Gamification of the Language Classroom


Guest contributor: Faten Alzaid

Faten is a master’s student in McGill’s Second Language Education program. She has come from Saudi Arabia to conduct research related to the gamification of education, motivation, and second language acquisition. She believes high quality education grows by enhancing motivation, curiosity and desire.

“I should have studied more!”

I find this is a common reaction to students’ performance after a test or quiz. Feeling guilty about performance instead of being motivated is a serious issue that affects students’ learning. It’s important to consider how students can be encouraged to learn from their mistakes instead of only focusing on them negatively, especially in a language classroom. It’s more effective to language acquisition if we can use mistakes to motivate learners to fix and preview their own language errors. In this blog post, I will present the traditional methods of classroom assessment and their effect on students, and then I will suggest a way that we, as teachers, can refresh and develop our methods to create an effective assessments that not only help students learn from their mistakes but also motivate and engage them in the assessment process.

For many years, formative assessment has been the most well-known method to assess students continuously in a classroom. It is an ongoing assessment tool that includes using a variety of questions to assess students’ knowledge after one or more lessons. Many educational institutions apply this type of assessment by using traditional paper tests at the end of each unit; this is known as the paper-pencil formative assessment method.

Many scholars find this traditional paper method may have drawbacks for the majority of second language learners (see Butler & Nisan, 1986; Jia et al., 2012). The first issue is that paper formative assessment does not allow teachers to provide immediate feedback because they need several hours or days to correct students’ tests. Experts such as Jia et al. (2012) consider this a major issue with the traditional paper-pencil method, because learners—especially language learners—need immediate feedback in order to fix their errors and maximize their engagement in their learning process. Second, some studies, such as Butler and Nisan’s (1986), have found that traditional paper-pencil assessment causes a lot of stress for the majority of students. This stress is caused by the formality and nature of these assessments; focusing so strongly on their performance and grades causes learners to feel a great deal of pressure not to fail the test. Since the aim of formative assessments is not only to measure learning but also to improve it, this stress is not a healthy emotional state to raise students’ motivation and result in effective learning (Black, 2009).

For these reasons, there is a need to solve these issues and to improve the value of formative assessment to engage learners and support them in achieving better learning outcomes. Some recent studies have suggested that including the mechanics of video games in formative assessment can make assessment sessions more engaging and more educational for second language learners (Wood et al., 2013; Wang, 2008).

Dreamstime Stock Images.

Gamification is a new concept in education that adapts video game mechanics and integrates them into classroom instruction and assessment sessions. Instead of the traditional paper assessment material, most gamified subjects use computer apps, smartphones, or mobile devices to create games comprised of a challenge, point system, reward (such as badges), and systematic immediate feedback that aims to motivate and assess students at the same time (see Kapp, 2012; Conaway & Garay, 2014; Hägglund, 2012). These features are rarely to be found in a paper formative assessment.

As described, gamification is believed to enhance intrinsic motivation, which is crucial for L2 acquisition (Hasegawa, Koshino & Ban, 2015; Garland, 2015). Theoretically, gamification has operationalized Skinnerian Conditioning and Learning theory, in which external reinforcements are used to elicit desired behaviors, as in the video linked here. This is similarly the case in gamification when, during assessment, learners receive points and rewards that motivate them to achieve more and increase their desired behavior to learn and acquire the target language effectively. For example, knowing that they will receive points or a badge for mastering a particular concept may make students excited and push harder to succeed.

To prove this theoretical concept of using gamification to encourage students to be engaged in assessment and learn effectively from their mistakes, I conducted a research-based experiment on 20 higher intermediate English second language learners. This experiment included two groups; one with game-based assessment and the other with traditional paper-pencil assessment. Both groups in my study did vocabularly assessment sessions on a list of adverbs, which were used in a story theme. For the game-based assessment group, I used a game app known as Kahoot!.

Tucker Tech Talk. (May 27, 2014). Do you Kahoot? Retrieved from

This app provides a teacher with a chance to create a game-based assessment in different forms, such as multiple choice questions, jumbled vocabulary, jumbled sentences. The app gives them points, displays the top scorers on a leader board, makes engaging sounds, and times each student. After using the two methods of assessment in the study for two weeks, the results showed that the experimental group had outperformed their counterparts significantly. In addition, motivation was also found to be higher in the game-based assessment group. This sounds like an awesome concept for assessment, doesn’t it?

Kahoot! Podium: Rewarding Top 3 Players. (September 6, 2016). Retrieved from

In summary, this post suggests that integrating game mechanics into formative assessment in language classrooms might increase students’ motivation, engagement, and learning more than traditional paper-based assessment. I hope you will try using the Kahoot! app, where you will find a variety of amazing game samples ready for your classroom. How do you think you could use these games to support your students’ language learning?

Bonus: For a quick and easy Kahoot! tutorial post by Tucker Tech Talk, click here, and for a simple introduction to using Kahoot! in the classroom, have a look at Chris Kesler’s blog post, “4 Ways to Use Kahoot! in the Classroom.”

Memo: Are you a language teacher? Your feedback is needed! Please consider aiding this research by filling out a short (10-15 min.) anonymous survey about your experience on Ramblings of a Linguaphile. Click here to begin the survey. For more information about the research, click here. Thank you for your participation!


Please note that the Ramblings of a Linguaphile site is currently being used for thesis research. Between June 14, 2017, and November 30, 2017, any comments made on posts to this site may be used for research purposes. The identity of the person who posted the comment will be kept anonymous. For more information about the study, please see the About page. By commenting, you consent to participate.


Black, P. (2009). Formative assessment issues across the curriculum: The theory and the practice. Tesol Quarterly, 43(3), 519-524.

Butler, R., & Nisan, M. (1986). Effects of no feedback, task-related comments, and grades on intrinsic motivation and performance. Journal of educational psychology, 78(3), 210.

Conaway, R., & Garay, M. C. (December 01, 2014). Gamification and service marketing. Springerplus, 3(1), 1-11.

Kapp, K. M. (2012). The gamification of learning and instruction: game-based methods and strategies for training and education. John Wiley & Sons.

Garland, C. M. (2015). Gamification and Implications for Second Language Education: A Meta Analysis. (Masters dissertation). Retrieved from

Hägglund, P. (2012). Taking gamification to the next level. (Bachelor thesis). Retrieved from

Hasegawa, T., Koshino, M., & Ban, H. (2015). An English vocabulary learning support system for the learner’s sustainable motivation. SpringerPlus, 4(1), 99.

Wang, T. H. (2008). Web-based quiz-game-like formative assessment: Development and evaluation. Computers & Education, 51(3), 1247-1263.

Wood, L., Teras, H., Reiners, T., & Gregory, S. (2013). The role of gamification and game-based learning in authentic assessment within virtual environments. In Research and development in higher education: The place of learning and teaching (pp. 514-523). Higher Education Research and Development Society of Australasia, Inc.

Title image:

Paine, A. (April 24, 2015). Gamification does not equal games, it equals engagement and innovation. E-learning Industry.

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