Using Games and Gamification in the Inquiry Classroom


The use of games in the classroom is a fun way to engage students with their learning. Through advancements in technology, students are now able to apply their learning in a fun way that has massive appeal. When used as a starter, games can activate prior knowledge and get students excited about learning. During a lesson, games have the advantage of engaging students in the content of the lesson and capturing their attention. In addition, games do an excellent job of consolidating the learning that took place.

As a teacher, I’m always looking for ways that games can be incorporated into my lessons, units, and projects; I feel that they add an element of fun, challenge, and engagement that I can’t always achieve with a simple lesson. Below I’ve outlined some ways to incorporate games into inquiry learning; furthermore, how students can explore the concept of gamification in an inquiry of their own.


Gamification vs. Game-Based Learning

Gamification is the integration of game elements in learning activities. For example, things like points, rewards, and badge systems are common to demonstrate and reward the progression of learning.

Game-based learning involves designing learning activities so that they mimic the principles and characteristics of games. For example, playing a game like the Political Machine in a history class would be an example of game-based learning.

However, both gamification and game-based learning do share some common characteristics:

  • Promote engagement in learning
  • Help students build soft-skills such as perseverance and problem-solving
  • Increase students’ motivation and involvement

Click here to learn the difference between inquiry-based, problem-based, and project-based learning.


Benefits of Including Game Elements in the Classroom

There are many benefits such as:

  • Letting students set their own goals and track their progress independently
  • Giving students autonomy of learning and self-regulation
  • Promotes authentic learning and problem-solving opportunities
  • Encouraging perseverance in the face of challenges and difficulty
  • Games frame mistakes as part of the process of play, which minimizes personal association with failure
  • Turning “losing” or “wrong answers” into increased determination to improve and win
  • Providing immediate feedback that leads to a sense of accomplishment for the student
  • Improving student engagement and confidence
  • The inclusion of “extra lives” provides second chances for success, and motivates students to persist in the face of difficulty

Using Games in the Classroom

Games are used in many different ways in the classroom. They are avenues through which students can apply their knowledge in new ways. Games promote situational learning, higher-order thinking skills, and act as powerful vehicles for learning. Usually, educational games require students to solve a problem using communication, cooperation, and competition among players.

Well-designed games include a story, different ways to solve the problem, and some kind of reward system or feedback loop. As students progress through these scenarios, they are expected to perform remembering, understanding, and applying activities (the first three steps of Bloom’s Taxonomy).

Game-based learning and gamification in the classroom has led to the emergence of new teaching and learning models; and this has resulted in the modification of the roles of the teacher and the student. The traditional learning environment has changed, with students engaging in curriculum content via games at their own pace. Gamification reinforces the degree of autonomy that students have over their own learning, and can be very liberating for students who feel burdened by traditional classroom roles.

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How to Incorporate Game Elements into Inquiry Learning

The digital generation has become accustomed to the use of games and multimedia activities in the classroom. This has also led to an increase in demand for students to be more active in the learning process. Below are some ways to incorporate game-based learning and gamification into inquiry learning:

  • Earning points through collecting “stars” or other digital items can replace tangible rewards in the classroom
  • Explain a concept, like cooperation, through playing a game before asking students to apply those ideas to a real-life situation
  • Learning badges can be used as motivational tools instead of (or in addition to) grades
  • Summarizing a lesson or concept by playing a class game or assigning game play for homework can be beneficial for students
  • Task students with creating a game or other digital application that demonstrates their understanding of a concept or topic

It can be hard to deal with small issues that arise while students are playing games. For instance, some students may not want to share their computer time, or might get upset if they don’t understand the rules. If you encounter bumps while implementing game elements in the classroom, check out our article on simple strategies for managing conflict in inquiry learning.


Fun, Game-Based Inquiry Ideas:

At the elementary level, games are commonly used to solidify themes and concepts learned. While there is some level of competition, I’ve generally found that game elements in the elementary classroom are more spirited and relaxed; they capture the fun and excitement aspect of including games in the curriculum. On the other hand, competition becomes a more prominent way of engaging students at the secondary level. Games at this level can be great for reviewing, or used as a study aide. Information technology has come a long way in creating more personalized experiences for students.

Here are some specific examples:

  • Support inferences with evidence from the text: In the context of a game that includes rewards, challenge students to answer a question and cite details from the text. Answers without evidence may only be worth 1 mark, whereas answers with varying pieces of evidence can range from 2-3 marks.
  • Solve problems using code: Using programs like Scratch or EduBlocks, students can work through problems and create sequences to demonstrate their problem-solving skills; these sequences can involve objective-based or point-scoring games in order to work properly.
  • Create an escape room: In order to test students’ knowledge or get them to apply their learning in a new way, escape rooms can work wonders. Instead of assigning homework, present the task as a code that must be cracked in order to achieve an objective, or require students to solve a puzzle to find a clue to open a locked safe.
Photo by Emily Wade on Unsplash
  • Jeopardy!: One of my favourite games to play when students need to review concepts or prepare for a quiz or test. There are plenty of templates online to create your own game. For a different spin, have students design their own quiz for the class to complete in the future.
  • Build structures to reinforce math concepts: Programs like Minecraft are excellent for this, as they allow students the freedom to design and build their own structures. Providing some parameters and encouraging students to complete a specific objective is a fun way for them to show their mathematical skill.
  • Design a Kahoot Quiz: Kahoot has been a favourite of mine for a long time, and with good reason. It can be used in the elementary grades as well as middle and secondary grades to review information and study for tests.

Final Thoughts

Game-based learning isn’t going away anytime soon. Students are now able to apply their learning through a method that is fun and exciting for them. Games add an element of fun, challenge, and engagement that isn’t always achieved with a simple lesson. If you’ve used games in your teaching, or have a suggestion, please leave a comment below, or join the conversation on Instagram! I’d love to hear different ways of incorporating games into the classroom!

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Suggested Reading:

Click here for more ideas for gamifying your lessons at the elementary level

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Engaging Math Projects for All Grade Levels

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