Monday, April 9, 2012

How to Make a Game of History

A Post on Student Achievement Best Practices

by Taylor Nix, World History Teacher

This first year teacher has discovered creating games to be one of her most effective student achievement best practices.
image courtesy of
My 1st hour World History class was struggling at the beginning of the year. I teach in a very low income area that is plagued with utter apathy. My 1st hour was by far the worst of my classes. Getting a single student to raise their head from the desk to even look in my general direction was difficult. No lie. As I listened to them in the hallways between classes I began to hear that many of my students were gamers. I have a decent amount of experience as a gamer and so  I decided that I would turn my classroom into an adventure role playing game.

I enacted my plan at the beginning of the 3rd quarter after Christmas break. Each of my students was no longer an ordinary student at a desk, they were world explorers of their own choosing. The first stage was creating their characters. They picked a name, a class (a specific role a character fills), and even wrote short background stories that explained who they are and where they came from. We decided to split into two teams which would work to compete against each other in classroom activities.

From now on I was Mstrnix, the leader of a group of data gathering soldiers bound and determined to gather and collect information about different civilizations throughout history. Each day in class they would be given a different quest to venture on and experience. Some days both teams would work towards one goal, some days they would do solo quests, and others would be team oriented. Turning in work that was done in class would yield them experience points, also called XP. The xp would be added up in order to cause their character to “level up”.  In the gaming world leveling a character can allow you to use better items, go to new places, and learn new abilities. Each player (student) would start out at level 1 and by doing quests would increase their levels allowing them to use new items, attend parties, and learn abilities that they would not previously have.

I pointed to the back of the room where there was a brand new bulletin board with 8 sheets of paper on it. I explained that every Tuesday I would post 8 new quests on the board for them to complete. They would have from Tuesday to Tuesday to complete them and they have to complete at least 4 of them each week. Five of the quests were for individual completion, while the other three were designed to be completed with either a partner or a member of their team.

Loot, as it is called in the game-o-sphere, is what drives most players to continue to play the game, the idea that you can make your character more super awesome than it already is, and most importantly to increase your stats. All of their loot was designed to fit one of the three categories. I made it extremely simple in that students only have two stats, attack and defense. The heavy class was designed to buff up their defense stat, the medium to be an equal balance of attack and defense, while the light class was to build up the attack stat.

At the end of each chapter I would use a jeopardy type of template to create what I call a “raid”. In the gaming world the most challenging play comes from battling extremely difficult opponents in an attempt to get rare and powerful items. The same was true in my class version. To review for the test we split into teams and using my template would simulate this. I would have five categories on the board that represented different hallways for the raid. Once a group chose a hallway they would attempt to go through five doors of increasing difficulty to get to the boss at the end of the hall. They would first choose a door, I would ask them a question, if they got it right they would go through the door. On the other side of the door was a culturally or area specific creature or monster which would have its own attack and defense stat. The students would roll a dice to determine if their attacks were successful and whether or not they survived. If they defeated their foe they would receive a number of items to split up amongst their team. The day after the raid they would individually fill out a “field report” that documented their encounters in the raid. If you didn’t catch on the field report is just a standard test that covers the chapter or section that we have completed.

I would love to continue explaining some of the other workings and ideas that I have implemented in this hour, but I feel that I am getting a bit off subject a little bit. The key point that I want to drive home to you fellow educators is to embrace your student’s interests. I do not believe that what I have created is in any way a cure all for every class. That being said, I have found a way to inspire and motivate kids to do quality work by using their own creativity and interests in a positive way. They show up to my class ready to succeed and more importantly ready to play. I won’t lie and tell you that it is easy to plan because it’s not. It is almost life consuming to plan just this one class, but I can’t stop. If there was ever any evidence for why I became a teacher it is because of what I have seen in this class.


  1. Brother Marshall would die if he read this. Ha ha great job

  2. What are some examples of the "quests" used in the classroom?