Gamification in PE

By Vickie Merrick

Teachers strive to engage learners in PE so that they have opportunities to ‘flourish in wellbeing and performance’ (Fitton Davies et al., 2021). Including activities in lessons that allow learners to develop competence, autonomy and relatedness - the three basic psychological needs identified by Ryan and Deci (2017) can enhance learning opportunities for pupils. One strategy that PE teachers are turning to is ‘Gamification’ as a way to engage learners. 

What is Gamification?

Gamification is the use of elements of games in non-game contexts. Gamification looks at ideas such as turning classes into video games to engage young people who are growing up surrounded by interactive media (Fernandez-Rio et al., 2020).

Introducing Gamification means adding components such as characters, point systems, leaderboards, challenge/achievement levels, badges and power ups to your lessons (Brooks and McMullen, 2021). Users of platforms such as Strava will be familiar with signing up to challenges to gain digital badges - this is an example of Gamification used to encourage physical activity.

Why use Gamification?

Gamification can fit around existing lesson outcomes. A lesson which focuses on underarm throwing could be gamified to include the awarding of points/badges for being able to throw different distances using a variety of objects with precision, accuracy and power. 

Gamification can allow for greater choice and differentiation. By providing a variety of activities at different ‘levels’ that learners can self-select and progress through, pupils can choose appropriate challenges, solve problems (Gee and Price, 2021) and view their own progress throughout a lesson. For teachers, this is also a way to formatively assess and receive a snapshot of where pupils are at with their learning.

Gamification can help to increase motivation and engagement. Whilst not much research has been conducted around gamification, some initial studies suggest that introducing gamification can help to meet learners’ needs by motivating them through choice, challenges, relatedness, and purpose (Pill et al., 2021).  

5 ways to gamify your lessons

1. Levels

Include levels for different activities, starting with simple and working up to more complex tasks. In invasion games, Level 1 could be controlling the ball on your own and would progress to Level 10 where the challenge is to beat a defender and score in a 2 v 1 situation. 

2. Achievements

Pupils can gain achievement titles suited to the overall theme of the game. Examples include:

  • Medals - Bronze, Silver, Gold, Platinum, Diamond
  • Ranks - Rookie, Professional, Elite, Master, Legendary 
  • Stars - ☆☆☆☆☆
  • (Martial Arts) Belts - White, Orange, Blue, Yellow, Green, Brown, Black
  • Football Leagues - League 2, League 1, Championship, Premier League  

3. Leaderboards

Completing levels can award learners’ points to be added to the overall leaderboard. The points can be awarded for tasks centring the affective, cognitive and social domains, as well as the physical. For example, encouraging another pupil would award you 5 points. 

4. Characters and narrative

Pupils select characters and follow a story role-playing as their chosen character. Examples include selecting Marvel™ or other superhero characters. The Hulk’s tasks would require power or strength, whereas Black Widow’s tasks would be focused on speed or flexibility. Stories can be set out at a series of stations with different activities for each character.

5. Power-ups

These are often associated with popular video game series such as Mario™. Allowing learners’ to select  temporary ‘power-ups’ in games e.g. ‘Every point scored in the next 2 minutes is worth double’ or ‘choose one player from the opposition to join your team’ can alter the level of challenge and allow for easily adapted activities.

References & Further Reading

Brooks, C. and McMullen, J. (2021) Level Up: Strategies to Increase Student Engagement Using Gamification in Physical Education, Strategies, 34:6, pp. 3-10, DOI: 10.1080/08924562.2021.1977749

Fernandez-Rio, J., De Las Heras, E., González,  T., Trillo, V. and Palomares, J. (2020) Gamification and physical education. Viability and preliminary views from students and teachers, Physical Education and Sport Pedagogy, 25:5, pp. 509-524, DOI: 10.1080/17408989.2020.1743253

Fitton Davies, K., Watson, P. M., Rudd, J. R., Roberts, S., Bardid, F., Knowles, Z. and Foweather, L. (2021) Development and validity of the Motivation Assessment Tool for Physical Education (MAT-PE) among young children, Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 54:1, pp. 1-16, DOI: 10.1016/j.psychsport.2021.101915

Gee, J. P. and Price, A. (2021) Game-Design Teaching and Learning, Strategies, 34:3, pp. 35-38, DOI: 10.1080/08924562.2021.1896928

Pill S., SueSee B., Hyndman B. and Williams J. (2021) Physical education teachers' use of digital game design principles, Journal of Teaching in Physical Education, 40: 1 , pp. 1-9, DOI: 10.1123/JTPE.2019-0036

Ryan, R. M. and Deci, E. L. (2017) Self-Determination Theory : Basic Psychological Needs in Motivation, Development, and Wellness, Guilford Publications: New York

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