A friend of mine recently asked me, because she knows I am obsessed with gaming the teaching of writing in my classroom, how to begin using games with her own students. She noted that when others were playing games she generally opted to read instead. I can totally sympathize with that although I was certainly brought up playing games including family game nights, early adoption of video games, and raising a gamer boy so I have those experiences to fall back upon. Here are three tips to help any teacher integrate games into their classroom.
Test your motivation
There are a lot of reasons to bring games into your classroom, but exploring your specific why will inform your next steps. I had been using some gamification elements in my classroom for years inspired by the ways that games can inspire learning and motivate learners. Many educators use games because they want to build community connections between and among their students and they know that playing together facilitates the formation of those bonds and others simply want to make school and learning more fun and playful. Personally, I was inspired by Lee Bessette and Jason Helms to use games to expand my students understanding of rhetoric and text.
How much space in your course calendar do you have available to spend on games? Are there activities and assignments that you can tweak to include games or perhaps replace with a game-themed approach? What learning objectives for your class can be served by using games? For years I have assigned a final project for my Writing II class that offered students a lot of choice and games were always part of that choice. Then one semester a particularly close-knit class decided that we would collaborate on a game. That experience inspired me to completely shift the theme of the class to games! However, the culmination of that work is always that final unit when students must create a game inspired by their argument paper (a required element of the class). A game jam might be the perfect way to end a semester or year as well as offer great opportunities to review information. Another interesting way to bring games into a writing classroom is through rhetorical analysis. My students begin the class by writing This I Believe essays exploring what they believe games teach us. My first two iterations of the game-themed writing class separated the argument unit from our game work, but this spring I will refocus that work on a continuation of the values-based writing I used in Writing I as our choices of the games we play as well as the way we engage in that play is very much a reflection of our personal values. I’m quite excited about integrating our arguments more tightly into the work of the class and what those explorations will teach us about humanity.
Talk to your students
My leap into a semester-long class focused on games would not have happened without the inspiration and input offered by several cohorts of Writing II students over the years. I knew the class and I knew my students so I felt comfortable venturing into this relatively unknown territory (especially as I was able to draw upon my experience with my class collaboration). If your students already have experience with project-based learning and makerspaces then offering them a game jam might be relatively simple. If you have a lot of enthusiastic gamers then use that love of games to engage them in rhetoric. But it might also pay huge dividends to design a unit with your students.
I hope these ideas will guide my friend as she works to integrates games into her English classroom. What advice would you offer to those interested in teaching with games? What questions do you have about gaming and learning?