Student Motivation: Advice from teachers

How do you keep your students motivated? At the beginning of the school year, when you still don’t know your Dong Jins from Dong Wons, or Jun Hos from Jun Mins, life is easy. Students rush to their seats, eyes wide open, ready for education to be poured into their eager minds. You think to yourself, ‘wow, I have a fantastic group of students, here. I really lucked out.’ But then, after a few weeks, reality sets in. All is not rosy in the garden of Education.

It usually starts with KakaoTalk. Or rather, it always starts with KakaoTalk. One little glance here or there and then, boom, a cascade of KakaoTalk alerts ringing out one after another. A symphony. Make it stop. Make it stop! Now students are coming late, they’re sleeping…why do they need 45 minutes for a bathroom break? Where is everyone going? What should I do? ‘I really screwed up.’ ‘Help me, Obi-Won (anyone!), you’re my only hope!’

On May 28, 2016 in a city not so far, far away called Wonju, near the bright lights of Seoul, two knights in shining armor (suits) stood up to answer the call at the KOTESOL National Conference (Messrs. Wayne Finley and Tory Thorkelson). They talked about the four theories of student motivation (behavioral, cognitive, humanistic and social learning) and then they posed five intriguing questions to five groups of English teachers. Five questions to change the EFL universe. What follows is the result of that Q&A.

BEHAVE YOURSELF! Recommend behavioral management strategies for the different classes.



“For extrinsic motivation, reward Ss with candy (occasionally)”

“Simple, clear instructions”

“Physical presence”

“Simple classroom rules”

High School

“Don’t speak down to them”

“Use humor at appropriate times”


“Work with phones”

“Clear class rules and positive guidelines; be objective, firm and fair”

“Give regular feedback on performance”



“Randomize/change seating for pairs/groups, but not too much”


“Voting on ideas/rules or standards”

It was also recommended that teachers “respect the L1” for all the classes and that teachers could use a teaching arc of “fun-easy-difficult-easy-very easy” with bonding activities.


I’VE GOT THE POWER ♪  How can you give a voice to your students?


“Less teacher talk!”

“(Middle school) Controlled activities; give Ss time to formulate post-listening activity”

“(Students) Choose topics for assessments”

“Choosing how to learn a specific learning objective”

“Create a comfortable environment by errorless teaching scaffolding”

“Confirm/reassure what students know/can do”

“Ask opinions; Personalize questions; Direct questions; Talking stick”

“Choosing books (ER)”

“Physically get on their level”

“Creative activities/experimentation”

“Backchannels: Kakao, Twitter”


FOUR C-ING THE FUTURE: How do you bring critical thinking, creative thinking, collaboration and communication to your classroom?


Critical Thinking


“Word problems”

“Think aloud – model to students ‘how to’”

“Compare/contrast L1/L2”

“Making games e.g. a board game”

“Multiple perspectives”

Creative Thinking

“Don’t set narrow parameters for opinions”

“Storyboard activities, based on movie clips”

“Ask open-ended questions”

“Do things differently – write on the windows and the floor”


“Collaborate writing projects e.g. a research report”

“Multiple perspectives”

“Mingle activities i.e. opinion surveys”

“Everyone can be in charge”


“Write opinions first and then discuss”


“Multiple perspectives”


DOIN’ IT FOR’T ENVIRONMENT: How can we create classroom environments that our students want to study in?



“Use classroom space; create personal relationships”

“Try to understand student expectations”

“Be positive”

“Praise them”

“Be likeable”

“Be fair (as much as possible)”


“Handle classroom issues; control the environment (seating etc.)”

“Be available and approachable”

“Clear objectives”

“Good lessons”


“Show interest in students – their culture, language, lifestyle”

“Clear classroom rules/expectations”

“Periodically, ask students for course topic/content suggestions”

“Physical and emotional safety”

“Ask students to choose from a list of activities”


MIRROR, MIRROR, ON THE WALL… “Be the change you want to see in the classroom.” What can you do today to change your classroom tomorrow?


“Teacher needs to be motivated; show passion in your teaching and genuine interest in the students”

“Teacher as captain – take responsibility and actions to be proactive in class so students are proactive in their learning”

“Effective leadership; teacher should be accountable so students can be accountable”

“Praise them about something”

“Lead by example – show mistakes (use of Korean): it builds confidence”

“Create a lighter environment – humor in the classroom”

“Listen and respect opinions (but could we be manipulated?)”

