Gamification in Eighth Grade Writing
Callie DiSabato, Middle School English teacher

Every January, I teach an intensive writing unit in eighth grade. It is an exhausting unit for students not only because it is academically challenging, but also because this is a difficult time of the year for students (and teachers!) to be engaged and productive. This year, I decided to try gamification as a way to make this unit more fun and engaging.

The unit and content goals remain the same for this project. I did not make substantial changes to the lessons and materials that I've used in the past; I just placed them in the context of a game. My gaming world is a Harry Potter/Hogwarts one. I started by decorating my classroom to create the world, and I made a large, public game board for the unit in the Middle School hallway. Students were sorted into houses, and they designed avatars to add to the game board so that they can track their progress as they move along the board, leveling up and moving closer to the House Cup as they meet small learning targets. I designed badges to award to students as they meet learning targets; they keep track of them in baseball card sorting sheets. Examples of badges are: meaningful revision work, collaboration master, strong evidence wizard. I also made a spreadsheet where I keep track of students individually when I see them demonstrating specific skills.

To add to the fun, I offer content-related side adventures that students can choose to do (make a video demonstrating a writing strategy or technique, mini-research project, write a blog post reflecting on something from class, etc.). I also award points for each house for random small things in class; the houses can decide to cash in these "points" for different group rewards. (For example, they can turn in 10 points for a Deathly Hallows Card. Once a house gets all 3 of the Deathly Hallows, they can turn the completed set in to get a homework exemption for a class period.) So far, eighth graders have been really excited about and energized by the concept. It's been a great reminder for me that Middle Schoolers really thrive by having fun!

I am hoping that this new approach makes the learning fun, but I also hope that it makes the specific writing skills that we are working on more tangible, because students will be rewarded with badges as they demonstrate the content skills.

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