Games Can Make Anything Fun

Ish Stabosz - dice

By Ish Stabosz
Center for Creative Instruction & Technology
Delaware Technical Community College
Stanton Campus

Okay…maybe not anything.

But yesterday, I got to witness the effects of gamification on the most dreaded topic of English students and teachers alike:

APA Citation


That’s right.

I made a game out of reference pages, and for the first time ever (seriously, EVER) I saw students visibly engaged during a lesson about citation rules.

And it was all so simple.

My objective was to have students leave the lesson aware of some of the most common pitfalls when it comes to writing a references page.

I started by creating a straightforward Google Slides presentation with an APA reference entry on each slide, each containing one mistake.


To all the APA purists, I know I’m missing the hanging indents. Google Slides has a few formatting limitations.


The rules were simple.

Teams were formed. Each was given a stack of colored index cards (one color to a team).

I displayed the slides one by one, and teams had to identify the error, write it down on the card, and raise their card into the air so I could see it.

If teams got it right, they earned points. The faster they answered, the more points they earned.

You should have seen them–collaborating, searching through the APA Citation Style Guide, shouting at each other, shouting at me–all over one of the most boring objectives on the syllabus.

I could have done this lesson the old fashioned way.

The way that I’ve done it for years.

I could have used the same presentation, gone through the same examples one by one, asked the students “What’s wrong with this one?”, given them adequate wait time, enlightened them with my hidden (and for the most part useless) APA wisdom, watched as some of them slowly drifted to sleep and others searched frantically on their iPhones for a way to numb the pain, and then returned to my office in despair.

Instead, I took a lesson from a blog post that my colleagues Tim Mello and Lisa Peel recently published here on Forward Thinking: most tasks can be turned into a game just by adding points or a timer.

In my past experience, I have never found a way to authentically motivate students to care about citation. (Heck, I barely care about it!). Motivation always came down to something abstract and distant (“Good formatting improves your attention to detail!”) or something contrived (“This will be a big part of the grade for your test/paper/presentation!”).

But a little healthy, friendly competition managed to do more than any carrot or stick ever could.

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