The Role of Games and Stories in Motivating Students


Motivating students has never been an easy task. It requires the use of correct techniques and putting forth of effort in order to achieve a given set of goals. It is extremely challenging for an instructor to teach students who are less motivated and disinterested in the learning activity. Both games and stories have been earmarked as highly effective ways of motivating students. Effective use of the two eliminates distraction that hinders concentration and students’ participation. Once the elements that divert student attention are dealt with, there is a high chance that improvement in performance can occur (Haris, 2010). An Instructor can cultivate students’ interest by use of stories while explaining some concepts. On the other hand, games can be employed to incorporate students in the learning process, which in turn boost their motivation (Miller, 2008). Research indicates that stories are equally relevant in teaching technical subjects contrary to popular belief. Both games and stories help in fostering student self-esteem as well as improving their communication skills. However, not all stories and games are relevant for all ages and genders. Therefore, it is important for the teacher to understand the group he or she is dealing with before employing either strategy. Otherwise, wrong use of the two will reap adverse responses.

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Teaching is a noble profession that entails instilling knowledge and skills to the students. This is only possible when students are attentive and motivated to learn. However, many a time teachers and instructors have taught a classroom with students who lacked motivation. It is evident that during such incidences, learning is extremely challenging and difficult. The main objective of this article is to clearly illustrate the role of games and stories in motivating students.

Moreover, the article strives to illustrate how well a teacher can use both games and stories to cultivated student attention as well as involving other senses in the learning process. Effective adoption of this method not only enhances understanding but it also makes the entire learning process much easier and fun too.

Effects of Games and Stories in Learning Process

Young children are enticed by games as their developing minds enjoy repeating a single activity. Video games have a powerful way of capturing the attention of young students. These games encourage young minds to solve difficult problems because they cherish hard fought victory. Thus, video games grab students’ attention much more than math does despite the fact that both entail problem solving. As for the video games, a player solves problems with the intention of gaining self-satisfaction. However, students in a math classroom may not bother to solve math problems on their own and hence rely on their teachers’ assistance.

To many students, mathematics is perceived as unenjoyable task that toils the brain thus inhibiting stimuli to solve the problems. Thus, a teacher or instructor should incorporate games in a math class to revitalize the learning process. It will enhance student participation and boost students’ morale. The educational games in question can be devised either by students or by teachers (Miller, 2008). Since students put much value to games, incorporation of such games in the learning process significantly increases the degree of motivation (Brophy, 2010).

Similarly, Miller (2008) advances that students who work collaboratively in devising a game are actively involved in learning and master the essence of teamwork. Allowing student participation in designing games stimulates their mind as their scope of perception is increased, thus preparing them to absorb the concept taught in class. Moreover, such collaborative endeavors allow students to actively engage in group work, thereby creating appreciation and bonding team spirit (Brophy, 2010). Miller (2008) concludes that learning games can increase student achievement.

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According to Miller (2008), it is not uncommon for older adults to vividly recall tales they were taught when they were children. This implies that stories augment the mind’s retention capacity. As discussed by Bruer (2002), capacity to retain what is learnt is dependent on how it was learnt. Therefore, when stories are incorporated in teaching, students’ minds are kept attentive and therefore increase their absorption rate. Libby (2003) denotes that narrating or reading stories to students in the course of learning leads to generation of interest and eliciting of emotion in students. Apart from drawing attention, stories with dilemmas encourage students to devise ways to solve their predicaments if they were to find themselves in a similar situation.

According to Libby (2003), stories are effective ingredients in stimulating students’ mental participation as a way solving real life problems. A neuroscience discovery showed that the human brain obtains and retains information with much ease using stories (Libby, 2003). Apart from cultivating attention, stories enable students to effectively apply the knowledge acquired in the classroom in real life situations. Israel (2009) postulates that stories enable students to acquire critical thinking skills and enhance rapport between instructors and students

Many teachers have found themselves in a problem of designing games relevant for classroom instruction thus entirely avoiding them as teaching aids. Miller (2008) illustrates that persistent teachers have found developing teaching games easy to develop and their efforts are paid with improved grades. In addition, these games have been cited as sources of motivation as the students are actively involved in either designing or solving the problem presented. Teachers should be innovative enough to make use of relevant stories in the course of instruction in order to enhance students’ concentration.