“Maintain your energy! (or the semblance of energy)”

“Laugh at least once during each class”

“Tell them when you make mistakes!”

“Invite your students to demonstrate their skills”


I would like to thank the 16 teachers who took part in the discussions for their invaluable input. I really loved the novel idea of writing on the floor and windows! I’m not sure my employer would approve, but I sure would feel like Robin Williams in Dead Poet’s Society! Carpe diem.


Lesson Plan 9 From Outer Space: Narrative Lesson Planning


Stories have captivated people’s hearts and minds for thousands of years. Long before Harry Potter entered the realm of fiction, people were telling tales about a sunken city called Atlantis or the super strength of a boy borne of Zeus. Times have not changed. People are eagerly awaiting to crown the victor of next year’s Batman vs. Superman clash and find out the fate of Rick and crew in The Walking Dead. How can we weave that narrative magic into the classroom?

Talk to teachers about storytelling and they will show you how to tell stories in the classroom. Use props! Costumes! Music! Yes, there are a variety of ways to tell a story in the classroom. Who doesn’t remember being asked to play a particular role in their elementary school’s big stage production? Oliver Twist, Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat and A Christmas Carol all bring back fond memories (Sidenote: I played the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, the only non-speaking role!).

What about an immersive storytelling classroom experience? Students are not asked to act out stories, or tell stories, or watch stories, no. What if they are the story? Imagine the class starts like any other with the same tried-and-tested warm-up activity, but then, out of nowhere, to the shock of everyone, a gigantic spaceship parks outside the school gates? What then? What do they do? What is their reaction? Let’s take a look at some examples of narrative lesson planning based on four classes taught during Woosong University’s Fall 2015 semester.



Unit 4: Goodbye Videogames

Unit 3: Manners Maketh Man

Unit 2: A Voyage To The Stars

Unit 1: Back to the…Fashions

Back to the…Fashions


Fashion trends change over time. Whether it’s the colorful flares of the 1970s, the popularity of mullets in the 1980s, or the boy band ‘curtains’ of the 1990s, every era had its fashion. How can students explore different fashions while feeling like they’re inside a story? It’s time to go back to the…fashions.

Korean fashions

Students warm up for the adventure of several lifetimes by discussing popular fashions in their own country, the land of the morning calm, South Korea.

Front lawn time travel

Two famous time travelers arrive at Woosong University and funnily enough they’re using lots of interjections and present continuous sentences. Perfect.

Time Travel

1570, England

1570 England

1866, Korea

1866 Korea

1930, U.S.A.

1930 USA

2100, Unknown

2100 Unknown

Sit back and hold on tight! The students race through time describing the fashions and actions of people from the time period.

Security Patrol

Trouble hits! How will the students find a way to get out of this jam?


An olive branch is extended, by the way of a fashion designing project.

Fashion Design

The students work on the city’s new fashions for spring, summer and fall. Whoever said the future would be easier?

Fashion Presentations

It’s time to shine! Lights, camera, presentations. The students present their new fashion collections and their classmates react with interjections. What will the mayor’s reaction be?

Back home

The students are now in charge of the DeLorean and they can go anywhere they want…

Time for homework

Just so long as they do their homework.

A Voyage To The Stars


To boldly go where no other students have gone before. Space. Courtesy of a class on ‘colors’. Forget rainbows, let’s go on a voyage to the stars…

Colors Photographs

Students describe and explain the significance of colors in eight carefully selected photographs. A cyclist’s reflective vest, a poison dart frog, G-Dragon…the options are endless. Just like space.

Solar System

The beauty of the solar system is there to behold as students survey one of the planets (with the aid of their smart phone dictionaries, of course).

Solar Findings

The students report their findings. What’s the worst that could possibly happen so far away from home?

Emergency Message

Figured out what the message is yet? Oh no, it reads: ‘A scientist has spotted a wormhole through the telescope. Return to Earth immediately!’

But it’s too late…

Life imitates art as the students find themselves in an Interstellar (2014) situation. How can they possibly survive?

Wormhole Planet

With a bit of ingenuity, luck and that all-important creativity, students can find a planet to live on. But first, the details. What are its colors and what does it look like?

5 Day Survival

Forget Matt Damon in The Martian (2015), the students demonstrate their survival skills by describing their experiences on the new planet for five days. Will they develop a bond with the locals like Sam Worthington in Avatar (2009), or will they be itching to get back to the blue ball they call home?

