Practical Gamification in The Online Classroom


By Cindy Leibel

There is a common perception that gamification involves a time-intensive process of changing your entire class into an elaborate game-like product, sweeping the students along in wonderment. To the average instructor already swimming with new responsibilities, this could feel like a lofty target. I don’t disagree! However, if you are facing issues engaging your students through computer screens, gamification is a great strategy for helping enhance your teaching. The purpose of this article is to bring gamification down to a more accessible level, attainable with minimal effort. In fact, many of us are already implementing it without knowing. My goal is to help us simply become more intentional in its use and perhaps provide some new tricks to bring into our repertoires.

Defining Gamification

At its core, gamification is about applying game-like features to enhance existing activities (Centre for Teaching Excellence, n.d.). Applied carefully, it can lead to improved motivation, better attitude and in-class engagement, and consequently, increased cognitive achievement (Rahmani, 2020). There are many game-like features that you can use: see this gamification taxonomy for an example of some features.

Figure 1
(Toda et. al, 2019)

The Gamification Process

As an instructor, I use gamification whenever I feel that students are starting to become disengaged from routine activities. From a practical perspective, I recommend incorporating one or two low-effort elements into your activities at a time. Try applying them to regular activities such as filling out worksheets or practicing dialogue.  Take an activity where students are practicing giving advice to each other, with some of my favorite elements listed below:

  • strategic choice: students must choose one piece of advice from their partner to disagree with
  • overwriting social rules: students must give really bad advice
  • challenge: students cannot use the word “should”
  • achievements: if students can perform a 1-minute dialogue in front of the class, they unlock a bonus advanced exercise on additional phrases to use
  • chance: without looking, students must pick one of the scenarios from an online flashcard deck or roll a die to decide if the advice will be good or bad

In online forums, rather than photos, avatars can be used ( or, which can be helpful if students are self-conscious about their appearance.


However, gamification is not without its challenges. Some key goals that I strive for when gamifying my activities are practicality (avoiding sweeping plans that create more work than they’re worth) and relevance (keeping a deliberate connection to objectives rather than focusing too much on delivery). There are some elements of gamification that I recommend against due to their increased labour and resource-intensive nature. These include:

  • narratives
  • rewards
  • points systems
  • leader boards
  • themes

Getting Started

To gamify your classroom, I recommend starting by completing an inventory of the elements you already use; you likely have some up your sleeve already. Next, experiment with new game mechanics gradually, keeping their use selective. Finally, abundant use of self-assessment would be beneficial after incorporating an element: students having fun does not mean that it was successful in achieving the learning objectives, while a quiet classroom does not mean that they aren’t engaged.


Centre for Teaching Excellence. (n.d.). Gamification and game-based learning. University of Waterloo. 

Rahmani, E. F. The Benefits of Gamification in the English Learning Context. Indonesian Journal of English Education, 7(1), 32-47. doi:10.15408/ijee.v7i1.17054 

Toda, A.M., Klock, A.C.T., Oliveira, W., Palomino, P. T., Rodrigues, L., Shi, L. Bittencourt, I., Gasparini, I., Isotani, S., & Cristea, A.I. (2019). Analysing gamification elements in educational environments using an existing Gamification taxonomy. Smart Learning Environments, 6(16). 


Cindy Leibel has been teaching English as an Additional Language since 2008, with a Bachelor of Education from SFU and a Master of Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages from UBC. Her interests include gamification and classroom technology, vocabulary instruction, and academic speaking. 


Classroom Corner: Agree to Disagree Lesson Plan Activity


by Edward Pye

[This article was first printed in the Fall 2016 issue of TEAL News.]

Agree to Disagree is a fun and interactive opinions-based speaking activity which could easily be prefaced with a lesson on arguing and debate. I usually run through the different phrases for giving opinions before I do this. It works well with high-level academic students, but can also be customized to lower levels by using less complex ideas and language.


  • Using language and grammatical structures for arguing and debating.
  • Thinking and responding quickly
  • Interacting in content-based discussions with multiple partners


  • You will need to clear a space for the class to line up in two lines
  • you will also need to prepare a series of controversial debate statements. Obviously you can tailor them to what you have been studying; however, the more controversial the topic, the better it works. I have found these statements work well at different levels:

Lower Level:

  • Cats are better/more fun/cleaner than dogs
  • My home city is more exciting/interesting/expensive than this city
  • Women are better than men

Intermediate Level:

  • All school children should have to wear school uniforms
  • Athletes and movie stars deserve the amount of money they make
  • The death penalty should be outlawed
  • A bear/lion/crocodile could beat a tiger/wolf/shark

Higher Level (academic):

  • Higher income earners should be taxed more than lower income earners
  • Women should be allowed to serve on the front lines in the military
  • Marijuana should be legalized everywhere
  • Fast food companies should be allowed to market to young audiences
  • Abortion clinics shouldn’t receive funding from the government.


  1. Start by having all the students come to the front of the class and having them line up in two lines facing each other so that everyone is matching a partner. If you have odd numbers, put one person on the end in a group of three.
  2. Stand in the middle of the line and explain the activity to students
  3. The teacher will read one of the controversial statements aloud, the students have to carefully listen to the statement and quickly think about whether they agree or disagree with this statement.
  4. Once they have thought about their position, the student has to say “agree” or “disagree” before their partner can. The first student to do so gets to argue their opinion while their partner must argue the opposite (even if that is not their own personal opinion).
  5. Give students three to four minutes to debate with their partners. This can be a noisy activity, so I sometimes tell students to move away from the line to chat.
  6. When time is up, pull the students back together and quickly go over the main points on each side of the argument. Have the students give their ideas and then elicit rebuttal from the other side. Try to do this quickly because the activity can go on for too long if you let it.
  7. Once that idea has been talked through, rotate one line, so everyone has a new partner.
  8. Give the students the next controversial statement and repeat the steps.

