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3 Gamification principles for a gamified learning environment

Remember Mary Poppins? She was the perfect nanny for the Banks children. Every activity she initiated and every word she uttered were part of a complex scheme of making those kids learn about the surrounding world. I guess her teaching style was… supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.

That, or she knew that gamification could do wonders for the learning process.

At one point in the story the young Jane and Michael had to clean up the nursery room — a dreaded activity by the kids. And what did Mary Poppins do? She sang a little song:

What happens at the end? Michael says, with his cute voice: “I want to tidy up the nursery room again.” What happened between the tidying up the nursery room being a dreaded activity and then a fun, want-to-do-more-of-it one? Gamification happened. It all boils down to this:

In every job that must be done
There is an element of fun
You find the fun and — snap!
The job’s a game.

All primary school teachers need to be like Mary Poppins

Because all primary school students are like Jane and Michael: their energy levels are high, but only for the fun part of school. Whenever serious studying or homework are involved, their attention span tends to drop, their physiological needs become primordial and their creativity for avoiding the work goes through the roof.

That’s why teachers of 5 to 11 year olds should find the element of fun in more learning activities, apply a selection of game mechanics and principles, and turn the tide so as the kids will want more of the previously dreaded activity.

What kind of game mechanics and principles could be applied in a primary school classroom? The choices are many. Here are just three:

Gamification Principle #1: Rewards

Generally speaking, everyone likes positive reinforcements, no matter their age. But kids need these. They shouldn’t be rewarded just for the sake of rewarding, but small increments of positive reinforcements build up their confidence during their learning process. Here are some examples of rewards in a gamified learning environment:

  • Points — the more the merrier; forget about the limiting 100%, you could reward your young students with thousands of points for one single learning activity.
  • Leaderboards — a little bit of competition hasn’t hurt anyone; just make sure your students are prepared for this kind of reward, as some may gain more confidence in their learning when they compete against their yesterday’s self.
  • Badges — these are not restricted to the Police Department any more; any student showing mastery of a skill could get a personalized badge of recognition.
  • Trophies — these are shiny, no matter if we’re talking about the real deal or a picture of one awarded to a student; more than anything, a trophy rewards a job well done.

Perhaps Jane and Michael did not get a trophy for cleaning their room, but they were rewarded with a stroll in the park afterwards — and the satisfaction of having their room looking nice again.

Gamification Principle #2: Levels of progress

Every game has a progress bar/gauge. The player has to fill the gauge or move on the progress bar when they play either a simple game like Candy Crush or a more complicated game like multiplayer ones. When “Level Up!” is on the screen the player is like little Michael: they want more.

Your lessons are based on student progress as well, so why not marry the two concepts? When students know where they are in their whole learning journey — how many learning activities they need to do to finish the level, what kind of activities these are, or how many levels are in total — they get a sense of empowerment and engage more with the learning materials.

One thing to keep in mind when designing these levels of progress in your classes is to start easy and make things harder gradually. If students fail the first level of a learning game they might lose interest in it. But if they win, win some more, and then hit a block, they’ll get more ambitious to get over it and level-up.

Again, just watch Michael trying to snap his fingers and participate in the cleaning of the nursery room. He tries again and again, until he manages to do it. While he does get overwhelmed and ends up in the closet, he made progress with the new thing he learned nonetheless. Jane, on the other hand, keeps on snapping her fingers and clean the room effortlessly.

Gamification Principle #3: Instant feedback

Or almost instant feedback. It can be hard to answer the questions of three kids at the same time, and classes usually have more than three students. But many games let players know when and what exactly they did wrong. How else could someone improve?

Your gamified learning activities, especially those created online, can incorporate bits of instant feedback for students. If they know what they did wrong when they did it, they’ll be able to put all pieces together and figure out how to improve next time. If they don’t get this feedback, they’ll continue making the same mistakes again or worse, build up new knowledge on faulty or missing knowledge.

Any learning activity that has the potential to be misunderstood should provide bits of instant feedback for students, so that things remain clear and pave the way to great learning outcomes.

Getting back to Jane and Michael, they both see if their finger snapping works as they do it. Jane does it right from the start and goes on and on with the cleaning. Michael on the other hand, can’t quite get how to do it. So he tries again and again until the action triggers the wanted response.


Gamification, the art of using game mechanics and principles in non-game contexts, may be a trendy buzzword in education, but it can really benefit the primary school classroom.

Teachers have many options of creating gamified learning environments for their students if they keep in mind principles like including rewards, crafting levels of progress and offering instant feedback to kids when they learn by playing.

FREE Resource: How to make learning engaging with gamification

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