Return to orbit

A new message! We’re saved! The message reads: ‘Return to orbit! We are here to take you home!’

Home Again

Just when they thought it was all over, the students have to present their experiences to NASA. Welcome home.


Next: Unit 1: Back to the…Fashions

Manners Maketh Man


What is an interesting narrative for a lesson on manners? As a Brit there is one obvious choice: James Bond. The living embodiment of the stereotype that all British men are gentlemen. In Korea, however, 007 is known, but not well-known; a different set of special agents is much more popular: Kingsman.

The ultimate test
The ultimate test

What is this? That’s right. A letter. Addressed to Woosong University students from the great Kingsman himself, Harry Hart. If the students pass a series of challenges it seems they too can join the Kingsman.

Kingsman Video Questions

Before taking on the Kingsman entrance exam the students need to know what it means to be a Kingsman. How? By watching them in action in a bar fight uttering their famous motto: “manners maketh man”.

Kingsman Envelope 1

Kingsman Envelope 2

Kingsman Envelope 3

Kingsman Envelope 4

Paper knives at the ready, it’s time to unseal those sealed envelopes and reveal the students’ special assignments. Each group of students, around four, has their own special mission. This message will self-destruct in…

Kingsman Survey

It’s time go undercover, or above ground, or at least conduct the requested survey.

Good vs Bad Manners

Every Kingsman knows how to be mannerly in any situations. The students prove it by listing the good and bad manners for the situation they were top-secretly handed.

Manners Importance

It’s one thing to know the differences, but it’s an altogether different beast to know why manners are important. A great candidate for the Kingsman must be able to say it.

Etiquette Rules

Good manners begin at home. How can they be mannerly in their own countries? The students draw up a list of etiquette rules via a nicely-designed poster.

Manners Quiz Sheet

Showtime! The recruits, or students, must now pass the ‘Manners Maketh Man’ Quiz. Score 8 or above and they join the Kingsman. Score below and it’s ‘better luck next time!’

Manners Quiz Questions

Number one should be easy! Or not. Allowing for cultural differences, students are reminded to ‘think like Kingsman‘.

Kingsman Certificate

8-or-abovers, welcome to Kingsman! Congratulations. Shaken or stirred? Nope. Wrong movie trope.


Next: Unit 2: A Voyage To The Stars

Goodbye Videogames


Above is an excerpt taken from Woosong University’s syllabus for the textbook Q Skills for Success: Listening and Speaking 2. The objectives are clear to see, but how would a teacher go about achieving those objectives and giving the class a narrative? It’s time to find out.

Goodbye Videogames Headline

Newspaper Generator

Boom! The students in the class are immediately presented with a tragic story that sends shockwaves around the campus, if not the world. Videogames are banned! No more Super Mario, Sonic the Hedgehog, or even worse, League of Legends. The party’s over, folks. Or is it?

Woosong Herald Reporter

A reporter from the all-important campus newspaper, The Woosong Herald, wants to know the students’ reactions. Is change afoot?

Save Our Mario Campaigner

Well, it just might be. A campaigner from the ‘Save our Mario’ group has asked the students to join their campaign. Will they or won’t they? It’s up to the students to make that very important decision.

Videogame Pros Cons

No good decision is ever made without thinking things through (ahem!). The students weigh up the pros and cons of videogames. Is the world better off without them?

Campaign VoteCampaign Vote 2

It’s time to vote! Speak now, or forever hold your peace. The students join forces with the ‘Save our Mario’ team or back the politicians who banned videogames.

Campaign Choices

Poster or E-mail

Regardless of their choice, there’s no getting out of any work! In small groups, perhaps of four, the students make a campaign poster (with imperative sentences) or write a persuasive e-mail. No prizes for guessing the more popular choice.

Just when they thought it was over, they are pulled back in! Now the campaign manager wants them to deliver a persuasive speech to millions of people on television. A speech that could change the course of history. In preparation, they have to watch a good example: Martin Luther King, Jnr. Not an easy act to follow.

Persuasive Script

A great speech needs a great team of speechwriters. The students write their scripts. It’s now or never for the future of videogames.

Speech Ratings

The students watch each other’s explosively charismatic speeches and, naturally, give them ratings and ask questions.

Videogame Referendum

It’s crunch time! In the true spirit of democracy, the students now cast their votes in one of the most important referendums of the 21st Century.

