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How (and Why) You Should Gamify Your Instruction in Your SPED Classroom

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January 03, 2024


Are you tired of the same old instruction methods in your SPED classroom? It’s time to add a little fun and excitement to your teaching with gamification! 

Gamification simply means using game design elements in non-game contexts, like your classroom. By incorporating elements like points, badges, and rewards, you can create a more engaging and interactive learning experience for your students. 

And who doesn’t love a little healthy competition?

But why is gamification so important in special education classrooms? For starters, it can help motivate students who may struggle with traditional instruction methods. By turning learning into a game, students are more likely to be engaged and invested in their own education. This can lead to increased participation, improved retention, and even better academic outcomes. 

Gamification can also help improve social skills and teamwork. Many games require cooperation and communication, which can be valuable skills for students with special needs. By creating collaborative games, you can encourage your students to work together and practice important social skills in a fun and playful way. 

If you haven’t already considered gamifying your instruction, you’re missing out on a whole world of benefits for your students. Here’s a guide to gamification and game-based learning in the classroom. 

Why You Should Gamify Your Instruction

gamifying instruction

We all know that students learn best when they’re actively invested in the material. And what’s more exciting than turning your subject into a game? Whether you’re reviewing math concepts with a Jeopardy-style quiz or practicing social skills through a role-playing game, gamification gets your students excited to participate and eager to learn.

But here’s the best part: gamification doesn’t just motivate your students, it also improves their concentration. When your students are fully engaged in a game, they’re less likely to get distracted or zone out. The challenges, rewards, and sense of competition built into games all help keep their minds focused on the task at hand.

And speaking of challenges, gamification allows you to provide leveled activities tailored to each student’s needs. You can adjust the difficulty level, pacing, and even the subject matter of a game to match the individual needs of diverse learners. This means that struggling students can practice basic skills while advanced students can tackle more complex challenges — all within the same game.

And let’s not forget about the social benefits of gamification. When students play games together, they build relationships and practice social skills. They learn to communicate effectively, problem-solve collaboratively, and even manage conflicts peacefully. These are all essential skills that will serve your students well in their daily lives, not just in the classroom.

But wait, there’s more! Gamification also fosters creativity and out-of-the-box thinking. When students are encouraged to approach a problem from different angles and try new solutions, they develop their creative problem-solving skills. And these skills can be transferred to real-life situations outside the classroom, too.

Examples of Gamification in SPED Classrooms

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So what does gamification look like in the classroom?

One example that’s growing in popularity is Lego-based instructional games that are perfect for teaching students with autism spectrum disorder. These games help with sensory integration and can improve motor skills. 

You could also try role-playing games that can help students develop social skills. These are super fun and will keep your students engaged. 

Speaking of fun and engagement, have you tried using virtual reality games for experiential learning? Your students will feel like they’re actually in the middle of the lesson! 

Gamified language apps are another perfect option for students, particularly those who need specific interventions like speech and language therapy. These apps make learning feel like a game and will keep your students motivated. 

Digital and video games are also great options for SPED classrooms. There are tons of educational games out there that cater to specific learning objectives. 

And don’t forget about good old-fashioned board games and card games! These are perfect for teaching turn-taking, social skills, and problem-solving.

Physical activities work, too. Getting students up and moving (especially outside!) is important for their overall health and well-being. Plus, it can help improve their attention spans and motor skills.

You don’t have to spend a lot to gamify your classroom, either.  Homemade games can be a great option if you’re on a budget and want to cater to specific learning objectives. However, if you’re looking for something more high-tech or specialized, store bought or digital games might be the way to go. It’s all about finding what works best for you and your students.

How to Gamify Your Instruction

kids learning in classroom

If you’re looking to spice up your instruction and engage your students in a fun and interactive way, then gamifying your curriculum might just be what the doctor ordered. 

But where do you start? Here are some helpful tips on how to gamify your instruction.

Identify the Learning Objectives You Want to Gamify First

First things first, when gamifying your instruction, it’s important to identify the learning objectives you want to gamify first. After all, you don’t want to turn every little thing into a game (though your students would probably love it).

So, pick and choose which objectives would benefit from a bit of gamification and go from there. Start small on this!

Choose Appropriate Game Elements and Mechanics

Next up, you’ll need to choose appropriate game elements and mechanics that fit the mold of your learning objectives. 

For example, if you’re teaching math, you could incorporate points, rewards, and levels to keep your students engaged and motivated. Just make sure the game elements you choose are relevant and conducive to learning.

Adapt Games to Suit the Needs of Different Students

So what about students with different needs? No worries. You can easily adapt games to suit the needs of different students by making adjustments such as adding more time, simplifying directions, or even incorporating different types of games altogether.

Set Clear Rules and Guidelines for Game Play 

Just like any good game, you need clear rules and guidelines for game play. This will not only keep things organized, but it will also help students understand what’s expected of them and what they need to do to succeed.

Decide Which Types of Games You’ll Use

Speaking of types of games, there are so many to choose from! From board games to digital games, the options are endless. It’s all about finding the right game that fits your students’ needs and learning styles. Refer to the list above or do a quick Google search to find games that will help you accomplish the learning objectives you’ve already identified. 

Evaluate Student Participation and Performance Throughout the Process

Take the time to evaluate student participation and performance throughout the process. This will help you see what worked and what didn’t, and give you valuable insight on how to improve your gamification strategies in the future.

Challenges and Considerations for Gamification

We know gamification can be an awesome tool for engaging and motivating our students with varying abilities and disabilities, but let’s be real – it also comes with its fair share of challenges. 

First, there’s the aversion that some of our classrooms, students, and families may have screens and technology. Not everyone is a tech whiz, and that’s okay! We just need to make sure that any gamification we use is accessible and user-friendly for all of our students. Screen-based games might not be the best choice for each and every classroom, but the good news is that there are hundreds of alternatives you can turn to instead. 

Another tip is that it’s important to avoid relying too heavily on game rewards and extrinsic motivation. It’s great to give our students a little extra incentive to learn, but we don’t want them to become reliant on those rewards or lose sight of the intrinsic value of learning. 

And let’s not forget about the danger of setting unrealistic expectations. When we expect too much of our students, we run the risk of overwhelming them and causing them to shut down. That’s why it’s important to set goals and expectations that are challenging but also achievable. 

Finally, we need to make sure our gamified instruction is differentiated to meet the needs of all our students. This might mean providing different levels of challenge or using different types of games to engage different learners. Make sure the games aren’t overcomplicated or confusing. Simple and effective is always better than flashy but hard to understand. 

The Takeaway

gamifying instruction

So, what are you waiting for? It’s time to gamify your instruction and take your SPED classroom to the next level! 

With a little creativity and some well-designed games, you can make learning fun and engaging for all of your students. Trust us, they’ll thank you for it!

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a passionate special education teacher with [number] years of experience, uses her classroom knowledge to craft engaging stories that celebrate the unique strengths of all learners.