Kelner (1993) discloses that different students have different ways of understanding concepts, thus a teacher should diversify his or her scope to accommodate all students. Kelner (1993) further asserts that students respond differently to various teaching aids. It is the role of teachers to use the most appropriate learning style to pass the content on to students. Crowston, Sieber and Wynn (2007) conducted a survey to identify what motivates students most. Sixty-eight percent of the students interviewed chose computer games of which 61 per cent thought learning would be fun. Other students responded in favor of hearing stories. From these observations, it is clear that teachers who fail to use either games or stories deprive their students of a vital learning component. For instance, when teaching math to lower primary students, use of flash cards may help the pupils conceptualize the relations better.

Overview of Student Motivation

One of the greatest challenges encountered by teachers is that of unmotivated students. Attempting to teach and encourage unmotivated students can be an extremely challenging task, which may eventually affect the instructor’s own motivation. Israel (2009) argues that this predicament can only be solved by understanding what students like most and modifying it to suit the learning environment. Israel (2009) further contends that both students and kids love to be entertained, but at the same time enjoy being creative. The inherent desire of kids to be entertained and creativity should be enhanced to develop a conducive and all involving learning environment.

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A simple game such as an icebreaker game can contribute to motivating and maintaining the attention of students. The secret behind motivating students and encouraging them to take part in the learning process is to determine their dislikes, likes, interests and hobbies (Miller 2008). The activities that interest students can then be incorporated into the learning process to make it more interesting and fun (Miller, 2008).

One way of stimulating inner motivation and the desire to learn is through connecting with students. Once the instructor descerns the interests of his or her students it becomes easier to develop a learning method that would best fit them. A survey conducted on the interests of students in Grades 1-12 and several other studies indicated that differentiation of interests depends on the students’ age and gender (Crowston et al, 2007). Crowston et al (2007) further assert that younger students prefer repetitive activities, such as story telling whereas older students prefer engaging their brains, which makes games a better motivational factor. On the other hand, boys are more agile and innovative in nature and prefer learning through demonstration and practice; hence, games provide the mental challenge they badly need. Conversely, girls are stimulated by passive activities such as stories.

Younger students prefer to engage in large or small group activities, as opposed to older students who prefer independent work Understanding the kind of student one is dealing with helps to choose the most appropriate motivational resources available. It was, however, revealed that students of all ages tend to have an interest in stories and other materials that deal with people. In addition, participatory learning has been cited to apply to all age brackets and across the gender divide. Israel (2009) denotes that participatory learning invokes multisensory involvement, which in turn enhances understanding and retention capacity. To motivate students, effort would be channeled in enhacing participation rather than passive speaking and listening.

Use of Games to Motivate Students

O’Neil and Perez (2006) highlight three components that make games a thrilling motivational factor, namely its repetitive nature, explorative learning and goals. Alll the three aspects are vital elements in any learning facility since they appeal to brains to indulge in aggressive development of the solution. O’Neil and Perez (2006) further affirm that games provide ‘what if’ scenarios where the player faces various alternatives and challenges. Failure to finish the game through one criterion allows one to try the other one. The trial and error approach helps students to learn from past mistakes as well as generating alternatives in solving academic problems. Games help students to exploit multiple opportunities in academic work just as it applies in games. Just as these games provide multiple alternatives to solve the problem, they also present numerous options to fail.

Similarly, games help both students and teachers to be more innovative in designing strategies for solving a particular problem. O’Neil and Perez (2006) reveal that games invoke cognitive processes invokes cognitive process such as artistic, problem solving, rationale and decision-making. As a student engages his mind often to the above processes, he or she becomes well-rounded in all spheres of life and sharper in solving academic challenges. However, teachers should strive to design games that are more relevant to a learning atmosphere to indulge students in academic frontier.

A survey of one thousand teachers carried out in the United Kingdom indicated that almost a third of the teachers utilized computer games as a motivational tool. Those teachers believed that such games played the role of improving knowledge and skills in students. Teachers are urged to incorporate computer games during math instruction (Gibson et al, 2007). Effective incorporation of games in giving instruction has helped students to love working with new facilities as well as increasing they desire to learn more. Moreover, this has made it easier for students to appreciate technology even at tender age.

Computer games have also been proved to influence student career choice. According to a research that was done by Crowston et al (2007), reveal that most girls who were introduced to computer games were interested in computer science careers. A One section of girls was interested in creating games in addition the engaging in computer-based lessons. On the same note, it was revealed that half of the students who were exposed to computer games recorded improvements in their math performance. This meant that computer games help towards understanding of arithmetic problems. Moreover, such games simulate real life thus enhances application of the lessons in real-life situations. Further observation showed that students who are occasionally used to facing challenges perform better academically.