Videogame Party

Depending on the outcome of the vote, it’s party time for Super Mario and friends…

Videogame Extinction

Or videogame extinction.


Next: Unit 3: Manners Maketh Man

7 Learning Styles: A Practical Application


In 1983 Dr. Howard Gardner had a bold, new idea: there are different kinds of intelligences. Rather than the static notion of there being one intelligence that can be measured by an IQ test, there are seven of them: Visual-Spatial, Bodily-Kinesthetic, Musical, Interpersonal, Intrapersonal, Linguistic and Logical-Mathematical. It made sense. On an intuitive level, it appears obvious that different people have different kinds of abilities, skills, and thus, intelligences.

Educators were immediately interested. Through an understanding of their students’ intelligences, they surmised, teachers can identify the best methods to help their students learn. Eventually, over a period of time, ‘multiple intelligences’ became synonymous with ‘learning styles’. Not everyone was convinced, including Dr. Gardner himself. Writing for the Washington Post in 2013, Gardner said:

When researchers have tried to identify learning styles, teach consistently with those styles, and examine outcomes, there is not persuasive evidence that the learning style analysis produces more effective outcomes than a “one size fits all approach.”

While the debate rages on between ‘multiple intelligences’ and ‘learning styles’, there is no doubt that a more engaging, interactive classroom includes a variety of teaching methods and techniques. Even if it is not true that Billy is a ‘visual learner’ and Ada an ‘aural learner’, an understanding of multiples intelligences and/or learning styles can help add that much needed variety into the classroom.


Famous examples: Leonardo da Vinci, Albert Einstein, Michelangelo, Thomas Edison

How to teach them: Posters, artwork, illustrations, inventions, PowerPoints, maps, videos, charts and graphs.


Famous examples: Roger Federer, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Jim Carrey, Kim Yuna

How to teach them: Walk-and-talk surveys, acting, role playing, using tools, working with props, presentations, sports and dancing.


Famous examples: Beethoven, Michael Jackson, Elaine Paige, Bob Dylan

How to teach them: Background music, writing lyrics, performing songs, rhythmic chanting, ‘fill in the lyrics’, playing instruments and listening to the radio.


Famous examples: Helen Keller, Mother Teresa, Mahatma Gandhi, Princess Diana

How to teach them: Group discussion, dialogues, interviews, debate, team challenges and pair work.


Famous examples: Martin Luther King, Jnr., Confucius, Plato, Gautama Buddha

How to teach them: Journals, diaries, self-reflection, guided discovery, brainstorming, introspective thinking and creative writing.


Famous examples: William Shakespeare, Arthur Miller, Charlotte Brontë, Walt Whitman

How to teach them: Poems, stories, reading books, speeches, word games, vocabulary building and writing assignments.


Famous examples: Marcus du Sautoy, Bill Gates, Archimedes, Ada Lovelace

How to teach them: Puzzles, conundrums, mysteries, investigation, riddles, data collection, theories and equations.

While listing famous examples for each of the multiple intelligences, it is easy to see why there has been so much debate. Is it really correct to say Martin Luther King, Jnr. was an intrapersonal learner? Possibly, but he was also clearly a master of using language as judged by his impassioned speeches, such as his famous ‘I Have a Dream’ speech on civil rights in 1963. Michelangelo was no doubt a visual-spatial genius, but also deeply intrapersonal. He spent very little time with other people during the four years it took to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

The theory of multiple intelligences can be extremely useful for teachers, but only when used in the right way. Effort must be made not to label students, or even whole classes, with one intelligence. For example, it may be intuitive to assume that an advanced math class is full of logical-mathematical learners, when there could be a whole range of students’ skills, abilities, and intelligence-combinations. Pigeon-holing must be avoided, and instead, the teacher should always teach with a variety of methods, techniques and content.

In 1996 Dr. Gardner added an eighth intelligence, ‘naturalist’, and in 1999 the possibility of a ninth, ‘existential’. How would a teacher plan a lesson to appeal to those intelligences?


Famous examples: Charles Darwin, Sir. David Attenborough, Richard Dawkins, Steve Irwin

How to teach them: Collecting plants, bird-watching, nature retreats, field trips, visiting zoos, gardening, landscaping and pets.


Famous examples: Friedrich Nietzsche, Daniel Dennett, Aristotle, Dalai Lama

How to teach them: Philosophical debates, community work, discussing the big issues, religion, the future, life, the universe, everything.


