Gamify Your Lesson Experience by Scott Birrell, PSIA-AASI RM Children’s Committee

Using the Power of Play to Enhance Student Engagement and Learning


During one of my lessons this season a student exclaimed “I feel like I’m in a video game but it’s real life!”. It left me pondering how I could replicate this in future lessons. As a non-gamer, I decided to dig deeper into what makes video games fun and addictive, and see whether I could incorporate these concepts into my snowsports lessons. 


This led me to discover the concept of gamification. In simple terms, gamification refers to applying typical elements of game playing to an activity to encourage engagement. Gamification is currently being applied across various domains including studying for academic tests, motivating participants in exercise programs, and influencing consumer behavior. 


With digital intelligence, also known as “tech-savvy”, being added to Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences, and an increasing emphasis on fostering engagement and retention in snowsports, can we gain by adding gamification to our bag of tricks? I believe the answer is yes.


There are many types of games, and many typical elements within those games. These include having a narrative or story, point scoring and rewards, leaderboards, feedback, goals, rules of play, unpredictability, discovery, and much more. Some people prefer individual games, while others prefer team-based games.


With all these options and variables, where do we start? Goal setting is a great first step (Teaching Skills Fundamental #5). Beyond asking the typical questions about what skills students want to learn, you could find out: 

  • What is their favorite game to play at home? Why? 

  • Do they prefer to have a clear objective, or the freedom to explore and experiment? 

  • Will points and rewards be a fun way for them to stay motivated? 

  • Do they prefer team-based activities or individual tasks? 


The source of motivation is personal to each student, and what is fun for one student may not be fun for another. We can ascertain information while goal setting to build a student profile, determine their ideal type of fun, adapt to the changing needs of the learner (Teaching Skills Fundamental #2), and find ways to gamify their lesson in a relevant way.  Scholarship about gamification has identified four different types of fun:


People Fun

Students motivated by People Fun are all about social interaction and relationships. For this type of student, find ways to incorporate partner games and challenges throughout your lessons. As the instructor, think about how you can connect the students with each other, with you, and foster learning along the way? 


An example could be pairing up your students with a leader and follower. Each time the leader touches their helmet, the follower has to jump. Build upon this by having the leader make a random mix of small, medium, and large turns, where the follower must stay in their tracks. You could also have one student ski or ride down to a safe spot, then be the “controller” for their partner by pointing left and right to safely direct them down the slope. 


Partner discussions, problem solving activities, teamwork games, and activities to find out more about each other are also great ways to add game elements to your lessons for students who prefer People Fun. 


Easy Fun

Experimentation, exploration and play define Easy Fun (Teaching Skills Fundamental #1). For students favoring this approach, learning is a creative process. Video games like Minecraft allow for plenty of exploration and adventures where the player is in control. 


You could gamify your lesson experience by having students explore as many different turn types and shapes as possible, scoring points for each new turn they discover. Recently, one of my students attempted to do “3” shaped turns, where they did a “C” turn, stepped around, and connected another “C” turn in the same direction. This allowed them to discover that turning back up the hill can help manage speed, reduced their reliance on making a wedge to slow down, and helped them understand the concept of leg rotation.


Other simple ways to add game elements for those that enjoy Easy Fun include involving them in the decision making process of where to ski or ride, exploring the trail map together, and building a theme or story around your day. 


Hard Fun

Students that like Hard Fun enjoy the opportunity for challenge, mastery, and feelings of accomplishment. They may want to test their abilities with difficult tasks or competition. For this type of student, you may want to establish various goals, objectives, quests, or milestones to achieve. For example, riding on 10 different lifts throughout the day, striving towards carved tracks down a steep black run, or switching between three different turn types in the bumps without stopping.  


You could also add rules of play or set parameters that force these students to problem solve and accomplish goals. Allow your students to be challenged, fail, and try again, while managing emotional and physical risk (Teaching Skills Fundamental #4). By problem solving and pushing through frustration, there will be an even greater feeling of accomplishment once success is achieved. 


Serious Fun

For students that like Serious Fun, purposeful participation in learning changes the way they think, feel, and behave. Every aspect of the learning process has meaning- from planning to preparation, and from practice to execution.


You can give students the agency to be “game designers”, where they plan the lesson experience collaboratively with you. You can set milestones to achieve, and facilitate reflection upon the learning process (Teaching Skills Fundamental #3). Find ways to help the student achieve goals that help them grow as a person. For example, improving their coordination, discovering new strategies for learning, or increasing their confidence to tackle difficult tasks. 


In summary, adding game elements to your lessons can make them more fun, engaging, and effective for you and your students. Gamification also helps us to successfully apply the PSIA-AASI Teaching Skills Fundamentals:

  • Promote play, experimentation, and exploration

  • Adapt to the changing needs of the learner

  • Facilitate the learner’s ability to reflect upon experiences and sensations

  • Manage emotional and physical risk

  • Collaborate on long-term goals and short-term objectives


By using a gamified approach we can drive motivation, make failure an acceptable part of learning, and create a fun and interactive lesson environment. As the saying goes, “you can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation”. Try incorporating gamification into your teaching practice; you may be thrilled with the positive impacts on fun and learning for you and your students. 



Post Foster, E. Sogard, R. (2018). PSIA-AASI Teaching Snowsports Manual. American Snowsports Education Association, Inc. 


Lazzaro, N. (2004). Why We Play Games: Four Keys to More Emotion Without Story. XEODesign, Inc.


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