How to Motivate Students Through Games

How to Motivate Students Through Games

One of my favourite ways to help students learn is to trick them.  Now, I say this with humour.  But, the truth is that when you motivate students through games the learning seems to stick.  And, who doesn’t want smiling students each lesson?

Super-charged pedagogy

We’re going to take a quick trip to my “Psychology for Teaching” class.  Hopefully, you will find my professor as interesting as I did!

Jean Piaget was very interested in how children learnt & developed skills over time.  His research makes him one of the OG’s in cognitive theory & has influenced how teachers teach for decades.

He pointed out 4 things that are needed for learning to happen:

  • A balance between reviewing “old” learning & adapting to “new” learning (equilibration)
  • Maturity, both mental & physical (maturation)
  • Actively applying what they’ve learnt to different situations (active experience)
  • Social interaction with others

You can have the perfect lesson on how time signatures are really fractions, but if your student doesn’t have the mental maturity, the new learning won’t sink in.

If your students never have a chance to explore new ideas in different situations (active experience) or socially interact with others, the “new” learning never really gets to the long-term memory banks.

To motivate students, we need to meet their learning needs first.

Using games covers all of these learning needs!

P.S. To read more, check out Guy R. Lefrançois’ “Psychology for Teaching” (page 76).  It was one of the very few textbooks I actually found interesting & engaging.  Who knew it was possible?

Motivate students through games

The best way to motivate students is by making it worthwhile to remember.

You think it’s important for students to remember:

  • Music terms & symbols
  • Era-specific highlights
  • Active listening
  • Theory concepts
  • And much more

I happen to agree with you that a multi-faceted approach is the best way.  But, do your students agree?

Games give students a reason to care.  They give a reason to get excited about new learning.  And because it’s an active experience that also has social interaction, games are a pretty amazing powerhouse teaching tool.

4 tips for choosing games

Not all games are creating equal.  And, not every child will do well with a particular game.

Below are my top 4 Piaget-inspired ways to choose games!

Use a game that approaches a topic in a new way

Most games will naturally do this.

A student may have seen intervals in their music many times.  The game asks the student to look at the intervals in a different way.  This bridges the gap between “old” & new”.

Choose the level wisely

The right game meets your student where they are & helps them review “old” learning.

Remember that student maturity (both mental & physical), plays a big part.  Students need to feel that the game is hard enough to challenge, but not so hard that your student doesn’t have a chance of winning.

Choose based on the day & the student

We all have days when things come easier for us.  And, days when they don’t.  Some students do well with a competitive feel to a game.  Others don’t.

In the past, I’ve modified the rules to games so they fit my students.  I would much rather have a student enjoying the learning process than stay true to any rules given.

The rules aren’t the important thing.  A student having success practicing a concept is.

Make it social

Whether you teach in-person or online, having a social aspect in lessons can be the difference between having a student for a few months & several years.  Games can be a fun way to invite others into lesson time!

Parents want their kids to have fun in lessons.  Children want to do activities that are enjoyable.  Making lesson time more social meets both needs.  Even if your students only play games with you.  (Though I would recommend including these in group lessons held throughout the year.)

Music games that work

The best games are ones that:

  • Can be used one-on-one or in groups.
  • Target one concept at a time.
  • Focus on real learning, not speed.

Keys to Imagination has a great selection of music games that motivate students!  To find your next great game, visit

1 thought on “How to Motivate Students Through Games”

  1. Pingback: Playing Music Games During Online Lessons: Top 4 Tips

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