What would a lesson look like that tried to appeal to all nine of the multiple intelligences? Let’s find out by planning a lesson for an English class at Woosong University. Below is an excerpt from a syllabus for the textbook Q Skills for Success: Reading and Writing 2.

QSkills 2 Syllabus

The topic is clearly about family, but there are two objectives. One, to task students with generating ideas and opinions from reading a text and two, task students with expressing and supporting opinions about what makes a family business successful. In this class, the students are freshman students at a Korean university studying mandatory English classes.

Family warm-up

Perhaps the students can start with a warm-up activity to discuss Korean businesses. It would serve the double-edged purpose of appealing to their cultural backgrounds, allowing them to practice their speaking and engaging the ‘interpersonal’ learners in the class.

Business Commercials

Now ‘visual’ and ‘musical’ learners can be engaged through watching short commercials of Korean businesses. Such an activity may also appeal to ‘logical-mathematical’ learners because they have to determine why the businesses are successful. In addition, the ‘interpersonal’ learners are still hooked due to the pair work and the sharing of opinions.

Business Research

Don’t worry ‘intrapersonal’ learners, now is your chance to shine! A solo, research activity to allow for some downtime and individual study.

Business Interviews

The ‘intrapersonal’ time does not last for too long. Indeed, the students are now plunged into an extremely ‘interpersonal’ activity by having to interview six of their classmates about their research.

New Business Brainstorm

Group work commences; students are now tasked with creating their own business, which is hopefully going to allow for all of the multiple intelligences to be engaged.

New Business Finalize

Students hit the lesson objectives by finalizing the idea for their new business.

Business Roles

Assigning different roles to students is where multiple intelligences theory can really come to the fore in the classroom. The students in the group can each work in a role that matches their skills, abilities and intelligences

Business Assignments

A teacher can also assign different assignments to students in their classes. How about a ‘Save the Environment’ task to appeal to the ‘naturalist’ intelligence and a ‘Helping the Community’ task to engage the ‘existential’ intelligence?


The students then work on their new family businesses in their designated roles.

Business Presentation

It’s presentation time! The students present their family businesses to the class while their classmates take notes and write down questions to ask them.


The key to using multiple intelligences theory in the classroom is not reinventing the wheel, but simply using a high-degree of variety. By planning classes that offer multiple modes of self-expression and communication, teachers can unlock the doors to high levels of student engagement and learning. Forget all of the different terminology and just remember: every student has different interests, different abilities, different skills, and possibly, different intelligences.


Don’t teach differently; instead, teach in many different ways.


Thank you The Washington Post and The Education Coalition as information sources.

My Class Is Quieter Than A Björk Song


Have you ever watched the beginning to Björk’s It’s Oh So Quiet music video and said, ‘hey, that’s just like my class’? The video starts off with Björk moving and singing through a world of quiet. No drama. No excitement. No colors. And then, seemingly out of nowhere, the world explodes into life! Singing in an automobile repair shop, dancing with a mailbox, running up the sides of walls, the world has it all: the silence is over, the era of noise has begun.

The worst nightmare for any teacher, but more especially a language teacher, is a quiet classroom. In some subjects, such as math, speaking is nice, but not an absolute must. In a language class students must speak and they must speak a lot. You cannot learn a language simply through rote learning or memorization; to use a language students must speak it over and over again until fluency is, hopefully, achieved. How can we turn our classrooms from quiet meccas into oases of noise?


To solve a problem a teacher must first understand a problem. Why are students quiet? There can be a number of reasons more complex than ‘they are just shy’. Perhaps they really are shy, but perhaps even more perhaps, they feel uncomfortable using a language that is not their own. They do not want to make mistakes, especially in front of the critical eyes of their peers. Or, as is often the case, they are simply not used to speaking in a classroom. The thought of having to do so might be terrifying, or even unexpected.

What can teachers do about it? One solution is a solid foundation. A general does not prepare for victory by throwing his or her troops into battle without the right approach. A teacher cannot expect to teach an effective class without thorough, albeit dissimilar, battle plans. In language teaching the most popular foundation has been the PPP strategy, or Presentation, Practice and Production. In the hands of an experienced teacher, the PPP approach can produce a magical kingdom of language learning. In less-experienced hands, the result can look more like The Lion King after Scar has taken over.


