Game-based Teaching: How to convert curriculum into a game

  1. Janna Kellinger, University of Massachusetts Boston, United States

Sunday, March 5 1:30 PM-5:00 PM

This workshop is NOT about creating a game to be played in class on Tuesday. Those one-shot games are fun and can be motivating, but tend to be recall games, not problem-solving games. Do you really care if students can name all 50 states and their associated capitals, something they could find out instantly on the internet? Or would you rather students understand how and why state lines were drawn where they were and how capitals got chosen? Or, better yet, think about ways to redraw the states and choose new capitals to better reflect today’s needs, or create a new country, or even imagine a unified Earth without any continental distinctions? Based on the presenter’s book A Guide to Designing Curricular Games, this workshop takes participants through the steps of imagining, designing, and playtesting a curricular game by repurposing common technologies.


By the end of the workshop, participants will be able to distinguish between a gamified lesson and a curricular game, reconceptualize a curriculum unit as a curricular game, and implement various steps in the process of creating a curricular game including developing a game story, designing quests, and playtesting.

Topical Outline

Whole group interactive lecture portion (about 45 minutes) -Warm Up activity: On-the-spot game design with a partner -What’s a game? Defining what makes a game -What’s a curricular game? Distinctions among experiments, simulations, and curricular games -Introduction of concept of “performance before competence” (Gee, 2007) through my examples -Distinguishing game-based teaching from gamification and criteria for telling the difference -Examples of curricular games created by my students Group Work Portion: Individual Design, but in small groups for input and feedback (2 hours) -Find your group: Organize groups by subject areas -Overview of Process -Brainstorm and Choose a Topic individually but bounce ideas off of group -Draw a system diagram of that topic -Simplify and complexify that system diagram to create three levels of game play -Identify an active element in that system to be protagonist -Identify decision points in that system to create a game story - Design puzzles, challenges, and quests within the game story - Render the game using PowerPoint - Playtest game with group members - Revise based on feedback - Pros and Cons of ways to teach game: individually, in partners, in small groups, as a whole class Whole Group Wrap Up (15 minutes) -Take-aways from session discussion -Exit Ticket feedback

Experience Level



I taught high school English outside of Atlanta for six years where I occasionally used one-shot games. However, I felt like there was something missing from my teaching. While going to graduate school to get my Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction at Boston College, I taught a Technology in Teaching class that totally bombed. Vowing never to teach that class again, I eventually came back around to teaching a similar class after getting a position as an Assistant Professor at the University of Massachusetts Boston. It was in designing and teaching this class that I finally had my epiphany. I often thought that video game designers should learn from educators how to make videogames more educational but then I realized it was really the other way around. Students spend hours playing videogames voluntarily but balk at doing homework. As Laura Devaney (2014) put it, “Students frequently walk away from homework when it is too difficult, but difficult games are another matter–kids walk away from games when they’re too easy.” I finally grasped that educators need to learn from game designers. That is when I converted that class into a game. I was hooked. From then on, I designed all my courses as games. Based on those experiences, I wrote an article, a book chapter, and a book on game-based teaching: Jackson, J. (2009). Game-based teaching: What educators can learn from videogames. Teaching Education, 20(3), 291-304. Jackson, J. (2011). Game changer: How principles of videogames can transform Teaching. In Khine, M.S. (Ed.) Learning to Play: Exploring the Future of Education with Video Games (pp. 107-128). New York: Peter Lang. Kellinger, J. (2017). A guide to designing curricular games: How to “game” the system. Cham, Switzerland: Springer. I have also written other articles and book chapters on technology: Jackson, J. (2010). Technology and teacher education: What might 21st century teacher education programs look like? In Issa Saleh (Ed.) Teaching Teachers: Approaches in Improving Quality of Education. Hauppauge, NY: Nova Science Publishers. Kellinger, J. (2012). The Flipside: Concerns about "new literacies" paths educators might take. Educational Forum, 76(4), 524-536. I am currently working with Melrose Public School District in Massachusetts on developing curricular games as well as converting the Middle/Secondary Education program I run at UMass Boston into a program-long game.
Games & Simulations
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