

There is no doubt that students enjoy game-based learning, but teachers may wonder if it truly enhances their learning and engagement. The answer is a resounding, “Yes!” When games are used with intentionality, teachers are able to align them to learning outcomes, which can impact the acquisition of new skills or a review of previously learned material. Games can likewise help build collaboration and encourage teamwork, a necessary workforce skill.

Another benefit of gamification is that it allows students to gain the ability to provide constructive criticism and offer feedback to peers in a constructive manner. This accountable talk is another life-skill that is hard to teach in the classroom where the teacher is the primary lecturer.

Most importantly, because the gaming platform is a very familiar format, students will easily get lost in the lesson and enjoy the learning process because they are so engaged. This form of engagement is proven to motivate students to come to class with an eagerness not often seen in the traditional classroom. Research by Ryan, Rigby, and Przyblski (1) found that gaming fulfills three basic needs in those who play:

  1. The need for autonomy. People have the need to be in control, to make choices, and practice self-sufficiency.
  2. The need for competency. People desire to know the choices they make are valid and allow them to overcome challenges placed in their paths.
  3. The need for relationships. Playing with others, whether on a team or in competition, increases communication skills and promotes collaboration.

Gamification Examples to Try in Your Classroom

There are several competitive assessment online platforms that have students race to answer questions either pre-made or created by the teacher to fit the learning outcomes. With the increased number of students with personal cell phones or tablets, quiz platforms like Kahoot, Quizlet, Blackboard Learn, and Quizzizz, to name a few, allow students to compete in answering questions in real time. The teacher is able to see who has answered correctly and provide direction for those who have a misunderstanding so that feedback is instant, increasing understanding.

Turning assignments into a game is another simple way to allow student choice and provide students with engaging activities. One example is the Tic-Tac-Toe or Bingo Card of tasks. Students are allowed to choose items in a row to complete. These could include a variety of learning style activities so that students are able to choose activities of their interest while learning the same skills or standards. Activities might include creative writing, research-based questions, drawing, or analyzing and problem-solving tasks. When strategically placed, the teacher still has autonomy over the types of activities each child must accomplish, but the student has control over their chosen assignments.

Most people enjoy the chance to participate in a scavenger hunt. This is another game that is easily brought into any class setting and can be done in cooperative groups or independently. Young students may be looking for items of certain parts of speech or sums of mathematical equations while older students may use the internet for research-based inquiry. Prizes or extra points could even be given to those completing the quest first to encourage students to stay on-task and work efficiently.

For more technology-based gaming, there are platforms such as Classcraft, DYKnow, and Class Dojo that allow teachers to incorporate classroom management and parent communication in the same platform where students can compete to earn merit badges for work accomplished, good behavior, and through interactive paths of learning.

Finally, there are many programs and textbook companies who have determined that gamification is the best way to increase engagement and strengthen learning. McGraw-Hill Connect, Starfall, Reading Eggs, IXL, and Study Island are just a few of the many programs that provide differentiated instruction for students while allowing the teacher a chance to monitor progress and collect data on student achievement.

It is very easy to become creative and sprinkle gaming concepts throughout instruction and assessment. Students may be inundated with games during their free time, but it is because they enjoy the competition, the quest, and the achievement. Through gaming, students learn it is okay to make mistakes, as long as you recover and learn in the process. Because gamification is a proven way to motivate students and increase their activity and engagement in learning, it only makes sense that teachers incorporate this strategy in their classroom activities.


Ryan, R. M., Rigby, C. S & Przybylski, A. K., (2006). The motivational pull of video games: a self-determination theory approach. Motivation and Emotion. 30, 347-364.


*Updated August, 2020
graduate program favicon

Looking for a graduate program?