Another approach is Jeremy Harmer’s Engage Study Activate, first introduced in his How To Teach English (1998) handbook. The approach not only includes all of the fundamentals of language teaching, but emphasizes one key part of any effective class: student engagement. It is imperative that teachers try to engage their students, especially if their students have low levels of motivation for learning the language. Maybe they have been forced to learn the language by their university, their employer or even their parents; an engaging approach for such students is a must.

What are some ways to engage students at the start of class, rather than at the end when the bell rings? There are a multitude of ways. Perhaps the teacher can start off with a discussion topic, ‘Why do soccer players dive?’, or a story, ‘Last weekend I went to Tony’s Pizzeria and the pizza was terrible. It tasted like cardboard!’ How about a quiz? ‘Name the capitals of seven countries in Africa.’ A game: ‘Who are The Beatles?’ ala a Jeopardy game. A puppet show, a YouTube video, a popular song…the list goes on for engaging ways to grab students’ minds at the beginning of a lesson.


Successfully promoting a product or service requires personalized marketing. Successfully promoting student talking time requires personalized teaching. What does that look like in the classroom? For a class of elementary school children that might look like a classroom full of Transformers, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and SpongeBob Squarepants references. For a group of high school students there may be references to sports stars, boy bands and blockbuster teenage movies. No matter the class, teachers need to know their students and prepare classes specifically for them.

Any successful plan has a back-up plan; the same can be said of lesson-planning. A teacher may have prepared an elaborate classroom recreation of Tom Cruise hanging by wires in Mission Impossible, but if that does not engage the students then there must be a contingency. For most teachers, plan B is a participation system. A system for rewarding speaking time. Such systems usually take the form of stamps, stickers, stars, dollars, badges, tally charts or learning contracts. If a teacher is going to breathe life into a quiet class, then, like the big bad wolf, more than one blow of the breath may be needed.


Martin Luther King, Jr. , Mahatma Ghandi, Winston Churchill: they had a great message, but just as importantly, they knew how to deliver it. The same is true of effective language teachers. Teaching does not take place in an emotional vacuum where lesson plans, participation systems and personalized materials are all that matters. It is the teacher in the trenches who carries the students forward. It is the teacher who motivates students with more than words. How do teachers do that? They build real rapport; they make students want to learn because they feel that the class is important and that they are important.

A teacher can show how much they value the class in a number of ways. Arriving early, learning names, remembering stories their students told them, grading homework quickly, treating students equally and thoroughly preparing for lessons are just some of the ways. Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People (1936) made it clear: become genuinely interested in your students and they will become genuinely interested in your class. Contrary to the thought that classroom management will suffer, most students will want to work for the teacher because the teacher clearly respects and values them.


Are you struggling with a quiet class? As the aforementioned Winston Churchill once said, ‘never surrender!’ or even more appropriately, ‘if you’re going through hell, keep going!’ Some classes take time, but with dogged determination, a solid foundation built on student engagement, personalized lesson plans, a speaking participation system and rapport-building strategies, the dams of silence will break and your class will burst into life. It’s oh so quiet? No. It Was So Quiet.



Thank you to Deviant Art for the Björk picture.

Command and Conquer Classroom Management


We live in a modern world where such questions as, ‘did you [legally] download the latest Walking Dead episode?’ and ‘have you checked out that Kim Kardashian photo?’ echo through the walls of offices like Bat signals. Generation Z, the current generation (what comes after Z?),  is riding the wave of a digital revolution and the ones surfing that wave with the biggest kahunas are revolutionaries. Unlike George Washington and friends, the new revolutionaries don’t sit on horses, but in cubicles wearing funny t-shirts, not funny wigs and designing interactive stories, not battle plans: they are videogame designers.

It is important for teachers to keep up with the latest global trends, especially if they’re teaching a younger age group. Why? As presenters must know their audiences, teachers must know their students. While it would be a stretch longer than Route 66 to expect them to follow the newest fashions, staying on top of breaking new technologies can be considered a relatively straightforward drive by comparison. One field, in particular, has been mowed down to connect teachers to Generation Z students and that is ‘gamification’.

What is gamification? Some kind of videogame thing? It is a new area to explore; so far a little research has been done on it, but it has applications not only for education, but business. Gamification can be seen as asking ‘what makes videogames successful?’, learning the techniques and then plugging those techniques into different non-game settings. In this article we will take some of the best ideas in videogames and attempt to use them in our classrooms. Press play to continue. Coins not required.


