Play to Learn - Digital Promise Global

Play to Learn

Objective: Students will engage all of the design and communication skills they have developed by inventing a game that teaches the player something new.

Tools/Materials Required: As needed

Depth of Knowledge: Extended Thinking

Teacher’s notes are in purple. For the student’s version, see Play to Learn Student Guide.


Prepare: Learn about the key ideas in this project

Having fun and learning… it’s always better when you can do these things at the same time! In this challenge, your goal is to create a game that helps the player(s) learn something new.

Read this article by a designer of computer games for learning. What are the characteristics of a great video game? What are the characteristics of a great learning experience? Why can it sometimes be so hard to do both of these things at once?

Do you want to make a video game? A great tool for learning to program games and other apps is Scratch. Try some of the tutorials in the Tip Bar until you feel ready to create your own program. Want to take it to the next level? Consider how you might use a Makey Makey to connect your virtual game to the physical world. Can you create a game that has elements of both a board game and a video game?

This Instructable lays out a step-by-step process for designing a board game. What are the characteristics of a great board game? What are the most important elements that can make an idea more effective as a board game rather than a video game?

What other games do you like to play? What are their characteristics that make them fun? How might you be able to learn from them?

Additional resources
Need some help getting started? Watch the webinar Game Design 101

Consider browsing the filmMAKER™ Challenge Guide, which includes tips on helping students create a carnival game as well as a tabletop game, for more ideas and inspiration.

The open-ended nature of this project also presents a great opportunity to use the Challenge Based Learning framework.


Practice: Try as many activities to as you would like to build your skills

It’s up to you! Tackle as many other projects as you might need to help you get ready to take on this final challenge.

Are you interested in creating a digital game? Consider trying the Video Game Remix project to get started.

Are you interested in creating an analog game? Try the Tabletop Carnival project for practice and inspiration.

Would you like to explore games and play more generally? Try Toy Workshop to make a toy and design a game around it, or use Museum of the Mundane to understand the complexity of a game you want to emulate.


Produce: Dig into the project and make it your own!

How might we create a digital or analog game to help the player(s) learn something new?

It is important to make a few decisions about your game before you start creating it: what will the player(s) learn? Will they learn this best through a digital game or an analog game? Consider the following questions to help you narrow your focus before you begin creating your game:

  • Will you design a multi-player game to help players learn how to collaborate?
  • Will you design a game to help adults understand the challenges kids face?
  • Will you design a game to help players take action in a complex issue?
  • Will you design a game to help your peers learn a topic you struggled to learn?

Remember: for any game to be successful, the player(s) need to learn something and have fun! To make sure that your game accomplishes these goals, you will need to test your game with real players and get feedback from them. Are they learning? Are they having fun?

Keep your game simple at first, invite friends to play, and then improve your design over time. Don’t wait for the last minute to get feedback from players!


Produced by Digital Promise Global, with thanks to the Open Educational Resources listed throughout this guide. Distributed to Learning Studios schools as part of HP, Inc. and Microsoft’s Reinvent the Classroom.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. You may share this project or modified versions of it under this same license.

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