Gaming the System

Ever played Dungeons and Dragons as a kid? How about World of Warcraft as an adult? The danger of the boss round, the tension of grinding out a side quest to level up. Waiting for that sweet set of armor to drop.

Even if you’ve never geeked out to gaming, I’m sure you’ve been in this scenario: the kid who won’t stop talking. The kid who does everything right but the teacher has no time for praise, only scolding the kid who won’t do his work. Up until this year, since I taught mostly general English classes, this was my life. Enter the concept of gamifying your classroom.

I’d read about it a lot on Twitter and on Michael Matera’s blog Alice Keeler talks about it, too, on For those of you who are not teachers but have read this far into the post, gamification has two modes: either using games in your classroom, like Risk, or using the elements of playing games within the structure of the class, like leveling up, badges, side quests, powers, etc. I couldn’t come up with any way to easily apply either technique, so I dropped it. Until I discovered Classcraft.

Classcraft was created by teachers for teachers. Students can choose pets, character types, powers, and armor as they level up. They earn XP for things like being helpful, doing their work, staying on task, and completing side quests. They lose HP for things like disrupting the class and not doing their work. They earn powers, like eating in class or turning in a homework a day late. It’s almost completely customizable by the teacher.

A quick story, to demonstrate how Classcraft has changed the classroom environment. Even though most of my day is now filled with electives and College Credit Plus Composition (more about that in a different post), I still have one class of my bread and butter, General English 10. Picture 17 boys and 3 girls, including some of the most disruptive in the sophomore class. I worked for several weeks to try and get them to work together, be kind to one another, and respect each other, but it is a constant uphill battle. Then we started Classcraft.

Student participation is voluntary, and I had four students who didn’t want to play. I was fine with that, but struggled to make the consequences of those four be equal to the ones playing the game, who just lost HP if they misbehaved. We worked together to create a plan they felt was fair, and eventually, all but one joined the game.

So here I am, with a huge number of boys who “hunt” snacks in my room every day, while still disrupting me and the world around them. I have a couple of mages who take daily “invisibility” bathroom trips, and then don’t pay attention while in the room. I’m a better teacher than this, so I made some changes.

Now students can only use their powers the last 10 minutes of class, if they haven’t lost any HP that day. After the verbal battle of “you can’t change the rules” and “yes I can, didn’t you read the Classcraft contract you signed?”, I explained to them that the point of the game was to reward positive behavior and to give consequences for negative behavior. I explained that their disruptive behavior was disrespectful to me and to their fellow students, and that it seemed crazy to spend upwards of $20 a week on students who turned around and ignored me when I was trying to teach. Because we’ve worked so long on mutual respect, they listened, and the class changed for the better.

Now if only my principal were hip to all things techie and beautiful, and didn’t hate students listening to music, eating in class, and social media?


  1. Wow that sounds kind of awesome 😀 I’ve taught grade 9 and 10 at one point in my career so I can understand how difficult it is to get a class of 20 odd kids to behave, learn and be respectful without the teacher getting burnt out!


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