Video Game Design: Playing for Assessment

Video Game Design 2021We’re nearing the end of our Video Game Design project and so, my task as a teacher was to play their stories which are video games, and that meant playing nearly 60 games.

Many were very interesting — with cool design features and narrative frames set into levels in meaningful ways. Others were lacking enough story, which was a focus every single day in class as they worked.

I assess the projects along two strands — the design of the game (playability, choices around challenges and tools, flow of the game, etc.) and story (consistency of narrative, the reader is a player in a story, proofreading/editing, etc.)

Overall, I was impressed by how they were able to juggle the Hero’s Journey framework of story with the design of video games inside Gamestar Mechanic. And all of my students were highly engaged in this project, from start to finish.

And as always, we did a lot of writing beyond the game design itself. I made this a few years back for a presentation and most of these writing assignments are still central to this particular project.

Writing Activities in Video Game Design unit (update 2017)

Peace (leveling up),

Slice of Life: Wandering Around Inside Student Video Game Projects

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

We’re nearing the finishing line of our Hero’s Journey Video Game Design project, in which my sixth graders have been working to create video games that represent story. As usual, their focus remains on design and building the game as I repeatedly force them to consider and work on the story aspect of the project. Somehow, they both balance out, mostly, by the time we reach the finishing line (this week, before break).

I shared out the following video yesterday, showing my own play inside some of the games that students have been designing, as a sort of video game design mentor text. I chose games that were made by writer/designers that effectively used the message areas to set a story into motion that the player/reader plays/reads. (I used a filter in Animoto to catch their attention with my video excursions).

Today, we will do some peer reviewing/feedback of games and then by tomorrow, most if not all games should be done and published inside the Gamestar Mechanic community for players around the world to engage with.

Peace (phew),

Video Game Design: Storyboarding a Game Concept

Video Game Design Storyboards

We are in the midst of our Video Game Design project and every day, after a mini-lesson on design, I repeat the mantra: Your game is a story; your story is in the form of a game.

The storyboarding aspect of the project helps ground students into this idea, and allows me to have some individual discussions about how they can envision the player of their video games as readers of their stories (or how reading their story unfolds through the playing of the game).

At this point, all of my sixth graders are hard at work on their video game projects inside Gamestar Mechanic, and having a blast with this non-traditional way of telling digital stories with design, game mechanics, and text.

Peace (inside the game),

Doodling: Creatures of Zoom

Creatures of Zoom

I was stuck in a little room in our school for a long stretch of time for Zoom meetings and began to doodle as I was listening. I left this in the room for the next teacher to find, and maybe get a chuckle, or perhaps, add a few creatures.

Peace (off the screen),

Slice of Life: Poetry, Code and Creativity

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

This week, I will set aside some time for my students to explore Hour of Code, connecting the creative play there with the work we are doing around storytelling and video game design.

Each year, I keep an eye on any new activities in the Hour of Code. This year, the newly added activity is all about poetry and art and design, and that connection between exploring verse and basic programming makes me happy to see.

The Poem Art activity — introduced via video by a high school poet and programmer — allows students to explore animation and text manipulation, as well as design and music and mood. There are options for using provided poems (such as Jabberwocky), but also a place to write your own poem and use your own words.


I tried it out by writing a poem — Watch the Idea Dance — and thought it worked just fine.

Hour of Code Poetry

Take a peek at my poem.

Then, maybe make your own.Peace

I’ll be bringing this, along with some other activities, to my sixth graders tomorrow.

Peace (coded for the world),

Slice of Life: Gearing Up for Video Game Design

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

The weeks after Thanksgiving are often the time when I introduce a unit around “non-traditional writing” where my sixth graders explore Interactive Fiction texts and writing (just wrapping up) and move into Video Game Design with Gamestar Mechanic.

Librarian's Quest: Let The Gaming Begin!

