Gamify learning to keep students learning over the summer. When school breaks roll around, children often eventually feel bored and restless. It’s incredibly important that students continue to learn throughout the year so they can continue to build core academic skills, find new areas of interest, and develop executive functioning abilities.
This is especially true for students in lower income brackets. Research shows that summer learning loss, a phenomenon that causes students to backslide in core subjects during summer break, is much more common among students in poverty. Interestingly, traditional summer school programs alone don’t make up the difference; that is, they do not bridge the learning gap for low-income students the way they can for middle-income students. This may be due to lower quality of programs, lack of resources, or other difficulties.
One way educators and parents can minimize the “Summer Slide” is to make learning fun. When adults gamify learning, it is more entertaining and engaging for students, motivating them to focus and conquer challenges. Here we discuss how to gamify learning, including low-budget suggestions for adults to consider using with the youth in their lives.
What Is Gamification?
Gamification is the process of incorporating gaming elements into an activity. It is particularly effective when included in learning activities among youth. You have likely witnessed the attention of children being consumed by games on their devices. So clearly the attraction is already there. Rather than fight it, use it to your advantage and gamify other processes, like learning and studying.
When applied properly, gamification of learning has many benefits. Dozens of studies have found that applying game concepts, such as rewards for correct feedback and competitive team-based elements, can help students become more engaged, improve their communication, and be more motivated toward completing learning goals. For example, students who don’t enjoy math worksheets may prefer a resource like Khan Academy, where they earn points and badges for videos watched and questions answered and can see their scores in comparison with others.
But gamification isn’t limited to online use. For instance, summer reading challenges at your local library use rewards, such as toys for younger students and gift cards for older ones, to encourage them to read more often. Summer programs like these attract thousands of participants who thereby continue learning over the summer and develop a love of reading.
Recreating the game-based magic of these online and in-person programs doesn’t have to be a complicated process. There’s a simple formula to gamify learning programs for your children and students.
The Game Plan
The first step to gamify learning for your students is to determine your learning objectives. Think about what children need to review and preview, consider areas where they typically struggle, and explore what resources are available. Put this all together into summer learning objectives with related SMART goals – that is, make sure the outcomes are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. For instance, a SMART summer learning goal for an elementary school student may be “I will review the vocabulary I learned last year for 15 minutes on 3 days/week using flashcards,” whereas one for a high schooler may be “To prepare for the new school year, I will learn 2 new chemistry concepts each week using Khan Academy.”
Next, you need to determine how to teach the material in a fun and engaging way. This is where gamification comes in! For some subjects, there may be gamification resources already accessible. Younger children, for instance, enjoy interactive media from websites such as PBS or Mathjam. Older children may like more in-depth in-person and online activities, such as those available on the websites of National Geographic and NASA. Resources like these include games that can be played individually or with others, which build on important skills like time management and communication.
To create your own gamification of learning activities, consider what has worked for others. For example, many classroom teachers incorporate fun activities like role-playing, trivia games, and scavenger hunts into their lessons. Following these examples, you could have children role-play historical events, explore the exhibits at the local museum then take a quiz, or complete a science-based scavenger hunt in your neighborhood. The possibilities are endles! Just remember to not be afraid to get creative. Maybe you can incentivize students by giving small rewards for completing learning tasks, holding mini-competitions with teams, or creating subject-based puzzles to solve. Think outside the box and find ways to get students engaged and motivated to learn.
While you’re designing your gamified lesson plan, don’t forget that different students learn in different ways. You can tailor lessons to various learning styles by creating games that require different skills to complete. Auditory learners may benefit from online games that have built-in audio tracks or role-playing games that require them to come up with dialogue. Visual learners might enjoy games that have visually appealing interfaces, such as matching definitions to related pictures or moving cards with info in a specific order. Kinesthetic learners will excel at physical obstacle courses or scavenger hunts, while reading-writing learners enjoy word puzzles or games that encourage creative writing. By designing games that appeal to all types of learning styles, you will increase interest and engagement.
The ever-present Summer Slide can cause significant and persistent gaps in learning. To avoid this, students should continue learning during summer break. However, typical lessons may cause them to feel bored and restless. So educators and parents should try to gamify learning to improve interest, engagement, and motivation. This will make learning fun, even over the summer!
Want to give equitable access to engaging learning opportunities? Get involved with Educate. Radiate. Elevate, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing low-income students with experienced and highly-qualified tutors throughout the entire year, including over summer break. Our tutors work to help boost their students’ grades as well as teach them vital learning and life skills, all in an engaging and motivating way that is adapted to each learner’s specific interests and needs. Oftentimes, this includes levels of gamification, like those strategies described here. To support our mission, get involved! You can donate, sponsor, or volunteer.