Is this gamification?


As someone who has worked for years trying to make the teaching of writing as engaging as possible, I have been fascinated looking at work taking place around the globe looking to bring gamification to the classroom.

Reading the engaming blog has a this from  Deterding, Dixon, Khaled and Nacke  who define gamification as “the use of game design elements in non-game contexts“. This is often in the context of business and rewards for consumer activity. I have also been interested in reading the thoughts of Doug Belshaw on the use of badges in education.

At the same time I must thank Oliver Quinlan for the time we had discussing gamification at Leicester University recently, Kevin McLaughlin for challenging me in my thinking and Julian Wood for telling me I had to write the blog post.

I have been looking for ways of introducing some gamified approaches into the teaching of writing to go alongside the work I have been doing in Games Based Learning using the DS and Wii. The one thing I was clear about was the fact that I wanted the work to be paper based and not electronic.

I have worked with three classes looking at using what I think are gamified approaches and would be really interested in seeing what you think. I have also included the resources for one of the project so that you can try them yourself.

The bottle smashing on the ground brought him to his senses.

The first piece of work took place in a Year 5/6 class with 22 children operating between National Curriculum Level 3b and Level 5C. The children were grouped by ability and told before we started that they were going to work on a writing project which would be different. I worked with the class teacher on developing a piece of writing which allowed the children to show their writing at its best, receive personalised support, combine non fiction text types with narrative and mainly to succeed in writing whilst enjoying it.

Our starting point was to read a story start with the children. There was little teaching at the start of this session instead the teacher began by reading out aloud the provocation.


The child were then given time to work in their groups deciding where their stories could go. The adults in the room prompted and questioned without leading the children.  After five minutes the children were given large sheets of sugar paper to start developing story planning ideas – some of this was linear in a story hill style whilst one group brainstormed.

This is all sounds very quick and simple but doesn’t show the breadth of the discussion and the questions which we developed together.

Questions developed by the children

This is where we introduced the first ‘random’ or gamified element to the session as we invited children to select non fiction scenario cards to develop their stories. This was slightly differentiated with the more able groups choosing the cards face down so that they didn’t know what they were getting whilst other groups were able to negotiate about where they wanted their stories togo.


Gamification cards


The different groups were only allowed to choose cards of different colours and so there was the potential for children developing completely different stories.
The choices were:

The children made their choices and then tried to work out how they affected their stories. Immediately the most able writers complained that they didn’t like one of their cards. We had anticipated this and so gave the children another gaming element unveiling some new rules.

  • if the pupils didn’t like their cards then they could earn a card change through good work using chance cards
  • the children would be given chance cards each day to earn teacher help, extra help or a card change
  • the teacher would only teach the children five times during the three week sequence
  • the children would only have five pieces of support from the teacher and would have to earn more through self assessment

What we intended by this was that the teacher would give the children a quick five minute oral and mental starter style opener mainly based around sentence structure / grammar issues identified in previous lessons. The rest of the sessions would be writing workshops where the teacher would intervene based upon the individual need of the children.

Children’s initial planning

Planning for gamification










By the end of the first lesson all groups had developed their intial ideas and then started working on their own. Over the next week each child started developing their story in stages with individual and group guided support from the teacher. As soon as the children started writing they were encouraged to ‘win’ support from the teacher by self assessing their writing against one of their writing targets.

This is where the first problem came! The children were so fired up by the work that they kept self assessing their work and so kept earning lots of support. On the days when I popped into the class there was a fantastic working buzz in the room and the pupils were entirely on task. On one occasion there was silence with an explosion of noise from one table as they argued about where their stories were going and then as suddenly as it had come the noise died down to a working level. Talking to the teacher this typified how the work developed over the two weeks.

She has very kindly allowed me to post an anonymised copy of one child’s work for you to look at. I am sorry for the watermark but I need to protect the child’s work.


