Explore Like a Pirate Book Study: Chapter 7

I'm linking up again with Sweet Sweet Primary for her Explore Like a Pirate Book Club!  I've enjoyed going through the book this summer and thinking about ways to gamify my classroom.

Last week we really started to dig into the theme, setting, characters, and action of our gamified units. Now, in Chapter 7 we move on to game mechanics!

As I have written about before, I love how author Michael Matera stresses that gamification is customizable to you and your comfort level with using it. When deciding on the theme, we could plan for a lesson, unit, or something year-long. It's the same with mechanics...we can use as few or as many as we want. Matera provides an EXTENSIVE list of mechanics but lets us know it's OK if we only use 2 or 3 at the beginning. I went through the chapter and highlighted the ones I thought I could incorporate at some point into my class:

Experience Points (XP)

Most, if not all of your students will already be familiar with XP, as it is a component of many of the games they play. At the beginning of a game, you begin with little to no XP. As you move through the game and earn more XP, you can "level up" (explained below) or gain upgrades.

I think most teachers already use XP in some form or another, even if we don't explicitly call it that. For example, if you give rewards based on AR points, it's basically the same principle. This is the easiest mechanic to add to your gamified lessons, but Matera cautions that XP is worthless unless you tie it in to some other game mechanics.

When considering how to use XP, you need to think about when and how students can earn points, what they are earning points for, and how you will display the current point totals.


This is another game mechanic most students should be familiar with. Levels indicate the players' position or rank, or their current stage in the game. You can use levels in conjunction with XP, where students "level up" once they reach a certain amount of points. Again, Matera lets us know that this mechanic is useless unless you tie it in with something else.

You can have your levels coordinate with your subject or unit. For example, if my theme was pirates, the students could start out as swabs and work their way up to being a Ship Captain. It would be fun to have your students give input to the levels as well!


Leaderboards, quite simply, show the standings of the players in the game. It can be somewhat tricky when it comes to displaying information in a public way, but Matera gives us several ways to use these leaderboards with INTENTION. 

A concern that I had while beginning to plan my unit was that students at the bottom of the leaderboard would be discouraged and tune out pretty quickly. A suggestion Matera provides is to reset points at certain intervals (while still keeping track of overall totals), whether it be by quarter or lesson. Let's say you keep track of points throughout the year, and you're at the beginning of the 3rd quarter. Students who have no chance of making it to the top of the leaderboard for the year could still compete to be at the top for the quarter!

Again, leaderboards can be as simple or complicated as you wish. My plan is to start small and add more components as I see fit.


Guilds are, quite simply, groups. Matera brings up some good points about how gaming encourages teamwork within the group while traditional classroom groups can tend to "operate as individuals within a shared activity." 

I really enjoyed many of Matera's suggestions for forming guilds and plan on using many of them in the upcoming school year. A point he makes that I LOVE is that constantly switching groups does not model what happens in the real world. As he says, "My family is always my family." Think about the faculty of your school...yes, there will be changes here and there, but for the most part the core is intact for years and years. You have to figure out how to utilize everyone's strengths to make the team move forward. For example, I'm your gal if you want to restructure the writing curriculum, or explain how data can drive instruction. Anything involving public speaking, or even worse, dancing? Find someone else.

I like the idea of having the same guilds work together for at least a quarter, if not more, and I think using a deck of cards to decide the guilds is genius! Matera also brings up the importance of explaining to the students how successful teams work. It is not about everyone doing the "same" amount of work. It is about figuring out who is talented at what and then using that to your advantage!

I could probably write an entire post just about guilds, so I'll stop here, but this is definitely my favorite game mechanic!


Badges are earned after students complete certain tasks successfully. Matera uses leader badges, for quests, and mini-badges, for completing a class activity well. I like his point about how this is another way to get mores students involved in the game. For the students who are never going to be recognized for the highest achievements, badges are a way to celebrate their unique talents and make them feel appreciated.

On Instagram right now, Brag Tags are blowing up, and I see a lot of similarity in how some teachers are using Brag Tags to how Matera describes using badges. Just another example of how game elements are becoming the norm in our classrooms!

Power Ups

A Power Up is a temporary boost, like in Pac Man when the ghosts turn blue and Pac Man gets to eat them. This is another great way to get students who aren't in the lead to stay involved!


Quests are missions with objectives, and an opportunity to explore the curriculum in greater detail. Matera uses his quests as optional activities, and I think I may do the same. I love that he has a rule stating each quest may only be turned in once, forcing students to take their time if they want to earn the maximum amount of XP. I ran into a problem last year with students rushing through choice board activities, and I think if I did something like tie in XP to their completed products, they may slow down and take a little care.

Life Jackets

We all have in mind the kind of students who are going to excel in a gamified environment, but what about the students who struggle to get started. or lag so far behind they become discouraged? Life jackets are a great way to keep everyone involved. You might choose to give the student the opportunity to grab a "cheat sheet" to give them a little boost, or offer certain quests only to students on the bottom half of the leaderboard.


In the gaming world, much like the real world, obstacles sometimes arise, and you have to (often with other people) figure out how to overcome these challenges. Matera has several ideas for ways to use a "punishment" as motivation. For example, he has decided the class that has the fewest assignments cannot have a Realm day (his gameplay days). Since his students did not want to miss a Realm day, they took it upon themselves to form groups to help each other get their assignments finished. You could also tie in XP very easily with this, for example, taking away XP for missing assignments.

There was A LOT to digest in this chapter, and I feel like I covered the bare minimum in this post! If you are truly interested in learning more about game mechanics, you definitely want to read this chapter on your own to see what great ideas you can come up with!

I'll be back next week with my take on Chapter 8. as we continue to learn more tips and tricks to help us gamify our classroom. 

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