This blog post is a summary of the talk Raising Scores: Gamification Activities for Test Preparation Teachers given by Christien Lee, a recognized expert in the field of test preparation and the author of the new Tactics for TOEFL iBT® book available from Oxford University Press, at the IATEFL Conference in Manchester on Sunday 12 April 2015.

If you are looking for ideas to push your teaching to the next level, you should definitely watch it (you can find the recording here). It clarifies the role of gamification and introduces practical teaching techniques that we can try in our classrooms. Though the main focus is on testing (which “teachers should love” – you can watch Jeremy Harmer’s talk where he gives reasons why teachers should love testing here), the techniques are relevant and can be applied to any teaching context, i.e. any class where we do listening, reading, writing, or speaking activities.

From numerous research in psychology and neuroscience we know that learners are more likely to enjoy learning and actually learn when activities are meaningful, fun and interesting. Yet, again and again, we have no other choice but to ‘test out’ much fun of learning. Gamification is one of the possible solutions to help

  • Foster learning
  • Add enjoyment
  • Raise motivation
  • Influence behavior and
  • Promote engagement

What is gamification?

Gamification has become an important trend in online learning that has benefits for traditional classroom instruction too. In his talk, Christien makes a really good point:

“Gamification is not simply about playing games”.

Just as we do not use technology for the sake of technology itself – “look, I have some technology in my classroom”, we do not use games for the sake of games, or fun. These are tools to support learning.

“Everything you do should be clearly relevant to the test you are teaching”.

Christien comes up with his own definition of gamification as the deliberate and principled use of game elements (lives; goals; levels; points; teams; quests; bonuses; leaderboards) and game mechanics (rules; challenges; competition; randomness; feedback; turn taking; accumulation; success or failure) in non-game situations.

How to gamify

It is important to be deliberate and principled when we attempt to gamify classroom activities.

This means that we should clearly set the goal of why we gamify.

E.g. to raise our students’ scores (incl. particular objectives such as improving time management, processing fast speech, understanding different accents, etc.)  

In addition, as far as possible, we should avoid activities that require students to do things they will not have to do in the test. In other words, the gamified activities should simuate real life situations.

Here are some activities suggested by Christien:

Gamified reading activity

How can we get students to read more quickly?

Objective: To improve students’ time management.

Reasoning: Students cannot finish the test on time. If students manage the time better, they may improve their score.

The activity helps students recognize that they need to balance their time better.

Gamified listening activity

Objective: To improve overall listening comprehension

Reasoning: Students often struggle when the listening text is long, when they are exposed to different accents, or the speed is fast.


*Practice# (or PracticeSharp, see it here

The activity helps to improve students’ overall listening ability. They should also find that speech at normal speed sounds slower than before, so they can catch more of what the speakers say.

 Gamified production activity: speaking or writing activity

Objective: To help students give a coherent and logically organized response

Reasoning: Students tend to give disorganized responses, hesitate and repeat themselves, and fail to finish their responses in time. These issues are often symptoms of being unable to come up with ideas.

The vast majority of questions can be connected with universal reasons such as time or money. We can get students to give their opinions using these reasons again and again.


Image credit: Christien Lee Raising Scores: Gamification Activities for Test Preparation Teachers


By using the same reasons over and over, students will have fewer problems with disorganization, repetition, and time. They should also become more fluent and confident in their use of language and make fewer mistakes.

Based on the talk, we can draw the following

KEY POINTS relevant for teachers employing gamification in all teaching contexts

  • The aim of gamification is to make use of game tools to foster learning. Everything we do should be clearly relevant to what we are teaching.
  • It is important to be deliberate and principled when you gamify classroom activities – we should clearly set the goal of why we gamify.
  • We should avoid activities that require students to do things they will not have to do in the test. In other words, the gamified activities should be built around real life situations.
  • It is essential to make sure learners recognize the value of the gamified activity for their learning/skills development.

Thank you for stopping by and happy teaching!

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