1. The Classroom Avatar: 2D Version

2. Level-Ups: The Student Awakens

3. Leaderboards: A Fog of War

4. Difficulty Settings: The Hard Way

5. Multiplayer Options: Classroom Co-Op

6. A Final Fantasy: The Narrative Approach

The Classroom Avatar: 2D Version

Massively successful multiplayer online games like League of Legends and Starcraft 2 have one thing in common: no, not ruined marriages with messy divorces, but avatars. Avatars, like those blue aliens in that ‘3D-glasses’ James Cameron movie, are character representations; they offer people the chance to jump into the shoes of someone else. Someone they want to be; somewhere they can escape to. They give people a Second Life. How can we use such avatars in an educational setting?

Avatar 1 jpg

Here is one approach. Similar to the ‘name card’ system known the world over, students are handed a 2-sided index card in their first class of the semester. The index card is their classroom avatar; it shares interesting information, sets challenges and tracks their progress, just like a videogame avatar. Featured on the front side are: a picture, class name, current level, progress bar (attendance!), a short bio section, skills, challenges and masteries.

Picture: Artistic students may love it; others may hate it. Give students room to breathe over their pictures; it could be a simple self-portrait, a cool logo or The Blob. Creativity is rewarded in videogames so let’s start with the picture.

Class Name: Teachers in the English-teaching community are used to giving their students nicknames like Elvis, Frank and sometimes all four Beatles. A lot of teachers simply call their students by their real names. Just as in the virtual world, teachers can give students the choice to choose; if they want to use their real names, so be it, but let them be adventurous if a name like ‘Maximus Decimus Meridius’ comes up. Just call them Max.

Current level: If desired, students can be given levels to strive for. Rather than ‘level 1’, ‘level 2’ and ‘level 3’ teachers can get creative. ‘Ringo’, George’, ‘John & Paul’, perhaps.

Progress Bar: As well as keeping track on those oft-misplaced attendance sheets, teachers can help students keep on the attendance track themselves. Based on a 15-week course in the example, the progress bar can easily be modified for different course lengths.

Bio: The first class of the semester is all about breaking the ice. Why not ask students to write a short bio to share with their classmates? It could be real or imaginary, but engaging either way.

Skills: What are students good at? A videogame avatar highlights a player’s skills; students can jot down their own skills here. Playing guitar? Writing poems? Singing until the wee hours of the morning? Here’s the chance for them to express themselves.

Challenges: One important question to ask students at the beginning of a semester is, ‘what do you want to learn in this class?’ Teachers can use a classroom avatar to record a student’s goals for the semester. Sensible goals; not the invention of an invisibility cloak.

Masteries: Has a student attended 10 classes in a row without bursting into song about a late bus driver? Did students ignore those constant cell phone vibrations in their pockets and somehow manage to stay awake for the whole class period? How about homework; was it handed in on-time every time? Did a student jump fully into all group activities with the majestic abandon of an Austrian skydiver? If so, a teacher can reward those students with a ‘completed mastery’.


There’s two sides to every good story and that’s probably also true of a good classroom avatar. On the reverse side are: homework results, participation results, a field report (progress update), team history and an overview (final report).
Homework Win/Losses: Sliced into 15 separate slices (or number of homework assignments) for a 15-week class, students can color in a slice for a completed part of their homework pie. At the end of the semester the count can be totaled into wins and losses. Some you win, some you lose; students can hopefully win all of their homework battles with a visual incentive.

Participation Win/Losses: Some educational institutions have ‘participation’ as a required component of a student’s grade. If they sleep in every class they won’t be getting many slices of this pie. Even if a teacher’s place of teaching does not necessitate participation scores, it may offer students some incentive to fill up that pie chart.

Field Report: A short sentence on a tri-weekly basis to sum up the student’s progress. ‘Good job!’ may be enough, but a ‘Good job! Impressive homework’ would provide extra gravy and a sauce sense of achievement.

Team History: It is easy for teachers to lose track of which students have been paired or grouped before in previous classes. Watch that problem disappear now that students write down their ‘pair’ and ‘group’ history. Make it a part of the ‘Cooperation King’ mastery and students will want new people to work with as they chase that most elusive of classroom masteries.

Overview: A final report, or summary, of the student’s semester. It should be positive to build their confidence for the next semester (or final exam!). Like any well-constructed sandwich, pack it with lots of positive ingredients (feedback) to mask the taste of the stuff no one likes (criticism).

Click to Continue – Level-Ups: The Student Awakens