Why is it fun to play games? Researchers have found that it’s the learning aspect of games that makes them fun. When we’re playing games, we’re making choices, realizing consequences, mastering skills, and working toward goals. We’re developing our understanding of systems and rules. Our brains are highly stimulated by this kind of learning, and we’re motivated to keep doing it. The best part is that our brains are working hard, yet we don’t feel drained by the effort—we’re just having fun!

Young children are hard-wired for play. It’s how they learn best. Older children and adults might seem less playful, but their natural tendency to learn through play is still present. Games are often thought of as unserious activities in schools, especially in the older grades (and indeed, not all games are created equal), but many educators are realizing that well-developed games can be incredible learning tools for students of all ages.

With this in mind, Read Naturally recently expanded its offerings to include some highly engaging games. Splat-o-Nym, our vocabulary-building app, teaches students thousands of useful vocabulary words as they progress through twenty-four exciting levels. And the Word Nerd Collection, a set of ten card games based on old favorites like Go Fish and Crazy Eights, teaches students high-frequency sight words in fun and motivating ways. (Note: Word Nerds Card Games are no longer available from Read Naturally.)

Splat-o-Nym and the Word Nerd games are Read Naturally’s first offerings of standalone games, yet game-based learning is integrated into all Read Naturally programs. Progress monitoring is a key component of the Read Naturally Strategy. In our programs, this involves timing and scoring words read correctly per minute and graphing these scores. Our programs consistently motivate students to put forth their best effort, because students are hooked on the idea of beating their scores and moving to the next level. Educators often call this the “video game effect,” and it’s a big reason why our programs are so effective with struggling students.

It’s useful to have specific programs on hand, but it’s also easy to incorporate game-based learning into just about any lesson. This edutopia article offers tips on using gaming principles to make your students addicted to learning. And this one describes play-based reward systems that encourage students to do their best work.

Do you have additional insights on game-based learning? How do you incorporate it into your classroom? We’d love to hear from you. Over the years, we’ve found that teachers are often more clever game designers than the techies in Silicon Valley. Keep up the good work!