Inspired Ideas
Published in

Inspired Ideas

The Importance of Gameplay in Student Engagement

By Bill Kearney, Former Educator & McGraw Hill Sales Rep

Remembering My First Day as an Educator

I still remember my first day of teaching very clearly, as it may have led to a slight case of PTSD. I had just arrived the night before at Kimpo International Airport in South Korea as a bright-eyed twenty-three-year-old looking for some novel life experience before getting on with the real business of a serious job and career. My first day of teaching started early Saturday at 8:00 a.m. sharp at the Bu-Whan Boys Middle School in Pup-Yong, South Korea. The day’s agenda consisted of four hours of teaching Conversational English to seventy-five middle school boys. It was truly a sink-or-swim moment, and the pressure was high.

My Lessons Learned from Teaching

Make It Fun: Games Work!

During our first ten-minute break, when the boys went out for recess (one hour down) I grabbed another coffee and quickly devised a game that I thought we could play with the whole class: Password. (Yes, that same game that Jimmy Fallon is trying to bring back to the mainstream.)

Engagement is the Key to Effective Teaching

When I think back on the classes that I loved in school, the memories that stick out involve experiences of deep engagement with the subject or learning target. These would sometimes involve simulations, such as play-acting (dressing up as your favorite Revolutionary War Character), engaging in active debate with your classmates on a controversial topic, or playing a competitive and fun learning game. As Bob Marzano (2011) states in the Highly Engaged Classroom, “Games help trigger situational awareness and have the potential to capture and hold students’ attention” (p. 15). We all know that engaging students is key to teaching success and academic outcomes, but finding the best way to engage them, while still holding true to the curriculum and subject matter, was sometimes challenging.

The Role of Play in Curricula

When I eventually left teaching for educational publishing and joined McGraw Hill, I was struck by the opportunity we have as a company to build games and engagement into curricula. At McGraw Hill early on, I started working with the Everyday Mathematics program from the University of Chicago. I was so excited to find that there was a heavy emphasis and encouragement on gameplay to support learning. Everyday Mathematics uses games as an engaging way for students to get the frequent practice required to build strong mental arithmetic skills and fact power.


Marzano, R. J., Pickering, D., & Heflebower, T. (2011). The Highly Engaged Classroom. Marzano Research.



Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
McGraw Hill

Helping educators and students find their path to what’s possible. No matter where the starting point may be.