So last week, the team decided to split PBL and GBL, because we realized they are both big topics and should be given their rightful respect. Maybe it’s a happy coincidence, but last Friday, during a department meeting at school, my colleagues shared what they were doing to ‘up’ the fun in our classes. 


I must say, I was really impressed by their ingenuity and creativity as they haven’t been in teaching for very long. Also, their tech tools are limited (to non-existent) and they are using simple games to spark their students’ interests.The competitive spirit in their classes is actually helping their students to bond through good-natured humor and respect.


I know many of you might be expecting me to write about Kahoot, Blooklet, Quizizz, Plickerz, Goosechase….and all the other techie stuff we use to ‘gamify’ learning. But nope, I’m not going to preach to the choir because at 21st Century Educators, we’ve been sharing all we know about these fun tech tools.


Additionally, (and unfortunately), after quarantine, many of us have returned to classrooms with no Internet connection, limited projectors and out-dated computers. The powers that be, expect us to use our own laptops, create hot spots from our own personal phones and basically, work magic. An even harder truth to face, is that this was the situation for many educators, even pre-Covid lockdown. But this blog post isn’t going to go there…not again.


The first thing we need to know about Game-based Learning (GBL), is that it does not necessarily require technology. Let’s first define WHAT it is by using an excellent paper written by Qi Zhong (2019):


“Game-Based Learning [...], is an innovative teaching method that integrates education and play. By closely linking educational games with teaching content and creating game-based learning situations, students can complete game tasks independently in the form of individual or group collaboration in interesting and challenging game scenarios.”


In his paper, Zhong also points out, that Jean Piaget (a name that should be synonymous with cognitive development), viewed games as “the way to learn new things, the way to form and expand knowledge and skills, the way to combine thinking and action, and the important means of children’s intellectual development.”


Check out the full paper here: Design of Game-Based Collaborative Learning Model


And if you’re wondering WHY you should buy in to game-based learning, here are some of the benefits as outlined on


Improved Retention of Material Learned

Increased Student Engagement

Increased Attention Span

Improved Concentration

And probably most importantly:

An Overall Enjoyable Learning Experience with few stressful situations


If you’re still not sold, please see the full post here: Benefits of Game-Based Learning


So I’ve given you the WHAT and the WHY, let’s now consider the HOW. As aforementioned, GBL does not need to involve tech. It’s great if it does, because the current generation of students love any excuse to use their phones/ devices in class, but an entire period can go by while you’re waiting for students to join a game. 


Use traditional games: I’ve seen classes get excited by TIC TAC TOE. The class was divided of course, into the X’s and O’s, and in order to get to choose where each team wanted to put their symbol on the grid, a member had to answer a question correctly. If he/ she didn’t, the opposing side would get a shot at the same question and another chance to put their symbol on the grid. A grid, mind you, that I simply drew on the  board. All  this game required was a whiteboard marker. I’ve done HANGMAN in much the same way and with the same effect to reinforce vocabulary.


If possible, psychomotor skills should be included in the game: There’s something about movement that just gets students interested in what’s going on. From teaching boys, I’ve come to learn that movement is essential, even if it’s just then running up to the board to write the answer to a question before another classmate does. I’ve seen teachers organize ‘small goal’ football/ miniature ‘basketball’ games to get their students engaged. In order to get a chance to ‘shoot a hoop’ or ‘score a penalty’ against another ‘team’, the player had to, once again, answer a question correctly. This also took the learning out of the classroom and onto a court/ field, so students perked up just by the change in scenery.

Invest in some game items: I own a simple bell which in all honesty, I bought for managing noise levels in my class.  I would hit it and the ‘ping’ would let my students know to quiet down/ I wanted their attention. This bell however, has become a game tool for the department. Many of my colleagues use it in their classes for a ‘game-show’ feel. They place it on a table, ask a question and the 1st student to hit the bell gets a chance to answer. If he doesn’t do so correctly, his ‘opponent’ is given a  chance to answer. 


You don’t have to go all fancy and buy buzzers (unless you want to 🙂), everyday items can work. One of my colleagues uses a tennis ball in class, he throws it to a student like a ‘hot potato’ when he asks a question. If the student gets the question right, the student can throw it to one of his peers and ask a question. I like this because it not only keeps them alert, but it also develops much needed hand to eye coordination (something that I strongly believe was made worse during quarantine.)


Download ‘board game’ templates: Teachers share resources online (sometimes free, sometimes at a cost) and they are excellent for use in class. I once downloaded one, where students had to roll a dice and based on the block they landed on, they had to answer the question written on the block. If they couldn’t, they had to move back a step, if they answered correctly, they could stay where they were. If you want to go this route, print enough ‘boards’ for your class (students can be grouped accordingly) and laminate them. Especially if you paid for the template, make sure you can reuse it in future. Buy packs of dice, they are now readily available and keep them handy for these games. 


Nurture healthy competition: It’s a part of life and when you play games with your students, you’re embedding an invaluable life lesson; you’re teaching them how to win AND how to lose. That’s why Game-Based Learning can also encompass the development of Social & Emotional skills. One of the games shared by a colleague may seem unfair, but once I reflected on it, I realized that life can seem unfair too. It went like this:


If a student answered a question correctly, he got a point. As the game progressed, stakes got higher. If he answered correctly in the later rounds, he could choose to either add a point OR subtract one from a peer who was ‘too’ close on his heels. Strangely enough, it got everyone’s interest piqued for the final outcome, but more importantly, it taught them that, just like in life, you can be swept off sound footing at a moment’s notice. You have to be prepared and in perfect analogy, ‘keep your head in the game.’


So we’ve covered the WHAT, the WHY and the HOW. During the course of the week, we will continue to share tips and tools that can help you incorporate Game-Based Learning in your classes. We also look forward to hearing from you, because we know many of you already use games in your classes. Please feel free to share your own game ideas and let’s continue to build a community of collaboration and comradery.