October 12, 2023

Classes & Dragons: Gamifying the Classroom to Boost Engagement

This real life story is a translation of a text published in Eductive’s French edition.

Looking for a way to engage your students in your class, you rummage through the Eductive library. Buried beneath a pile of volumes, a grimoire catches your eye. It seems to call to you, as if by magic. You open it to a random page and, to your surprise, you see words appearing on the page, traced by an invisible hand: it’s the testimony of Alexandre Leroux, a chemistry teacher at Collège de Rosemont who has implemented a simple yet engaging gamification strategy! 

A bit like playing Dungeons & Dragons, my students accumulate experience points for:

  • attending classes
  • completing challenges
  • doing formative work

They lose points for inappropriate behaviour:

  • being late
  • forgetting materials
  • using cellphones inappropriately
  • etc.

Experience points allow them to level up and earn rewards. By increasing their extrinsic motivation to come to class and do the formative homework, the game enables me to achieve my pedagogical objectives… in a fun way!

I recorded a video presentation of my project [in French], similar to the workshop I led at the 2023 AQPC symposium.


Taking inspiration from video games to gamify a course

Over time, I found that my students did very little homework that I didn’t evaluate summatively. At the very least, I wasn’t often asked questions about these assignments. Following the pandemic, I also had the impression that my students were less and less motivated.

To address these 2 problems, I took my inspiration from video games.

Video games are highly motivating. Some games have even been accused of being “too” motivating, leading to cyberaddiction. The reason games are motivating is quite simple:

  • A motivated player completes actions in the game.
  • Their actions are rewarded and help them progress.
  • These rewards and this progress motivate them to play more.

This principle can also be used in a learning context. For example, I’m learning Chinese with the DuoLingo app, which motivates users to learn with little games, points, and progress bars.

Inspired by all this, I decided to gamify my courses. Gamification is the integration of mechanisms and levers borrowed from games into a pedagogical context. It’s important to distinguish between gamification and pedagogical games.

Some games can be used in the classroom for their pedagogical benefits. For example, the video game Minecraft can be used to teach the basics of programming. A philosophy teacher can use a role-playing game like The Threshold of Democracy: Athens [in French] to inspire students’ deep thinking. These are classroom games or pedagogical games. On the other hand, in a “gamified” course, there won’t necessarily be any games because the game is simply to go to class and participate!


A few years ago, I attended a conference at my college about Classcraft and found the idea remarkably inspiring. Classcraft is a free gamification platform invented in Quebec and now used in 11 languages by 6 million students in 160 countries. Students create avatars (characters) and earn experience points, gold coins, crystals, hearts, and more. Classcraft is a very user-friendly platform offering a multitude of configurations, but… it’s been optimized for high school:

  • Use of the platform is based on a year rather than a 15-week session.
  • There are references to the school environment, such as the bell ringing, etc.

What’s more, the use of the platform requires an online account for each student, which can be time-consuming at the start of a session. (Editor’s note: This can also be problematic in terms of privacy legislation).

It can also impose a fairly heavy mental workload on the teacher (for example, you have to make a note of all the students who ask questions).

And while some elements of the configuration are customizable, others are not. For example, some rewards affect evaluations (a student may get an extra 10 minutes to do an exam), and this may be contrary to the college’s Institutional Policy on the Evaluation of Student Achievement (IPESA).

For all these reasons, I chose not to use Classcraft in my courses, but to develop my own gamification structure adapted to college.

My 1st experience, at the last minute: novice level

The 1st time I gamified a course (it was the General Chemistry course in Science), I decided to do it just before the start of a new session. I came up with a very simple system:

  • For each class a student attends, there is a gain of half a level (for a total of 1 level per week, since we meet twice a week) unless the student arrives late, their phone rings, or they have not done the required preparation work.
  • For each “challenge” successfully completed, the student levels up. The challenges are homework assignments.

To compile the data (and determine the level of each student), I used a simple sheet of paper: the sheet on which I usually took attendance. Rather than simply noting attendance, as I’d always done, I noted levels. It didn’t take me any longer.

When students reached certain levels, they earned rewards (mainly linked to the course labs):

  • Level 5

Equipment loan

(To access the chemistry labs, students must wear a lab coat. One of the rewards I offer in my game is the loan of a lab coat in case they forget).

  • Level 10

Being pardoned for lateness

(Being late to the lab means students cannot access the room. This reward allowed the student to do the activity nonetheless).

  • Level 15

Having a right to an extra day to submit a lab report

  • Level 20

Having one less section to complete in a lab report

It was a very basic system, but it worked! If you want to give it a try, you can also start with a simple structure like this, then make it more complex the next session if you feel like it!

