The Play Book

  • A short guide for implementing game-based learning.
  • Includes 20 games for families to play around the house with on-hand materials.
  • Suggestions for embedding teaching are included for parents, educators, and behaviour analysts.
Click here to learn more! Browse the games below!

Companion Scorecard

  • A datasheet for tracking participant engagement and embedded teaching opportunities.
  • The scorecard is available as a standalone copy for single games, or as a condensed version for game-based instruction sessions that include multiple games and targets to track.
  • Included below is a sample scorecard explaining the various parts of the datasheet. Click below to download!
View sample scorecard Download the standalone scorecard! Download a condensed scorecard!

Information for Readers

The Playbook is a guide written to activate the spirit of learning through play and games. Originating out of necessity during the 2020 COVID-19 global pandemic, we have expanded The Playbook to include over 20 games that parents can use to mold young learners through fun!

Each game is designed to help parents accomplish two goals: (1) demonstrate how education can be a fun and memorable experience, and (2) demonstrate how to create teachable moments to embed learning within a fun, engaging, everyday game.

The games we have selected may be familiar, and we have included several suggested expanded rules that create new twists that add excitement to the games. Above all, we encourage you to just have fun!

Each game also includes a few embedded rules that can be added to create opportunities to teach new information or skills. We encourage families to keep teaching light. Balance a hearty ratio of expanded rules to embedded rules, with the scale leaning towards fun!

The rules offered for each game serve as examples, not law. After all, we all have ‘house’ rules for our most treasured games. Use the rules in this guide as a starting point, and test what works for your kids and your family. Dare to be creative!

Because kids may not always want to play games, we encourage families to keep expectations light. For some kids, new activities are not yet a game. Offer kids to 'try' games. Avoid forcing them to play. If they are not receptive, try playing the game with others within earshot---this may pique their curiosity. When they join the game, listen to their opinions about whether the game is fun. More times that not, that is helpful information that can lead to even better games and better play.

For some families, it may be necessary to play the game a few items before making a call on whether the game is fun for the kids. Try not to be discouraged if your efforts are not rewarded initially; sometimes, it takes a while to simply establish the routine of playing games as a family.

As you use this guide, be sure to note ideas that occur to you as you read and play. We encourage families to 'play-test' new rules and new games. The more options there are for play, the more options there are to embed teachable moments.

The Playbook is a living document. If you discover any new rules or ideas for games, please feel free to share them through the 'contact' form. We would be happy to add your ideas to the guide so that other families can benefit from our shared, community curated guide.

The secret recipe for play includes a healthy dose of gaming every day. Be sure to sample new games to broaden your child’s horizons, but continue to offer the tried-and-true game as options. Every time you play, you create positive familial interactions that will be cherished for your child’s lifetime. And the ‘cherry on top’ is that this will open up opportunities to learn and practice new skills, all while having fun.

Let’s face it---curricula design is a huge time investment. As educators ourselves, our aim with writing The Playbook was to lower the opportunity cost for educators to employ game-based learning methods. We hope that this guide serves as a head-start on your mission to incorporate game-based learning within your lesson plan.

One of the greatest challenges with implementing game-based lessons is creating the materials that will serve as the thematic ‘vehicle’ to drive student interest in playing the game. All games included in The Playbook use materials that are usually on-hand in most households. With a little extra time and creativity, the materials we recommend could be adapted and improved for your learners.

The games included in The Playbook serve as examples to stimulate the curious and creative mind of educators. As educators, you are also in the unique position to frequently play-test games with your learners, which will provide you with immediate feedback about which creative ideas generate engagement and/or teachable moments.

We encourage educators to save all of the materials that they make for their games, and to reuse those that are effective. That said, games should never be treated as a static entity. Once you discover games that kids like, continue play-testing new ideas to push creative instruction to new frontiers. Consider our games as a recipe, and add your own seasoning as you go.

Before embedding teachable moments within games, we recommend that educators conduct ‘fun checks’ to evaluate if a game has the potential for embedded instruction. To do a fun check, simply observe the game and answer the following questions: (1) Is this game easy going, in that the kids are not hesitant to play or showing any disapproval? (2) Is the game energetic, in that the play is fast-paced and players are actively engaged? (3) Is the game exciting, in that the players are frequently smiling and laughing, and once the game is over, do they say that they want to play more? If the game fails a fun check, we advise adding expanded rules that could increase fun before adding embedded rules. Further, investigate the current rules and interactions amongst players; if you can tease out what makes the game boring, you are closer to making it fun.

When you do choose to embed targets into play, start small. Choose 1-2 goals, as it is important to balance the complexity of learning against the fun parts of the game. As recommended in the book Play to Learn: Everything You Need to Know About Designing Effective Learning Games (Boller & Kapp, 2017), ensure that you plan to prep and debrief with your learners about what you sought to teach. This can serve as a good litmus test for the effectiveness of the game as a teaching strategy.

Our final piece of advice to educators is to consider your learners and to adapt the games with their age, interests, and needs in mind. For adolescents, the games within The Playbook may require additional tinkering; likewise, some games may need to be broken down for our youngest learners. When possible, use themes that interest the learners, to add value to the game. Most importantly, consider if games are the best approach for your teaching topic. Don’t play games simply because they are fun---play games if your students will benefit from this teaching format.

Game-based learning may be a new consideration for behaviour analysts, and some additional resources and relevant research are included below for the curious reader. Before you jump into this guide and those readings, we want to offer our interpretation of how this guide could be helpful.

