Explore Like A Pirate: Chapter 9

Welcome back! We're here for another chapter of Explore Like A Pirate! It's all about designing a game-inspired course to keep your students engaged in learning. If you need a refresher, you can check out the previous posts here.

Chapter 9 is all about putting the game together. Matera has talked a lot about "side-quests" and things, but didn't really go into detail until now. Trust me, it's all going to come together! 
Mini-games are the "brain breaks" of the game. Now, must of us "teachers of littles" think of GoNoodle or some other kind of wiggle break when we hear "brain break," but that's not really where he's going with this.

When Matera says "brain break," he's referring to games that review material, add points to students totals, but don't really go with the rest of the game. Things like Jeopardy, Mega Tic-Tac-Toe, Graffiti Walls, Vocabulary Taboo, and Kahoot! are all examples of mini-games. (I won't go into all the detail Matera did about how to play mini-games, but if you're wanting more, you can check out his book here.)
We all know about traditional paper and pencil assessments, but what if we could do more? Matera provides us with several outside of the box, playful assessments for really checking for understanding rather than rote memorization. 

Remember Odd One Out from the old Sesame Street segments? ("One of these things is not like the other. One of these things just doesn't belong…"yes?) You can do the same with your content. For a K/1 animal unit, you could post pictures of 4 different animals, one living in a different habitat or having a different skin covering, and have students EXPLAIN why that animal doesn't belong. For bigger kids, you could post 4 vocabulary terms or events and have students tell you which one doesn't belong in the set. There are SO MANY things you can do with this simple format!

Sketch Pad requires students to draw the meaning of the vocabulary word or event. Perhaps during a civil rights lesson, students must draw an example of one way people stood up for themselves during this time. Or when studying habitats, students must draw an example of a habitat and some animals they might find there. 

One of my favorite examples he gave was LEGO Build. Students are given a bag of LEGOS and must build something from that unit. Bigger kids can take a picture of their creation, add it to a Google Doc, and elaborate about their creation. Smaller kids can draw out what they made and either explain it verbally or write out the best they can what they made and why. 

There are several other examples of playful assessments in this chapter, so be sure to check it out. (Remember it's free on Kindle Unlimited right now.)
Side quests, I think, are my favorite. Maybe it's because of all the buildup Matera did throughout the book, but these are definitely exciting ways to get your students learning on their own. 

Side quests are open-ended, optional activities students do in their own time. In a self-contained class, this could be for your early finishers as well. They have 3 rules:
  1. You can only turn in your side quest once, so do your best!
  2. The side quest must connect to the current unit.
  3. The side quest must be turned in before the unit test. 

Why these rules? Because if the teacher is going to "grade" this additional work, it needs to be amazing. It should pertain to the current unit in order to further the student's understanding of what's being discussed in class. And the third rule encourages students to get busy and complete things in a timely manner. 

You probably have already done several "side quests" in your class but made them required assignments. Rather than using class time to for these activities, make them optional and see what kind of awesome things your students can do on their own time. That gives you more class time to go deeper into the content. 

Examples of side quests are: 

But don't stop there! Any creative outlet can be used to guide a side quest. Give your students 3-5 options for quests each unit, covering different styles, and see what they come up with. If you give them the whole list of options right away, you'll have all kinds of things land in your lap at once. Spread them out through the year. 

I love the concept of side quests, even if the course isn't fully gamified. Imagine what your students could create if only given the opportunity!

In a gamified class, all these things add experience points to students' totals. They tie the course together, expand students' learning, and create lifelong learners. Isn't that what we all want? 

Join us next week for our final chapter of Explore Like A Pirate where we'll but it all together and share our thoughts on our own game-based classes. Thanks for stopping by, now check out what others have to say about this chapter. Have a great day!


  1. I liked the different definition of "brain break" too - definitely something to think about! I also love your ideas for side quests! Thank you for sharing and for the link up!

  2. Thanks for blogging about Explore Like a Pirate, Rachael!! #XPLAP


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