2nd experience: advanced level

The following session, I taught the course Chemistry of Solutions, in which several students had participated in my first General Chemistry experience. In keeping with the subject of the Chemistry of Solutions course, the theme of the session was magic potions. In addition to levels, I introduced the concept of “hit points”:

  • Students start the course with 4 hit points.
  • Each time they’re late, their phone rings, or they come unprepared, it costs them 1 hit point.
  • When a student runs out of points, they “die.” To resurrect, there are several options:
    • bring snacks for the whole class
    • write a 250-word text about their heroic death
    • prove that they have done all the homework for a class (weekly homework)
    • prove that they are up to date in their lab notebook
  • Every week, students can earn potions by doing (formative) homework:
    • The healing potion allows students to regain hit points.
    • The invisibility potion prevents them from leveling down when absent. (“I wasn’t absent, I was invisible!”).
    • The energy potion is used to obtain sweets.
    • The atmosphere potion allows students to listen to music during exercises.
    • etc.
  • I’ve also introduced a concept of objects to collect: for example, a personalized periodic table on the theme of alchemy.

I would correct the homework during the break and immediately give it back to the students, allowing me to offer quick and personalized feedback, an important quality of effective homework.

The current version – Classes & Dragons: master level

The most complete version of my game is called Classes & Dragons (students suggested the name).

The characters

Now, in my General Chemistry course, during the 1st class, students are placed in teams of 4. Each student completes a character sheet, writing the name of their avatar, drawing it and choosing a character class: warrior, healer, rogue, or mage.

  • The warrior has 5 hit points and the power of protection that enables them to stop a teammate from losing hit points.
  • The healer has 4 hit points and the power of resurrection that allows them to save a member of their team from death.
  • The rogue has 4 hit points and the power of invisibility: they can avoid the negative consequences of absence (except for summative evaluations).
  • The mage has 3 hit points. They have the power of erudition, which grants them an additional 50 experience points from the start.

Each team must contain a single character from each class. At the end of the session, the team with the highest score wins a prize. (I post the teams’ scores on a board in the classroom.)

Experience points, levels, and hit points

Students earn 50 experience points for:

  • being present each class
  • participating in an extracurricular activity (such as attending scientific conferences at college)
  • completing a challenge (like dressing up for Halloween)
  • submitting a formative homework

100 experience points allow them to level up.

Students can also lose points for:

  • being late
  • forgetting their periodic table
  • forgetting their calculator
  • forgetting their notebook or pencil
  • their phone ringing inappropriately

If a student runs out of hit points, they die. The person can no longer earn experience points and must be resurrected by their team’s healer. (This doesn’t happen very often! However, it does give me a chance to intervene with those who have problematic behaviours.)

Data compilation

After each class, I take about 10 minutes to compile the data in a Word document and record each student’s experience points in Moodle’s Level Up! module. I think it’s fun, so I don’t mind those few minutes at all.

In Moodle, students can see their level and experience points. This is particularly motivating for those at the top of the ranking: they want to keep their place and try to progress further.

I’ve also created badges in Moodle so that students can see which powers they’ve acquired (based on the level they’ve reached and their character’s class).

Overview of my course’s Moodle homepage

The rewards

Here are the rewards offered to the students.

Level Title Power Effect
5 Novice Invocation 1 equipment loan (calculator, lab coat, etc.)
10 Enthusiast Ruse +6 hours to submit an assignment (except exams)
15 Master Extension +1 day to submit a lab report
20 Master Premonition 1 formative correction of a report section
25 Champion Influence Honourable mention and choice of theme for an exam question
Highest level reached by a person in the class Hero Treasure! Gift from the teacher (they were 20-sided dice)


Each week, I give the students a special homework assignment (which I have time to mark during breaks). Completing the homework allows students to earn a magic artifact (while learning, of course!).

For example, one of the homework assignments asks students to evaluate the colour of Medusa’s eyes by finding its wavelength, based on information provided in the role-play and, of course, on the concepts covered in the course. Students who find the right answer are given a magic mirror. This mirror enables them to redirect a question I ask them in class to the student of their choice. Laughter guaranteed!

Another homework assignment earns the student a crystal ball that lets them see their grades 24 hours before everyone else. The boots of celerity allow them to choose the presentation time for their oral presentation.

Boss battles

I’ve changed my approach to revision classes before exams. They’ve become “boss battles”. I dress up as a monster and the students work in teams (their team of 4 characters). I take turns asking the students questions. If the student succeeds, they wound the monster, while an incorrect answer costs 1 hit point. Whoever defeats the monster gets extra experience points.

Before the final exam, the monster to face is a dragon. A correct answer inflicts 1 damage point on the dragon. But an incorrect answer results in immediate death. The team that inflicts the most damage on the dragon wins.


