Board Game Creation is Super Motivating

prototype of a student designed game… lots of focus here!

“Make the Right Choice! Make the Right Choice!”

A chant sounds out of a classroom here in Green School, alluding to a political rally of some populist regime. The truth is, these kids are indeed re-enacting fascism in Germany in the 1930’s and are trying to prevent Hitler from being elected Chancellor.

They are playing a card game called Secret Hitler, which was selected as an example of a game you can print and play. Almost every student and teacher had never heard of this game, and so they worked through the rules. There was a bit of impatience, but after the game mechanic was understood by most of the students, the game got heated. Very heated. The students stayed in for break, asked what the difference between a Chancellor and a President really was, and looked deeper into the meaning of fascism.

All because of a card game.

This pattern repeats itself so often in classes I design and facilitate, where the passion and living in the moment of the experience transcend the boundaries of regular school. Indeed, the young learners and I both find ourselves seeking more time to engage, not counting down the hours. Instead of creating superficial structures that trigger extrinsic motivation, we take the power of mixed media found in games and being that to the centre of the experience. Finally, each person brings their own experience and flavour or the learning moment, and that is totally OK. More than that… it is how communities across time have always prospered.

Intrinsic Motivation

There is something about games that speaks to our young generation (or maybe anybody really) and gets right to the root of intrinsic motivation. Let me explain what I mean.

Following some initial play-throughs of games, most students decided to use the time we had carved out of their school schedule to create their own games. Classroom management was non-existent, and wonderfully unnecessary, as most of the students got straight to work building their games. This freed up my time as a teacher, and I could take that time to consult small groups of students on their games. If I needed to, I could spend half an hour with a few kids working through complicated mechanics, listening to their ideas and passions, and helping them to realize their game-ideas through creative mechanisms.

As a teacher, this is some pretty sacred space to find. I love helping students stretch their understanding and knowledge, but traditional classes just don’t create a space for this often enough. Make/Play allows us educators to feast on this.

students took it upon themselves to use mindmaps to help them develop concepts in their games.


How we shaped the course and each class and involved learners came from attempts over the years to craft an experience that replicated those which we found formative in our personal development.

What did we do when we were kids that really made us think?

A lot of this comes to using the right devices, and for many people this means games. While digital games are pretty rad, the entry level into hacking the game and making it your own is very high. There is loads of legwork you need to do before you get a satisfactory product.

Board games, on the other hand, are naturally prone to manipulation. Who actually plays Monopoly by all the rules and never desires to tweak them to make it more pleasurable? With that in mind, the game became central to the class, in its entirety. We gave kids the freedom to remix, rework, re-theme, or design entirely from scratch. Our mission was to create a space to be creative, nothing else.

Using games in schools should not be confused with gamification, for in depth clarity on this, check out Zach Reznichek’s Classcraft: Teacher-Gamers are the antidote to Gamification.

Distributed Cognition

Another interesting element of this class is that the distributed cognition model comes to life in a space like this.

Distributed cognition means that we extend the mind from the individual to the collective, avoiding holding people to the same standards with respect to the knowledge and skills they acquire.

In our class, we have students who take on artistic roles, provide creative impetus, manage the probability of different cards to make the game balanced, while others are working on the back story. Each student takes on their own role in the teams building games, and so the learning that happens can radically vary. Needless to say, this creates a pretty solid ground for collaboration.

Walking into the Make/Play classroom on any given day is more reminiscent of a pre-internet stock market trading floor than a classroom. There is noise, movement, and all the range of emotions to accompany that. Some kids are deeply pensive, trying to predict how their game mechanics will influence the nature of play. Others are in argument, whether over trivial ideas- such as the colour of card borders- or important matters, such as the key takeaway message from the game. And naturally, some are involved in the playing of games. The environment is organic and constructive, but also lends well to help and deeper conversations as needed.

That said, for a first run in the ‘extended model’ (we covered Make/Play in two separate class slots, effectively doubling our time) we found that the productivity started to fizzle towards the end of the unit. That is pretty natural in a lot of cases, as some kids feel unable to complete the project they set out to do, while others feel completely satisfied with what they created and don’t wish to iterate more. And… if you compare a 6 week run of a class like this to a standard class on, well, pretty much anything… the productivity and engagement is through the roof!

— — —

Noan Fesnoux is an educator, lover or nature, and generally happy fellow. He has created programs in Green School Bali focusing entirely on student driven learning (LEAP Academy), and currently resides in Budapest where he is bringing REAL School, an entrepreneurial school rooted in the sustainability mindset, to life. Oh, he loves playing games too.
Instagram: sirnoan
Twitter: sirnoan

Jesse Driver is a Green School educator who conceived Make-Play as a course. He continues to run the course with new students as part of the Green School Middle School experience. He has a collection of miniatures that are an envy to many.

For more on teacher-gamers visit or write to

#teachergamer is gaining prominence as more than just a technique to bring the human teacher back into focus as a mentor and to supply intrinsic motivation for students.

#teachergamer #rpgsinschools #classcraft #makeplay


David L, “Distributed Cognition (DCog),” in Learning Theories, March 5, 2020,




The Teacher Gamer Revolution is the answer to the onslaught of tech-time that threatens the future of education. Introducing tabletop role-playing games (RPGs) into schools is modeling relationships, experiential co-learning & developing life-skills.

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Noan Fesnoux

Noan Fesnoux

Noan is an overall green fellow, with lots of expertise in how to best live sustainably, teach sustainability to our future generations, and love nature

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