Games can be utilized as an effective tool when teaching grammar. Games are an effective tool in teaching speech but they can also come in handy when teaching people rules of grammar. They should be utilized as one of the most valuable communicative activities. Grammar games enable students to attain knowledge as well as apply that knowledge in the learning process. They foster the art and skill of thinking critically and creatively. Additionally, grammar games enable students to memorize vocabulary, structures and grammar in an extensive manner. This is possible through continual recitation of the target vocabulary. Moreover, this is contributed by the fact that students are usually more motivated to play games compared to tackling class work. In the course of playing a game, students remain interested in the activity and eventually assimilate grammar in a subconscious mind (Tsai, 2007). Taylor et al, 1994) suggest that games like Bingo and Checkers can be customized to enhance word retention as well as making it interesting to the young minds.

According to Gibson et al (2007), games provide students with an opportunity to multitask. The ability of a student to engage in several activities enhances alertness and mind’s ability to prioritize while giving substantial attention to each. They further noted that games provide an opportunity through which learners are actively involved and motivated. Games not only foster creativity but they also enhance communication skills and problem-solving skills. Intrinsic motivation fosters healthy competitiveness in academics and evoking the spirit of teamwork. Kelner (1993) suggest that through gaming students’ nurture their self-esteem, which helps them to develop self-belief and motivate them to perform better. Besides, games have been cited as one of the most intriguing factors for developing communication and good interpersonal relationships.

Some games are designed in a way that the moves are from simple to problems that are more complex. For example, typing lessons are designed in the form of levels. One starts with an easy level; the level of difficult increases as one proceeds up the levels. Once the student conquers the first level more interest and determination grows to propel them to the next level. The determination to succeed in an advanced level promotes self-confidence and desire to learn more. Once a student develops such confidence, he or she becomes resolute to solve all academic challenges that they encounter. Taylor et al (1994) assert games help students to confront a problem without asking for any help from the teacher. The inherent courage that is developed helps the student to remain focused on his or her studies.

According to Gibson et al (2007), computer games support teamwork, provide motivation and enable students to develop cognitive potential. Students utilize their intellect in attempting to solve complicated issues and problems within the computer games. For instance, when playing a game involving puzzles, students have to use their intellect or general understanding of issues to solve the puzzles. In spy games, pupils or students have to consider various possible solutions in order to come up with the best solution or answer to the problem in question. The initial interactive media that combine audio and video components are video games. Such games allow students to take part in the problem-solving process, compete with other students and enjoy the adventure. Multiplayer computer games give instructors a chance to observe on how students work together as a team in an attempt to solve complex problems.

Use of Stories to Motivate Students

Teachers often use stories in breaking monotony, especially before teaching a new concept. The effectiveness of stories to assist in learning has never been challenged particularly in attracting attention of students. Tutors use stories to allow student participation in class and in the learning environment. Stories are also known to simplify understanding of a complex situation. O’Neill and Perez (2006) argue that stories help teachers and instructors place students in a particular situation. Such mental voyages allow students to expand their reasoning scopes as well as improving their decision-making skills.

Recent research studies have shown that is more convincing than facts, rational arguments or statistics. Libby (2003) gives an outline of the results obtained in a study conducted to examine the power of a story in MBA students. Libby categorized her statistically aligned group of students into three categories. The first category was given statistics linked to the possible excellence of a novel winery. The second category was given statistics as well as a story while the third category given was solely a story. The final sentence of the story was “And my father would be so content to toss this wine.” Many students in the third category thought that the winery would be a success while students in the other two categories had numerous skeptics.

Although most people in academia assume that stories are applicable to the arts, Hauscarriague (2008) demonstrated stories are equally effective in teaching mathematics. Telling stories from a philosophical approach arouses students’ ability to synthesis the problem before embarking on solving it. Hauscarriague (2008) contends that stories make mathematical problems more real. Consequently, students are able to identify with the problem and develop a desire to solve such problems. Once the student is able to relate a math problem to a day-to-day life his mind convinces him or her that a solution to the problem exists. Therefore, stories play a huge psychological role in helping students to think beyond their immediate experience. It is therefore clear that intriguing of students’ interest is possible when using stories when teaching various subject including social studies, science, math and many other subjects within the learning curricular (Brophy, 2010).

Apart from helping a student to overcome the fear associated with mathematics, stories strengthen the teacher- student relationship. Hauscarriague (2006) highlights that stories makes a teacher human with feelings and other attributes. When the intimacy between the student and teacher is enhanced, students are motivated to participate in class. In addition, bonding student teacher relationship helps some students who think, “Teacher views them as numbers” rather than human beings (Brophy, 2010). Thus, it becomes possible for students to connect with teachers and to freely share their infirmities. When a good rapport is developed, students feel comfortable to express themselves before their fellow colleagues and teachers.

