Items are a great way to incorporate customization, rewards systems, and re-playability into your classroom game. In a video game items, also called pick-ups, can take many forms but in most cases are objects which, usually, have some sort of benefit for the player. You may be familiar with the mushrooms in the Super Mario Series or the shells in MarioCart. These items make the player’s avatar more powerful or provide some advantage for a battle. In previous posts I have argued that a student in the classroom is really just a classroom avatar of the student. If this is the case then it makes sense that a student familiar with the language of video games would look for items to help improve their standing in the classroom – or as my son once told me “There HAS to be power-ups!”

A common question newly gamified educators have is how to create these items. The first step of course is to look at what other gamified teachers have done. Forums like #XPLAP and #Games4ed are great starts. I know that @MrMatera has several vlog posts and #Wellplayed Podcasts about this topic.

Here is a link to my past Power-Up Cards (By the Power of Grayskull…). I am changing up this year’s cards though because I am changing up the structure of my class. Which brings me to my next suggestion.

In The Grasshopper, Bernard Suits argued that games are a “voluntary effort to overcome unnecessary obstacles”. This may be my favorite quote describing games and gamification. So the first step in designing items is:

  1. Identify the unnecessary obstacles in your classroom!

This is a reflective process and will take some effort. It will force you to get into the student’s perspective. First, get rid of the harmful obstacles. The point of this exercise is not to punish students with bad grades or a miserable experience but to create interesting and engaging challenges that need to be overcome. Once harmful obstacles are eliminated think about interesting ways to overcome the obstacles that are left behind. For example:

High Stakes Mission

One unnecessary obstacle (in my view) is the inability to retake a test for a better score. So I created the High Stakes Mission card. This allows a student to retake a different test with similar content. Another way to to create item is to

2. Think about classroom rules that are “flexible”.

For example:

A third way create items is to:

3. Create unnecessary obstacles that must be overcome.

For example:

I know. We want to elimitate obstacles but it is the friction of rubbing against limitations that produce a creative fire. With that in mind think of obstacles that can be incentives (or at least not harmful) that you can then design items to overcome.

For example, last year my students would lose a heart if they submitted an assignment late. The students did not receive late penalty for the late submission, they could still get full credit, but the loss of a heart obstacle created an incentive to submit on time. Keeping hearts was important for students as they allowed students to use their self selected avatar type “powers”. To overcome the loss of a heart I created several items – the “Double Edged Sword” and “Modern Medicine” cards were heart recovery cards. I also created the “Stoic Defender” card which allowed an extension on the due date without the loss of hearts.


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The obstacle was teacher created and the items were designed to overcome the obstacle.

A final way to add to the number of items is to :

4. Place limitations or add power to existing cards.

Michael Matera (@MrMatera) has been very vocal about this strategy on his WellPlayed Podcast. We often have really cool power card ideas and create the max version of the item. For example one of my Avatar type powers was Sketchnotes:

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As an Avatar Power this was a permanent ability – the max version of the item. To create more items I created SketchNotes Lite – a one time use item.

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This would be for students that did not have the Avatar type power. I could also have changed size and shape of the note card, limited colors or shapes, or allowed limited text options. The unnecessary obstacle is the inability to look at notes during the assessment but a secondary obstacle is the limit to drawings only. A variation on this card is “Revolutionary Forge”.

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I borrowed this idea from another teacher (let me know if it was you!). This places a limit on the size of the card but eliminates the images requirement.

There are other things to think about when making items. How will you deliver them? What are the conditions to obtain the card? How rare will they be? Will they be physical or digital? What will they look like? And more!

I do think we should be aware of representation of race, gender, etc if using art like I did with these fantasy based images. I wanted to ensure that the images on the cards would be representative of the students in my class while being positive and appropriate. As I made more cards it became difficult to find people of color and appropriately dressed women. It was a difficult but necessary process to include these representations and you can see some examples in this post.

If you are interested in powercards and my previous items here are some links.

2017-18 items

MTGcardsmith creator

More to come on my new 2018-19 items and system!