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. 

#CdnELTchat Summary for February 25, 2020 (Practical Gamification in the Classroom)


#CdnELTchat Summary for February 25, 2020
Practical Gamification in the Classroom
Jennifer Chow

Recently, I downloaded a fitness app that tracks my steps, gives me encouragement when I reach my daily goal, rewards me with badges for reaching milestones, and challenges me to beat other participants in my group. Gamifying exercise motivated me to be more active and reach my fitness goals. I was excited to learn how I could do something similar in my classroom.

On February 25, Cindy Leibel (@CindyLeibel) joined us to talk about Practical Gamification in the Classroom. Cindy has been exploring gamification and how to use it effectively in an ELT context since she started teaching EAL over 11 years ago. Thank-you, Cindy, for sharing your gamification expertise with #CdnELTchat! 

These are the questions that guided our discussion:

Q1: What does gamification mean?
Q2: What are the benefits of gamification?
Q3: What are the challenges of gamifying? How do we change perceptions that learning shouldn’t be gamified?
Q4: What are elements of gamification that I can easily apply in my classroom?
Q5: What guidelines should we follow to gamify learning in the ELT classroom?
Q6: How can you assess if your gamification is working? 

You can read all the tweets from the chat on Wakelet, Practical Gamification in the Classroom

Here are some of the key takeaways:

  • Gamification can mean making minor tweaks to an activity by using the mechanics that make games engaging. It doesn’t require a radical transformation in the way you teach. 
  • Use research by game developers who know how to motivate players to complete “boring” tasks and apply these principles to our lessons. 
  • We can introduce some of the more engaging elements of gamification into our teaching without making a big announcement, and just gauge learners’ responses.
  • Elements of gamification that we can easily apply in our classrooms include providing choice, making social rules, adding a chance element, providing time constraints, restrictions and scarcity, rewarding achievements, and using challenge to modulate flow. 
  • Guidelines to consider include increasing one mechanic at a time, using elements that appeal to your teaching style, creating a safe environment, and embedding reflection and self-assessment.
  • Ways to assess gamification include evaluation of learning outcomes, assessing student immersion in the task, and gathering student feedback. 

We encourage everyone to continue the conversation using the hashtag #CdnELTchat. Here are all the great questions that we didn’t have time to discuss during the live one-hour chat: 

Gamification questions

#CdnELTchat is a collaborative effort that we hope will lead to more reflective practice for all of us involved in ELT. If you have any ideas for topics or have comments about #CdnELTchat, please send @StanzaSL, @BonnieJNicholas, @Jennifermchow, or @ELTAugusta a tweet. We are also looking for guest moderators who are interested in leading a future #CdnELTchat. Send us a message with a topic of interest. 

Our Padlet, Questions and Topics for #CdnELTchat, is always open for sharing questions, ideas, and resources. We create our promo images using Canva and collect the tweets using Wakelet


Jen Bio PicJennifer is passionate about learning how technology can empower her students. After experiencing how technology enabled her to stay connected as an educator, a parent and an active citizen, she is motivated to find the same opportunities for her students. Twitter: @jennifermchow