Alas, Gamestar pulled the plug on its online site due to the end of Flash software in browsers but, phew, launched a stand-alone app for Macs and PCs (but not Chromebooks) that remains a robust place for learning about game design and an opportunity for young people to tell stories through design principles.

Today, I am going to walk my students through the various steps of accessing the app on their school Mac laptops, launching the app, registering an account within my special classroom space in Gamestar, and begin exploring the site before I start to introduce the “story” they will be “writing” as a video game project.

Gamestar Mechanic - Educational Game Review

This particular cohort of kids is tricky. They get antsy. They focus on other things. They jump ahead. I’m going to remind myself to be patient today as I work to get 60-ish sixth graders up and running, and playing games.

Wish me luck.


Peace (playing it forward),

Slice of Life: Let’s Not Go There

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

I teach in a fairly conservative town in the midst of a very progressive part of Massachusetts. Sometimes, that tension becomes visible. Like yesterday …

My sixth graders are working on Interactive Fiction stories and one student, louder than they needed to sound, asked if it was OK if one of the characters in their stories shouts out: Let’s Go, Brandon. (If you don’t know what that is, you need to look it up).

To which I not only shook my head in an exasperated “no,” but then launched into a response about how I know exactly what they are trying to do by asking the question, and no, that would not be allowable in their story. (Although part me wonders about free speech and all that …)

Later, as we were walking from our class to the next, outside for fresh air, this same student shouted that phrase out loud.


I took them aside, and now went into my full speech about respecting the presidency, whomever is in office and whatever your political views, and I reminded them of how I served in the military myself and I believe in level of respect and expect them to, as well, and we left it at that.

I know they are using the term because it seems furtive and a way to get a reaction out of friends, and probably, it’s something they are hearing at home from either family or the conservative news channels that the family is watching, or it’s something they are seeing on YouTube or other social media, or perhaps it’s some mix of all those things.

It’s another reminder how words matter, and how the level of discourse in our country has reached yet another low point, and how sad that is that echoes of it has come into our sixth grade classrooms.

Peace (respectfully),

Visualizing a Relationship with Technology (The Internet Mapping Project)

Internet Mapping Oct2021Each year, we begin a unit called Digital Lives, I have my students take part in Kevin Kelly’s old Internet Mapping Project, with the prompt: visualize yourself in relation to technology (devices, Internet, etc.). I am always intrigued and amazed at how inventive my sixth graders are, and how these drawings spark some very interesting discussions in class about technology and our lives.

Peace (drawing it out),


#WriteOut Park Ranger Writing Prompts Map

Ranger Writing Prompts for Write Out

If you missed any of the National Park Ranger prompts from Write Out this year, or last, I have gathered most of them together onto a Padlet Map. I like the visual, showing links across the country to the various National Park sites where rangers have participated. We used quite a few in my sixth grade classroom to spark inquiry and writing.

Check it out

Made with Padlet

And remember, all resources with Write Out remain available, even though the official two weeks are now over. It’s always a good time to write out.

Peace (on the map),

WriteOut: Making Tree Maps

For one of our last activities for Write Out, I took my sixth grade students outside the school building for a long walk around the perimeter of the property. Notebooks in hand, their task was simple: count the trees by making a tree map of the school property. We first watched the video (above) to explore the effort that had gone in to trying to tally how many trees are in the world (and to look at the very cool mapping project).

We counted about 40 trees on the main property of our school (not including the trees lines of the property border) and in doing so, my students really “noticed” the trees for the first time, asking about the varieties of trees, and why one stretch of seven trees was planted in a single file, and why did the Weeping Cherry appear like a bush, and I explained how a group of students planted some of the trees on the playground years ago to create shade for future students (now, there is shady areas, which the current students enjoy).

We also watched this Park Ranger video from last year, about trees and roots and Sequoias:

The Tree Map activity was pretty simple — the video of the world’s trees sparked high interest in what was right outside our window, and any opportunity to go for a writing walk on a beautiful New England Autumn day is always worth it.

Peace (planted),