Obviously, in addition to the dragon, the game requires dungeons. Dungeons are formative exams (my exams from the previous year). I assign a quarter of the questions to warriors, a quarter to healers, and so on. Students have 1 hour to complete their part of the exam individually, then 1 hour to share their answers with members of their class (warriors together, healers together) and record their final answers on whiteboards. I validate the answers, then the students photograph the answers of the other groups to gain access to the answer key for the entire formative exam. The treasure trove (received by all students present in class) was a summary of the session’s material on a double-sided sheet: the students really appreciated this tool.

Student appreciation

In an end-of-session survey, 94% of students said they liked the formula “a little” or “a lot.”

Comparing the students’ final grades with the levels they had reached in the game, I found that, among the students who were most involved in the game (those who had reached the highest levels), were the 3 students with the highest grades in the group as well as the 3 with the lowest grades. I was surprised, but very pleased, since this is a sign that the game engages both stronger and weaker students.

The students in the group that played Classes & Dragons took part in more extracurricular activities than those in a group I taught for most of the term while replacing a colleague and in which I didn’t introduce Classes & Dragons. They also (and this was my main objective at the outset) did more formative homework. I even saw, for the 1st time in my career, students staying in the classroom at the end of the class to do their homework!

Your turn!

If you’d like to design your own gamification system, here are the steps you need to follow.

Step 1: Choose the behaviours to observe

Choose positive behaviours you want to encourage, or negative behaviours you want to discourage, and that are easily observable.

Examples of positive behaviour:

  • attending class
  • participating actively
  • helping others
  • submitting work in advance
  • successfully tackling a challenge
  • participating in extracurricular activities
  • being creative and resourceful

Examples of negative behaviour:

  • being late
  • not being prepared
  • disrupting the class
  • using a cell phone inappropriately

Choose things that are not subject to summative evaluation.

Step 2: Choose a data compilation method

You’ll have to find a way to record what you’ve observed.

You’ll need a scoring system of some kind: experience points, gold coins, diamonds, etc.

You’ll also need a form to compile the data as simply as possible.

Example of a data compilation tool

  • sheet of paper
  • classroom bulletin board (you can call it the “honour roll”!)
  • web platform:
    • Léa
      Add a column to the evaluation table (add an evaluation), but give it a weighting of 0. Name the evaluation “Level” or “Experience points” or “Life points,” as needed, and keep track of the weekly scores. Share the results with students, so they can track their progress. That’s what my mathematics colleagues Sylvain Éon and Alexandre Jeannotte did in their course.
    • Moodle
      The Level Up! module awards experience points, the total of which is associated with a level.
      Personally, since the experience points I award are not linked to tasks performed by students on Moodle, I award the points manually. That said, points can be awarded automatically when they are linked to tasks done in Moodle (consulting a document, passing a quiz, etc.) This is what another colleague of mine in the Mathematics department does.
    • Classcraft
    • specialized software
      My colleague Wafâa Niar Dinedane, who teaches the Computer Science and Mathematics integration course, and I challenged her students to program a customized platform. A 1st offline version has been created, and we hope to create an online version over the next few years.

Step 3: Choosing the rewards

Choose rewards to motivate your students, without affecting their grades (since the behaviours rewarded are not related to the competency targeted by the course).

Some rewards only have an effect within the game (in-game rewards).

Example of in-game rewards:

  • healing (regaining hit points)
  • resurrection (if the character dies)
  • protection against attack
  • bonus experience points

However, there can’t just be in-game rewards, otherwise the game won’t really motivate students. There must also be real-life rewards.

Example of “real” rewards:

  • relaxed rules:
    • extension to hand in an assignment
    • pardon a delay or lack of preparation
    • For example, if you require students to do preparatory work to gain access to the flipped classroom or to the lab, you could create a reward that allows them an oversight during the session.
    • loan of a lab coat (or other compulsory equipment)
  • assignment-related help
    • shortened assignment section
    • formative correction of an assignment or a section of it (or the quality of language in an assignment, for example).
    • possibility to attempt an assignment again
    • cheat sheet for an assignment
  • in-class privileges
    • sitting wherever a student likes in class
    • eating in class
    • choosing a teammate
    • be able to work alone on an assignment that would normally be done in a team
  • objects
    • personalized Classes & Dragons-themed documents
    • pieces of 3D models
    • old textbooks
    • chocolates
    • prizes (gift cards to the college co-op, for example)
      You can hide a treasure in the college and as rewards, give clues to find it.
  • recognition
    • have students’ names on a leaderboard
    • standing ovation (the whole class applauds the student who has reached a certain level)
    • letter of recommendation for university
    • certificate (You certify that the student is particularly committed to your course.)

During the workshop I led at the AQPC symposium in June 2023, I asked attendees to share their ideas for behaviours to observe and for rewards. I’ve compiled the suggestions in the following PDF document.