  • The teacher was very fired up by the work and the children clearly derived great enjoyment from it. All children produced a piece of work of which they were proud although the least able group found the independent challenging and received more support than other groups.
  • The lack of a formal shared session meant that children produced more work independently and so the teacher was able to intervene in one to one or small group support which meant that she felt that she had moved the children further in their writing as a result of this than she normally would.
  • The teacher felt vulnerable as the planning was very different as it was informed on a daily basis by the work done by the children each lesson.
  • The progress made by the children was ahead of what we would have expected but I would prefer to wait until the end of the academic year to look at how sustained the improved have been before sharing them.
  • The children were able to show a clear understanding of how they could use the non fiction elements to develop or change their narrative and so most had, by the end, created a story with three additional elements.
  • The strongest gamification element of the project was the initial random selection of their additional elements whilst most children did not ‘buy’ or ‘win’ extra support as they were regularly checking their work.
  • There are implications to be considered that the children needed to be confident in using each of the text types before starting. In another class there could be a greater need for shared class or guided group teacher input in another class.
  • The teacher did state that whilst she had seen great benefit from the approach she would be nervous to use in an observed lesson.

Other uses

  • I have used this in other narrative sequences – in Year 2/3 the class had met a range of Roald Dahl books and characters and, having written a whole class setting, were given a choice of different characters to place together in the same place. For example,  how would Mr Twit and Miss Trunchbull behave if they were thrown together
  • Another example is a Year 4/5/6 class studying the Greeks in History were given a gamified project where the children were asked to write what would happen if Greek Gods and Heroes were  paired up in scenarios given to them. These were on cards placed face down which the children picked up. So for example one child paired a Hydra up with Theseus to take on the Minotaur.

Final question

  • I know that these pieces of work have motivated the pupils and excited the teachers. I am pleased with how I have challenged teachers to become more creative in their teaching of writing whilst maintaining the drive on standards and ensuring that there was sense of achievement and enjoyment. However, is it gamification?
    I would be really very interested in any thoughts or comments whether positive or negative – I want to move this work on further but think I need to bounce it off other people.

6 Responses to “Is this gamification?”

  1. Oliver Quinlan
    May 23, 2012 at 7:08 pm #

    Sounds great and lots of thoughts- forgive the brevity but on the train and will comment in detail later.

    Have you read any of Dr Paul Howard Jone’s work on gaming and reward? There is a nice summary in his book aimed at families on the effect of digital tech on the brain.

    It strikes me you are not utilizing what he defines as the cognitive benefits of games, which is all based around rewards- may be interesting to contrast with what you are doing.

    Alhough it is interesting to ask wether this fits with common definitions of ‘gamification’, ultimately the more important question is what effect it has, whether it fits the mould or not.

    • Bill Lord
      May 23, 2012 at 7:59 pm #

      Thanks for this, Oliver. You are absolutely right in your assertion that it is the impact which is of importance rather than the label. It does look as though I need to engage with Dr Paul Howard Jones’ work as this may move me forward in my thinking – I do wonder whether there is something about further developing the rewards within the sequence.

      Despite all of this, the random or gamey approach which we used in this and others approaches was highly motivating for all pupils and certainly enabled progress to be demonstrated.

      As ever thanks for your informed comments, Oliver

  2. Julian S Wood (@Ideas_Factory)
    May 24, 2012 at 6:54 pm #

    Really thoroughly interested piece Bill.

    I don’t think it really matter if it is gamification or not.

    It’s a really creative way to enthuse pupils in their writing and obviously worked-given the outcomes.

    I think there’s some obvious mileage in this approach, especially the ‘faction’ blurring between fiction and non-fiction genres.

    You might be interested in this-
    in Beta at moment but is working on premise of Gamifying writing (stories).

    • Bill Lord
      May 24, 2012 at 7:49 pm #

      Thanks Julian. I think I need to work on developing the approach rather than defining it but am interested in where it can go next. Thanks for your comments and the link.

      • Julian S Wood (@Ideas_Factory)
        May 24, 2012 at 8:40 pm #

        My pleasure-look forward to the next instalment.

  3. Doug Belshaw
    October 12, 2013 at 12:08 pm #

    Interesting stuff, Bill – and thanks for the link to my blog. 🙂

    Have you read Jane McGonigal’s ‘Reality is Broken’? It’s a great argument about game mechanics as opposed to gamification.

    Also, her TED Talk:

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