Fun in the Classroom: How Dare You

Some Problems

            You may not have noticed, but excellent teaching is hard work. In case that obvious statement needs clarification: adult learners get bored when you drone on simply lecturing for 3 hours a week. Even adult learners are limited to 25 minute attention spans before you lose them.[1] Lecture-only tendencies fail other learning styles. Lecture-only techniques typically require the learner to create his own motivation. It is like offering a spoonful of rice to a starving man. Sure, the rice is healthy, but with only this much to offer, his starvation continues. Utilizing games in the classroom is one way educators can vary their approach, reach more learning styles, and motivate learners. Herodotus wrote a history of the Greeks that recorded a certain period of famine and the populace’s response.

“For some time the Lydians bore the affliction patiently, but finding that it did not pass away, they set to work to devise remedies for the evil. Various expedients were discovered by various persons; dice, and knuckle-bones, and ball, and all such games were invented… The plan adopted against the famine was to engage in games one day so entirely as not to feel any craving for food, and the next day to eat and abstain from games. In this way they passed eighteen years.”[2]

So, during a time of literal famine, the general populace took to games to improve their lives. Educators can and should utilize games in teaching in order to reach more learners with better quality teaching.

But What is the Value of Games in Education?

            Google phrases like “games for personal and social change,” “positive impact games,” “social reality games,” “serious games,” or “leveraging the play of the planet.” Visit websites like Game For Change, or Serious Games Interactive. No, go ahead. I can wait.

The men and women working on these sites, programs, and initiatives are on the leading edge of utilizing gaming for education. Granted, the majority of what you will find in these searches are video games, and you should know that there is nothing wrong with that.

Don’t be afraid. You don’t need to become a visual artist or programmer to use gaming in your classroom. Teachers have used games for millennia, and not just to educate children. Jane McGonigal rightly asserts that games will “satisfy our hunger to be challenged and rewarded, to be creative and successful, to be social and part of something larger than ourselves.”[3] You can use traditional classroom games that have been around for decades, board games, card games, simulation games, video games — the sky is the limit.

Games empower the learners. They learn skills, they engage with the material, and – with some work – you can tie many game elements to your teaching material. With this increased investment, the learners will care more about your subject, which will fuel further learning.

Examples for the Classroom

            Consider using a roleplaying game. Marlene D. LeFever gives a good, easy system for a game like this called “Guidance.”[4] In addition, more popular roleplaying systems are available, including Dungeons & Dragons,[5] Pathfinder, and Star Wars: Edge of the Empire. Roleplaying games can be carefully crafted to interact with specific material in your class, whether it is a psychology, sociology, counseling class, and more. It allows the learner to step into different shoes and gain new perspective on your topic.

Consider developing your own. I, myself, have begun work on a simulation/strategy game that teaches the socio-economic context of the Roman Empire. Consider what you want to teach, the values of the best games (see McGonigal, above), and how you might go about doing that. Start building rules and test it until it’s where you want it to be!

Finally, I suggest visiting your local game store to ask if they have anything that relates to your topic. In addition, consider searching for games related to your topic.


[1] Freddy Cardoza, class lecture, “Teaching Adults,” Spring 2014.

[2] George Rawlinson, trans., with Henry Rawlinson and J. G. WIlkinson, The History of Herodotus: A New English Version (New York: D. Appleton, 1861), 181-82. (, accessed 4/26/2014.)

[3] Jane McGonigal, Reality is Broken (New York: Penguin Press, 2011), 10.

[4] Marlene D. LeFever, Creative Teaching Methods, Revised Edition (Colorado Springs: NexGen, 2004), 142-66. This classic book has several other examples worth examining, too. See also Robert Heinich, Michael Molenda, and James D. Russell, Instructional Media, 2nd Edition (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1985), 304-25.

[5] If you’re wondering, no, the Devil did not create this game. Maybe another blog post for another time…


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