Compilation of ideas from participants in the workshop I led at the AQPC symposium [in French] (with drawings of their avatars as a bonus).

The experiences of other teachers at my college

In a remedial mathematics course: novice level

Mathematics Department colleagues Sylvain Éon and Alexandre Jeannotte were also inspired by the Classcraft lecture we saw.

In their course, each student receives 3 lives. Each absence costs one life. Arriving late 3 times also costs a life. Some activities were designed to earn lives:

  • completing a formative exam
  • taking part in a mathematics competition
  • etc.

Since this was a math course, you may have guessed that students could have negative lives and therefore never “died.” On the other hand, without a “positive” life, students had no access to rewards: each life entitled them to an additional attempt at an online minitest (homework assignments worth 5% of the course grade).

In a mathematics course in Computer Science: advanced level

In another course, Alexandre Jeannotte used the Star Wars theme to make his course more fun thanks to Moodle’s Level Up! module.

Students earned experience points for reading the course outlines, handing in homework and so on. Padawans at level 1, students became Jedi Knights at level 10, then Jedi Masters at level 20. Points and levels were calculated automatically by Level Up! 

These students exploited the fact that the teacher had not limited the number of points that could be obtained by repeating the same task. So the students returned to the course outline a large number of times, earning a point each time. For these clever people, the teacher created new levels on the platform: Sith and Sith Master! (Note that it is possible with Level Up! to cap the number of points a person can get for a given task).

Respiratory Technology: apprentice level

In Respiratory Technology, class attendance is not an issue. However, Sophie Maheu was using the flipped classroom approach and looking for a way to motivate her students to do the necessary preparatory work.

She used a system based on Olympic medals. For each session for which the student was well prepared, they gained a level. After the first 5 weeks of classes, students who had reached level 5 received a bronze medal (bought at Dollarama or made from cardboard; it didn’t matter). During the in-class exam that week, they had the opportunity to return the medal to the teacher in exchange for a clue to the exam. The teacher had noticed that her students were very anxious during exams. So she came up with an idea to relieve their stress: medal-holders could raise their hand and point silently to a question on their exam. The teacher would read their answer and, in silence, give them a thumbs-up if their answer was right, or a thumbs-down if their answer was wrong. The same privilege was offered with the silver medal, 5 weeks later, at the 2nd exam, then with the gold medal at the final exam.

Biomedical Laboratory Technology: expert level

In Biomedical Laboratory Technology, teacher Renée Charbonneau designed 9 Moodle lessons (learning paths), each linked to a laboratory, under the theme of a military training camp. Completing the lessons goes a long way to helping students write the corresponding lab report, but the lessons themselves are not evaluated summatively. Completing a lesson awards a badge to the student. Thanks to the completion tracking feature in Moodle, badge management is automated; the teacher doesn’t have to intervene.

Badges entitle the holder to extensions for the submission of assignments. In addition, a student with 5 badges has access to a secret formative exam (a 2nd formative exam). Students with 9 badges earn the honourary title of star technician.

Another game style Biomedical Laboratory Technology

In another course, Renée Charbonneau has come up with a completely different way of making her course more fun by offering her students quests of which “they are the heroes.” She presented her approach during an AQPC webinar [in French], which was reviewed on Eductive [in French]. This could easily be combined with my version of Classes & Dragons!

One of the most important things to remember about the type of gamification I use is that every teacher can choose to incorporate exactly the right number of elements to suit their time and needs. If you’re interested in turning your course into a game: don’t wait, start now, and make it more complex at your own pace!

Editor’s note: an already inspiring experience

Alexandre Leroux presented his experience during a workshop at the AQPC symposium in June 2023. One of those present didn’t wait to put her ideas into practice: Caroline Arsenault, a teacher at the Centre d’études collégiales in Charlevoix, has implemented her own version of Classes & Dragons in her mathematics course.

Caroline Arsenault porte une fausse barbe longue et une cape noire à capuchon. Elle tient un long bâton comme celui de Gandalf et porte un brassard noir. En arrière-plan, on voit une haute montagne sinistre avec de la brume et des nuages.

Photo of Caroline Arsenault on the day she presented the Classes & Dragons project to her students (Photo taken and edited by Pierre Beauchesne).

Her experience is only just at its beginning, but the students seem highly motivated. Caroline has heard on more than one occasion, “I want to have all the levels!”

The document Caroline prepared with Canva to present her project to her students [in French].

Stay tuned!

About the author

Alexandre Leroux

Alexandre Leroux has a master’s degree in Biochemistry and a certificate in Post-Secondary Teaching. He has been teaching chemistry at Collège de Rosemont since 2009. He is particularly interested in pedagogical games and gamification. He has received numerous awards and distinctions for teaching and popularizing science.

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