Game-Based Learning

When I was a kid, and I completed all of my classwork, my teacher would let me play Oregon Trail on one of the two computers at the back of the room. I would frantically try to survive the trip across the country without getting sick or my wagon being damaged or my cattle dying. That is the extent of my game-based learning experience in the classroom. Part of the reason I have little experience with gaming in the classroom is found in my content areas: high school English and history. There are many educational games for elementary age students and a number for high school science and math but few for my subject area.

However, I may need to stop avoiding game-based learning. According to the article “GBL Continues to Take Hold” (2017) game-based learning can help the “most vulnerable” students and can improve “cognitive learning outcomes substantially”. I have a number of students who struggle in my classes, and if I can use a game to help embolden those students at the same time they more deeply learn content knowledge, I would be willing to try it. 

There is science to support the use of games in the classroom. In an article on Edutopia, Willis (2011), a neurologist, explains the positive effects of gaming on young people. Teachers often show concern that students do not have the skills to face a challenge and choose to take on more difficult material. However, the nature of  a video game is just that. As the player chooses to complete increasingly difficult levels, his/her brain is flooded with dopamine, leading the player to feel pleasure and reward for taking on difficult material. I wish my students felt pleasure and reward when they read The Scarlet Letter in my class.

Through the course of searching for level-appropriate games for my American Literature students, I found few high quality games that were both high quality and covered deep material. However, there is enough research supporting game-based learning that it will be worth my while to keep looking and find games I can use with my students to further their learning.

3 thoughts on “Game-Based Learning

  1. I like your enthusiasm for trying something new, even when that can be a little bit scary! I think you could do some exciting, game-based activities with your students, particularly through your social studies/history curriculum. I am working on gamifying my social studies content and it has been so rewarding with my students. The work we do has become much more student-driven and inquiry based. Good luck!


  2. Great critique on GBL for the high school English classroom. As a high school Spanish teacher, I have also found it hard to find games appropriate for the age and level of my students. I’ve mostly found resources for grammar and vocabulary memorization, but not higher-level thinking tasks. That said, I have started to find more and more resources for Virtual Reality (VR) in the classroom. Google Cardboard are relatively inexpensive ($15) and could be a great resource for your English classroom. Perhaps students could listen to first-hand stories, then reflect and analyze on the experience.

    Side note: I LOVED the Oregon Trail game too as a kid. I didn’t even think of it when researching GBL, perhaps because it is so old. That game was really ahead of its time!


  3. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on GBL, Dana. I also loved the Oregon Trail game as a student, and I think the fact that we both remember it so vividly is a testament to the power games have to help us retain information.

    Integrating GBL in English Language Arts classes is more challenging to me than GBL in other content areas. I’ve been piloting Minecraft Education Edition with my students this trimester, and I have used Minecraft more for my Social Studies content than my ELA content. However, there is still a lot of potential for MEE to be used in ELA. For example, this week I created a game for my students to play after reading our current novel. In the game, they will recreate scenes and construct objects using text evidence to justify their choices. I’m looking forward to rolling out the game with my students; the most exciting aspect will be to see if their motivation and work quality increases with the use of MEE, as compared to students who completed a Google Slides task last year.


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