I find that doing three or four rotations and giving about 10 minutes for each is good because it allows students to interact with more people, and that is the key for this activity.

Biographical Information

From the Fall 2016 issue of the BC TEAL newsletter:  Edward Pye is a New Zealander with an English literature degree from Otago University. Before moving to British Columbia, he taught in South Korea for eight years. Since then, he has worked as an Educational Programmer on UBC’s Okanagan campus and as an EAL instructor at Okanagan College.


This article is licensed under a

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Original reference information:

Pye, E. (2016, Fall). Classroom Corner: Agree to Disagree Lesson Plan Activity. TEAL News. Retrieved from

Getting to Know Each Other: A Lesson Plan for “Liar Liar”


by Edward Pye

[This article was first printed in the Fall 2015 issue of TEAL News.]

This is an exciting and fun class activity that engages students in multiple skills as well as allows them to find out more information about their classmates. I often use it as an introductory game for intermediate to advanced level classes.


  • Practice written skills by producing several brief written explanations of events in students’ lives.
  • Practice speaking skills by creating questions and answers for these events.
  • Engage quick thinking and creative skills by making up explanations under pressure.


  • Before the class, cut up enough strips of paper so that every student gets three pieces each.


  1. First, hand out three strips of paper to each student and explain that students are going to write brief explanations about three different things about themselves: one on each strip of paper.
  2. Model the activity by writing three headings on the board:
    1. A Secret
    2. An Experience
    3. An Interesting Fact about me.
  3. Then fill in the headings with a corresponding sentence about yourself. This can be a good chance to teach grammatical phrases such as “When I was…”
  4. Give the students 10-15 minutes and have them write their own sentences: one on each strip of paper. It is important to tell the students that if they have a secret and they don’t want other students to know it, then they should not write it down. They should also not show their sentences to other students.
  5. As they finish, go around the class and check their sentences for errors.
  6. Once you have corrected their sentences, have them write their names on the strips of paper and collect them.
  7. Put students in teams of three. Teams of two and four also work, but three is the optimal number.
  8. One student from each team comes to the front and stands facing the class in a line.
  9. Find those students’ sentences from the collection and choose one sentence from one of them and read it out to the class. This sentence is the truth for one of the students at the front, but all the other students must pretend like this is their sentence.
  10. The sitting students now have to find out who is telling the truth by asking questions. The theory is that the students who are lying will have much slower and less in-depth and inconsistent answers than the student telling the truth.
  11. Each team can ask two or three questions which all the students at the front answer, and then the teams can deliberate for a minute to discuss who they think is telling the truth. Once they have their choice, the truth-teller is revealed and the teams that got it right get a point.
  12. You then play again with new students. The team with the most points at the end is the winner.

Biographical Information

From the Fall 2015 issue of the BC TEAL newsletter:  Edward Pye is a New Zealander who has been working in the international education field for a number of years. After completing an English literature degree at Otago University in 2001, he moved to South Korea where he taught for eight years in both the private school and university systems. Upon meeting his Canadian wife, he shifted to BC where he continued teaching as well as moving into the curriculum development field.


This article is licensed under a

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Original reference information:

Pye, E. (2015, Fall). Getting to Know Each Other:  A Lesson Plan for “Liar Liar”. TEAL News. Retrieved from

February 6 #LINCchat Summary: Best Short Activities for Language Learning



A big part of why I love #LINCchat is how willing everyone is to share their ideas and resources. We started out chatting about the weather and ended up with a collection of short warmers, no-prep activities, review activities, energizers and resources to add to our toolbox.

Thank-you to the educators who shared their thoughts during this #LINCchat and those who added their thoughts after the chat: @MccluskeyDawn, @vislief, @JoyOfESL, @DawnTorvik, @capontedehanna, @MitziTerzo, @gabyG_jolie, @11thhourspecial, and @GeoffreyJordan.

Thank-you also to moderators, Svetlana Lupasco (@StanzaSL) and Bonnie Jean Nicholas (@EALstories) for facilitating the discussion and keeping us on track.

Please find a summary of this chat below. To read it, hover over the Twitter bird next to the subtopics in the image below. The interactive image was made with Canva and ThingLink.

To read all the tweets on this topic, follow the complete discussion HERE.

New to #LINCchat?

If you have never participated in #LINCchat before, go to for more information. #LINCchats occur every other Tuesday, with the occasional Friday.  If you have any ideas for topics or have comments about #LINCchat, please send @StanzaSL or @EALstories a tweet or post a message on Tutela. Please join us for our next #LINCchat on Tuesday, February 20th at 6-7 p.m. PST or 9-10 p.m. EST. Please let others know about #LINCchat. Feel free to use the #LINCchat hashtag between chats to share thoughts and links with others.

Jen Bio Pic

Jennifer has been teaching in the LINC Program for more than 10 years. She loves using Twitter to stay connected as a mother, an educator and an active citizen. 

Twitter: @jennifermchow