Israel (2009) suggests that stories work best for children who live in surroundings where things do not change much. She further illuminates that a child’s mind is more adept to absorbing interesting ideas, intertwining concepts in a story increases their absorption rate rather than just giving plain facts. She further reveals that story telling encourages multisensory participation makes learning an engaging affair that cultivate reading and writing skills for the young children. During storytelling, students tend to have a clear picture in their minds of narrated stories. This provides a medium through which they can make inquiries and connect with their teachers. Enjoyment and fun is enhanced by the use of stories and a teacher is able to grab students’ attention from the beginning to the end of a learning activity. At the end of a story, a teacher may ask students to write in their journals the key concepts and lessons drawn from a given story. This creates intrinsic motivation in addition to improving writing and reading skills among students (Harris, 2010).


Although games and stories have been used to motivate students, they need to be used judiciously. Keen interest should be ensured while dealing with young kids. Terrifying stories will instill fear in students rather than motivating them. The table below shows some possible optimal games and stories as per age group.

Learning games and Stories

Age Group Type of Games Type of Stories
Baby Class Sorting and grouping (color, shape, size)
Matching objects (Group A and Group B, etc)
Coloring objects
Animal stories
Nursery/ Pre-Unit Counting games e.g. count as you do activity
Twisting body to write numbers
Matching objects with respective value
Construction games (building blocks)
Role play
Tongue twisters
Fairy Tales
Lower Primary Typing adventure
Math lines
Math charts
Word puzzles
Flash cards
Short vowels and lesson games
Coloring mix songs
Trickster stories
Primary school level games Skater math
Card Games
Action Games
Spy games
Pyramid Puzzler
Mosaic and collage
Sequence series games
Stories with moral lessons
Mystery stories

Hauscarriague (2008) gives an illustration of a teacher who used a story that led to a student to flee from the class. Thus, it is of great importance to consider and understand the student before using any story to avoid negative impact. Moreover, the teacher should have good communication skills to be able to motivate students. Similarly, some games are not effective in stimulating students mind and therefore they should not be used as learning aids. Finally, different games are effective for a particular learning grade. An incorrect or inappropriate choice of games would have a negative impact.


Various teaching strategies and methods, employed by instructors, play a critical role in contributing to students’ motivation. Computer games have been used effectively in improving arithmetic performances as well as enhancing team spirit. In addition, other games have been used in learning grammar as they facilitate words formation and retention. Similarly, stories have been proven as vital ingredients in fostering kids learning as well as cultivating interest among older students. Teachers and instructors have been able to motivate their students a great deal through games and stories. As discussed above, both games and stories are vital in developing good rapport between students and teachers. Once rapport is attained, students are more willing to participate and share their learning joys and difficulties with fellow students and teachers. However, restraint should be practiced in choosing stories and games to use in class.

Reference List

Brophy, J. R. (2010). Motivating Students to Learn. 3rd ed. New York: Routledge.

Bruer, J. T. (2002). The Myth of the First Three Years: A New Understanding of Early Brain Development and Lifelong Learning. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster.

Crowston, K. Sieber, S. & Wynn, E. (2007).Virtuality and Virtualization. New York, N Y: Springer.

Gibson, D. Aldrich, C. & Prensky, M. (2007). Games and Simulations in Online Learning. Research and Development Frameworks. New Jersey, NJ: IDEA Group Inc (IGI).

Hauscarriague, A. (2008). Teaching Mathematics through Stories in High School and Community College. Cambridge: ProQuest.

Israel, S. E. (2009). Breakthrough in Literacy: Teacher Success Stories and Strategies, Grades K-8.Wasington, DC: Wiley Publisher.

Kelner, L. B. (1993). The Creative Classroom: A Guide for Using Creative Drama in the Classroom, PreK-6. Michigan, MA: Heinnemann.

Libby, W. M. (2003). Using Stories to Make Art; Creative Activities Using Children’s Literature. New York, NY: Cengage Learning.

Miller, T. C. (2008). Games; Purpose and Potential in Education. New York, NY. Springer.

O’Neil, H. F. & Perez, R. S. (2006). Web-based Learning: Theory, Research, and Practice. New Jersey, NJ: Routledge Publishers.

Tsai, J. (2007). Team Teaching And Teacher’s Professional Learning: Case Studies Of Collaboration Between Foreign And Taiwanese English Teachers In Taiwanese Elementary Schools. Cambridge: ProQuest Press.

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