6 Ways to Gamify your English Language Arts Classroom

6 Ways to Gamify your English Language Arts Classroom Feature Image

By Presto Plans

Some of the most memorable moments I've had as a teacher—and as a student—were class activities that had competitive elements to them. Maybe you've had a similar experience. Games in the classroom not only serve to entertain and build connections, but they also help students retain important information.


Gamification is the pedagogical strategy of bringing elements of games into a learning environment in an intentional and thoughtful way in order to improve student skills. This kind of game-based learning helps students to become further engaged in the content while also developing their critical thinking, collaboration, and problem-solving skills. Furthermore, it provokes students to become more accountable for their own learning, seeing themselves as important members of a team. 

Here are 6 ways that I like to bring gamification into my English language arts classroom.


I find competitive challenges to be a really effective way to hook students into important concepts. A healthy dose of competition challenges students to become a little more invested in any given topic. This is especially useful when the topic is something that is traditionally viewed as "boring," like grammar, literary devices, or reading skills. 

If I was teaching how to determine words in context, for example, instead of teaching it the traditional way, I would incorporate an interactive escape room-style challenge to make it more interesting. I'd tell students to imagine they are on a field trip visiting an Egyptian library when, suddenly, they get lost in the stacks and need to replace words in an ancient Egyptian text to escape and get to the airport before they are left behind. You can grab this specific vocabulary in context activity for FREE by clicking here. 

I also like to use challenges for grammar. When I'm teaching how to properly use commas in a series, I engage the students in a narrative where they imagine themselves as world-renowned anthropologists in search of Mayan ruins and treasures in the jungle who find themselves stuck in a maze of stone tiles in a Pyramid. They will need to count how many commas are missing from various small manuscripts in order to escape without harm. Grab this FREE grammar challenge by clicking here.

I like to really incorporate a lot of group challenges into my curriculum, and I recommend two programs, in particular, to carry you through the school year if you want to use lots of challenges to engage your students:  
The Reading Challenge Full-Year ELA Program


We often tend to think that escape rooms entail high-tech supplies and a lot of preparation, but really, all you need to have for an escape room is paper. At their core, escape rooms are stations with puzzles, challenges, or games. They don't have to be more complicated than that. 

ELA escape rooms are great tools for developing critical thinking and problem-solving skills in the classroom. Students move around the classroom in groups, and they use their ELA skills to decode challenges or solve puzzles to get a code or a mystery word related to the skill that they are learning. 

For example, I love to use escape rooms for things that have correct and incorrect answers, such as figurative language, grammar, commas, parts of speech, and more! 

Figurative Language Escape Room Activity for ELA


Having students solve a mystery helps them with thinking differently. They will need to read between the lines, use their background knowledge, and think critically to come up with a solution or a theory. My two favorite inference activities are: 

  • Free Inference Mystery: Your students will love the opportunity to get to play detective at a fictional crime scene. For this Who Kidnapped the Principal activity, the students arrive at school to learn that their principal has been kidnapped. The students infer evidence and interviews to try and help the superintendent determine who the culprit might be.

  • Ship Mystery: This activity is especially interesting because it is based on the real mystery of a 1978 construction crew discovering a ship buried underground in the middle of downtown San Francisco. For this one, students watch a hand-drawn video that tells the backstory and speculate on the purpose the ship once served and on why it remained buried for so many years without being discovered. You can grab this activity here. 

Who Kidnapped the Principal Inference Activity


Review games have been used forever as a way to prepare for assessment and there is a reason they stand the test of time: they're fun...and they work! I remember, back when I was in school, we used to play Jeopardy as a way to review material in class. It was SO fun! Everyone was so engaged, and there was so much enthusiasm for what we were learning. 

We can still do this in the ELA classroom by taking classic games like Pictionary, Scrabble, Jeopardy, or Who Wants to Be a Millionaire and find ways to tweak these games to make them ELA skills-based. Now, in the digital age, there are so many more options as well, such as Kahoot!, Quizizz, and Quizlet Live. 


Board games can be used effectively in two different ways in the ELA classroom: for review or for students to create their own board games. 

Board games for review:

I've created board games for students to review important elements of a text we've read or to practice a skill. When I read The Most Dangerous Game in my class (which has "game" in the title), it felt especially appropriate to make a related game for the class. So, I created a board game where students had to answer basic comprehension questions, analysis questions, vocabulary questions, and I added parts of the plot into the game board. For example, "Zarroff is injured in a trap - move ahead two spaces."

Having some ready-made game board templates for this is also always a great idea.

The Most Dangerous Game Board Game Resource for ELA

Have students create their own:

After learning a new concept or reading a new text, have students create their own. Through the process of creating their own game, they will learn the content more deeply without even realizing it. You could have them focus on the overall story or focus in one one specific element.  For example, students could create a figurative language-based game, which would cause them to dive more deeply into the examples of this—and the effect they have—in the text. 


Competition amongst individual readers doesn't always work as well because of the disparity in reading levels within the classroom. With that said, classroom competitions between your different ELA blocks can be an effective way to inspire community reading goals where you're all working together to compete against the other classes. You can hype up the competition by having...

  • Quarterly prizes for the most books read per class.
  • Reading points, badges, or levels. 
  • Colored rings for each class that gets extended with each new book read. 
  • Paper bookshelves that keep the score of what's been read by each class so far.
  • Perks for both classes when reaching reading milestones (i.e. class outside).
  • Pizza Party for the winning class. 

Incentivizing your students in any of these will make a positive impact on their reading throughout the year. 

When adding gamification to your ELA classroom, it's important to remember that not all games are created equal. Skill development needs to be at the heart of the game, and the purpose needs to be clear.
Hopefully, now having read these suggestions, you and your students will be able to enjoy the many benefits of adding more play to the classroom. 

Looking for other ways to bring games into ELA?  The Coffee Shop bloggers have you covered!

Game Board Templates by Secondary Sara
Reading Activities Escape Room by The Classroom Sparrow

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