Using Games To Drive Student Engagement in a Remote Classroom

September 29, 2020

iCivics games are a great fit for in-person and remote classrooms alike. Both settings provide fun opportunities for engagement, reflection, and discussion. But, as many of us know, teaching on screen feels very different for all parties involved. 

For teachers who are looking to use iCivics games in this brave new world of remote instruction, there’s no one right way to do it...but the iCivics team spent an afternoon testing different scenarios ourselves to provide you with some recommendations.

We recommend:

✔️ Using games! Shorter games can be done “while you wait” in a class, while longer games can be assigned to play outside of direct instructional time. 

✔️ Using our Extension Packs! We’ve done all the planning for you with pre- and post- discussion questions, extension activities, and more. Each extension pack is located on the game page when you are logged into your educator account.

✔️ Playing a game before you assign it. This helps you narrow your focus, lead discussions, and play still counts as prep. Plus, you can record your score and challenge your students to beat it for some additional motivation!

✔️ Accessing the games on iCivics.org or through our apps on Google Play and the App Store. If students need to download the app on a tablet, be sure to prepare that in advance.

✔️ Accessing the games from our TeachHub to find additional goodies, like an Issue Guide for Win the White House!

We wouldn't recommend: 

✖️ Trying to play a game live on a shared screen as a virtual class, unless you can wrangle a class full of excited opinions. (Trust us. The whole iCivics staff tried it...) If you do try, make sure to mute the music and voiceover.

✖️ Forget to set a purpose for play. Prepare players to be ready to answer a reflection question after they are done. For example after playing Win the White House, you might ask students: What was the hardest decision to make when campaigning? Which issue came up most often in the states you visited?

✖️ Relegating games to just the “busy work zone” or just a “Friday activity.” They are great teaching tools, shared experiences that create lively discussions, and meet the kids where they are. 

✖️ Using game scores as grades. Scores don’t accurately reflect the learning that happens within the game!

More tips & tricks:

  • Consider capturing interesting moments using screenshots from your own play and use those as conversation starters with students. Students can share how they navigated the same moment and it creates a sense of shared challenge. 
  • Create a class leaderboard where students can submit their best scores. Yes, they may play more on their own! 
  • Look at games as the yummy middle of an excellent sandwich. Use our Extension Packs, or your own content, to prep the kids with anticipation activities/discussion, challenge them to play thoughtfully, and debrief their experiences. This approach makes the learning stick even better than game play alone!
  • Incorporate other apps and learning tools like NearPod, Kahoot, Pear Deck, Quizlet, Padlet, Hyperdocks, and more! 
  • Our games are made to be re-played. Challenge students to try a different approach, play as a different party, or beat an earlier score with a different strategy. Encourage them to apply what they learned to improve. 

Lastly, if you're already using games and your students are loving them, challenge them to complete the iCivics Game Odyssey, which turns our games into an exciting adventure. Students will play their way through a series of games, claim badges, share their successes, and learn important civics lessons on their journey to becoming a Civic Boss. The Game Odyssey is designed to provide your students with a goal to complete each week and help them stay motivated to learn during this time.