Most behaviour analysts may be familiar with incidental teaching, where teaching occurs during natural, everyday routines or events. Further, many behaviour analysts have likely embedded or contrived situations within routines where learning could occur. If you are not familiar with these procedures, we invite you to read Charlop-Christy’s "How to do Incidental Teaching" and other related books and articles listed below.

Game-based learning is simply an embedded teaching procedure, where we create an interactive activity---or game---for participants to play and sometimes encounter teachable moments. With each game included in this guide, our first goal was to identify what rules made games a reinforcing activity; this is what we called an expanded rule. We also generated a list of embedded rules that could be used to add learning opportunities to games. We started from the ground-up to create games for teaching (i.e., game-based learning), whereas another option is to patch game elements into teaching methods (i.e., gamification).

Because game-based learning starts with playing games, players should contact some type of reinforcer as an outcome of playing. Like any other game, those reinforcers could be simply 'winning', it could also include solving a puzzle, creating or building something new, cooperation to achieve a desired outcome, or simply social interactions of value. Whatever the reinforcer is, it is important to note that a goal of game-based learning is to gather a collection of games that kids want to play because of their paired access to those reinforcers.

With a handy list of games or conditioned reinforcers, behaviour analysts are in the unique position to assist families and educators in applying these games to the benefit of the learner. This could include assisting teams in embedding targets within the games, or determining ways to use these games as reinforcers within an educational setting, contingent on academic achievement.

Behaviour analysts are also uniquely skilled at identifying pre-requisite skills and matching modifications to learners with different skill profiles or "behavioural repertoires". Behaviour analysts who employ game-based learning should be depended on to identify how games could be used to teach. Even for learners who cannot talk, there are ways that games can be implemented.

Consider for example a scavenger hunt. Learners who cannot read or talk could still participate using a visual prompt that lists visual representations of each item. The task for the 'hunter' is to then match those items to the visual prompt. Of course, some early learners may still struggle with this task, in which case a behaviour analysts could make the task more salient by implementing positional prompts (e.g., starting with the items very close to the visual prompt and in line-of-sight, and systematically moving them to hidden locations), gestural prompts, (e.g., pointing to the item on the list and its corresponding 'hidden' location) and/or model prompts (e.g., the staff modeling the skill with their own list, either live or in a video model).

For behaviour analysts, their greatest hurdle to implementing game-based learning may be in honing their creativity. What we have modeled in The Playbook is how to use the themes of play activities to contrive establishing operations for teaching. For example, in Target Toss, the players could throw from a location that is closer to the target, but to do so, they must first answer a question. By creatively threading the game theme into embedded rules, behaviour analysts can help parents and educators find crafty ways to increase value for practicing new skills.

Through the process of writing these games, we have identified a few ideas for how behaviour analysts can design their own games. First and foremost, start playing games yourself. Second, think inside the box---try making a game out of a handful of odd household items and see where you land. Third, explain the game to yourself or others; if creativity is an intraverbal response, this may generate more ideas. Fourth, read about gamification and embedded teaching. Fifth, play-test your games with family, friends, and/or your own kids to determine what works. Finally, be prepared to tinker with the game or potentially abandon it if better game ideas arise. Although this list is not exhaustive, we hope this helps as a starting point for creating your own custom curricula for your learners.

The easiest task for behaviour analysts will be wrapping data collection into these activities. We provide a starting point with the Scorecard that can be found on this page. Please feel free to adapt the datasheet to suit the needs of your practice and the targets you set for your learners.

Last, we wish to offer some ideas for how game-based learning could be helpful in practice. At the time of writing this guide, telehealth is an option for continuing services while we are practicing social distancing, and perhaps one way to start telehealth services is by coaching parents to condition reinforcers, perhaps by playing some games listed here. Second, teaching play and game design to frontline staff may be a great starting point for trainees. Third, consider the possibility of substituting traditional formats of presenting instructions at the table and employing game-based instruction to condition the table-top as a space for fun, not just learning. Finally, when you try game-based learning, focus first on fun. Once you have conditioned the game as a reinforcer, the teachable opportunities will come.

Below is a list of the games included in The Playbook. The games are listed by their most salient game element. The instructions for each game are accessible in the interactive game browser below this section of the web page.

This list also describes some general skill domains that are naturally addressed when kids play games. This may be helpful when selecting games for your learner's individual strengths and needs.

All games will require players to demonstrate some fundamental 'game play' skills, including: turn taking, waiting for a turn, following rules, and other general expressive and receptive verbal interactions with other players.

Game Type Games Skills Addressed
  • Blanket Forts
  • Blueprints
  • Paper Airplane Golf
  • Rube Goldberg Machine
  • Tape Cities
  • Fine-Motor Coordination
  • Multi-Step Recall
  • Visual-Spatial Coordination
  • Visual-Visual Matching
Gross Motor
  • Dance Party
  • Formula One
  • House Olympics
  • Laundry Basketball
  • Target Toss
  • Auditory-Action Matching
  • Gross-Motor Coordination
  • Hand-Eye Coordination
  • Motor Endurance
Make Believe
  • Adventure Stories
  • Dino Dig
  • Mystery Box
  • Pretend Store
  • Puppet Show
  • Associations
  • Creativity
  • Social Expression
  • Story Telling
Table Top
  • Bingo
  • Code Breakers
  • Cup Shuffle
  • Memory
  • Taboo Tray
  • Associations
  • Auditory-Visual Matching
  • Reading
  • Recall
Written Word
  • Pencil Relay
  • Pictionary
  • Scavenger Hunts
  • Pencil Skills
  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Visual Referencing

Game Browser