Bringing Games into the Classroom: A NOOB’s Practical Guide

 In Classroom Practice

Do not panic. If you are uncertain about the meaning of the word ‘NOOB’ in the title, you’re in the right spot. I am going to break down for educators the most practical way to successfully integrate elements of video games into your classroom as painlessly as possible. And hopefully, I will even inspire you to level up from noob to gamer in the process!

Video games in the classroomFirst things first: Before even thinking about what elements of gaming you might bring into your classroom, you should be talking to your students about gaming, and learning the lingo.

Gamer Culture

It’s important that you recognize that not all gamers game alike. What is the difference between a console game and a tabletop game, for instance? Well, console gaming is played on one of the popular gaming consoles like Playstation, Xbox or Wii, whereas tabletop gaming is the more traditional, board game style gaming. Often when using the reference gamer, you’re talking about players who engage with digital games in one form or another (Console, PC, Tablet, etc.) but it’s important to keep in mind that there are nuances to this community, and gamer can just as easily be used for a boardgamer as for an Xbox gamer.

Language is also important. Many online games have specific language or words used in short form to easily relate information to each other. This is usually to help strategize how to win your object…but not always. NOOB, for instance, is “a person who is inexperienced in a particular sphere or activity, especially in computing or the use of the Internet.” It is used to signify that an individual may not be as strong of a player as the rest of their teammates, or opponents. You’ve probably heard students use it in an everyday context with each other.

The key to learning more about gaming culture and language is to engage in conversations about gaming with your students. What do they play? How do they play? What’s Clash of Clans? What about these particular games draws them in? Is this something you could play to learn more about it? Your students are DYING to talk to you about their games. You don’t need to know much, you just need an attentive ear, and a willingness to think through how those games could impact your teaching


A great way to ease yourself into gaming in your classroom would be to take elements of what makes gaming so fun and exciting and incorporate it into your teaching. Gamification is a popular buzzword right now. What you need to know as a newcomer to gaming is that while it borrows elements of games, like leveling, goal-oriented tasks, and almost always the presence of a digital avatar, it is not in fact gaming. Gamification could be as simple as reward-based classroom activities and management. Students who can level up, and go on learning quests in class are engaged in activities similar to those they play in games. Create a map on a bulletin board or wall that represents a challenge, quest or journey, with each student’s name or an image representing them. As students complete their quest, they can move their identifier along the map towards the end of the level.

Serious Games

Here we’ve encountered another language lesson. Serious Games are types of games in which a learning objective is the main purpose of the game. Games like math blaster, and bookworm, while enveloped in a game world, are specifically oriented towards teaching a concept, like spelling, grammar or multiplication. There are thousands of serious games you can play online, on any number of educational websites. Even TV networks like the Disney Channel and Nickelodeon have serious games as part of their game libraries online. As a teacher, these games can serve a few purposes in your classroom: they could be a reward system for students who have finished assigned work and need to be kept busy; they could also be an alternative way to approach some concepts students are struggling with in the traditional format. If a student is, say, struggling with fractions, perhaps a serious game based in a kitchen, with plenty of need for fraction concepts, would be the key to unlocking the next step in their learning. Educational sites like Common Sense Media have put together some excellent resources for teachers to evaluate games they use in their classrooms.

Entertainment Games

Stay with me. This will be a more scary concept for a teacher just starting to tackle the idea of gaming in the classroom, but I promise it will be worth your while. Now, your students spend a significant amount of time engaging with this last general of games: Entertainment Games. These are games of all types, styles, and budgets, but whose main objective is to entertain. These games, I would suggest, could be used in multiple ways:

Curricular Objects

Let’s start with an example: A game like SimCity. It’s a popular simulation in which the main objective is to learn to successfully develop, govern and expand a city. With all the municipal responsibilities, like garbage pick up, combined with keeping citizens happy by maintaining parks and schools, a player has a lot to negotiate and learn. I think this makes for an excellent learning tool for any classroom.

The first step would be playing the game yourself. If that seems too daunting, you could watch tutorials of a particular game online, or even videos of other players engaging in the game (Try– a popular site to watch gamers negotiate games, and a hit with most students). After you’ve determined what areas of the game might be used to create learning opportunities, design a webquest like activity, but for your chosen game. Students can screen capture, blog, write or even keep video records of their gameplay, and be challenged to use those resources to explain concepts they’ve learned in class.

There are a number of game titles out there designed with great content for learning, such as the Total War series. I myself have used Empire Total War to discuss and dissect the strategies and events that impacted Napoleon’s decision making, using the game as an introduction to topics they would be learning about.

Critical Object

For this approach, you as a teacher need to be open to learning about the different games that are popular with your students, and what big issues those games are tackling that could relate back to your classroom lessons. Video games are cultural objects, reflections of what our society does at its best, and worse. Using them to critically discuss major issues in the world, like racism, terrorism, bullying, war, etc., is just another path towards better understanding for students.

For example, most history teachers have no problem using a Hollywood film to tackle a tough topic like concentration camps or WWII warfare. I would argue that using a game like Medal of Honor, which borrows heavily from soldiers first-hand experiences, does a similar job of connecting the issues for students. That’s not to say you need your students to play Grand Theft Auto V in the classroom to be able to discuss issues like race and segregation, but using the game’s storyline to hook students into the discussion is respecting games for what they are: cultural objects like film or media that impart valuable insight into our society, historically and presently. 

Gaming for a NOOB might seem a bit daunting, but when you explore the number of ways one can approach it, and build towards the comfort level of bringing more games into the classroom, you’ll realize you won’t be a NOOB for long.