Video Game Teaching Guides

Imagine using this to inspire creative writing, explore science or create an experiential understanding of history?

For many years, I was a video game producer and I always had this feeling that commercial video games, the ones kids played for hours on their Xboxes, PS3’s and Wii’s, could serve as powerful learning tools in the classroom. There were plenty of “educational” games out there and they were fine up to a point (either second grade or until a kid had a real game controller thrust into their hand), after which, most educational titles became about as exciting as watching animated bunnies hop around a magical forest discovering letters and numbers under every rock. Kids loved mainstream games because they were exciting, challenging, engaging, pushed them to the limit of their abilities and, most importantly, they were fun (all of the things educational games tended not to be with the possible exception of Oregon Trail which was some weird anomaly).

So I wrote a course as the thesis for my Masters in Education Technology called Using Video Games as Learning Tools and have had the pleasure of teaching it as part of National University’s excellent MS Educational and Instructional Technologies program for the last six years. The final project for the course is a teaching guide for a commercial entertainment video game (they play lots of games during the course – who said grad school was boring?). These guides are exceptional lesson plans and I wanted to make the best of the best available to other teachers to help them discover the incredible learning power of video games. Now, I know it’s not easy to convince most administrators and parents to let teachers use Madden, Age of Mythology or Spore in class, so these guides are designed to address specific state standards while providing a deep, experiential understanding of the topic at hand. Kinda hard to argue against something that addresses the standards and increases student excitement, engagement and motivation at the same time.

Teaching Guides

All of these guides were created by working teachers as part of their MS in Education and Instructional Technology at National University. The format is consistent for all, but the emphasis and detail varies from guide to guide. It is important to remember that while they were each created for a specific grade and subject, the guides are easily adapted for other grades, disciplines and gaming platforms.

Feel free to use the guides anyway you feel appropriate – tweak them, combine them, revise them or change them completely. Please just post your experiences and add any new material you create, so there is a constantly evolving and improving repository of lessons that teachers can use to help wake those damn kids up!!

Note: There are more where these came from, so check back often.

Title: Experience the Trials and Triumphs of Early American History with Empire: Total War
Joshua Redin
Game: Empire: Total War
Platform: PC/Mac
Subject: American History
Grade: 5th
Description: Prepare to see your 5th grade students excited about history in a way that you’ve never seen before. This teaching guide uses Empire: Total War to teach the exploration and colonization of the New World in the 17th century. Early American people, places, and things will come to life as students use Empire: Total War to step into history.

Title: Using Spore Hero to Demonstrate Evolutionary Structures and Function of Organisms for 7th Grade Biology
Erik Frey
Spore Hero
Platform: Wii
Subject: Biology
Grade: 7th
Description: In the past, teachers have used different methods for sparking creativity among students by having them design their own creatures. This is usually done with paper or clay, then they describe what abilities the creature would have. Spore Hero provides an engaging, creative method for students to experiment with their imagination and compare their creations to those that exist (or have existed) in the real world.

Title: Environmental Explorations in Simulations for 10th Grade Economics & Environmental Studies
Stephani Johns-Hines
Game: SimCity Creator
Platform: Wii
Subject: Economics & Environmental Studies
Grade: 10th
Description: The virtual environment in SimCity Creator is a space where change and consequences are transparent and apparent. SimCity Creator is used in this guide as an educational eco-training ground and to foster the perspective that one person can solve big problems.

Title: Social Capitalism and Labor in Final Fantasy XI
Author: Jay Devin Smithen
Game: Final Fantasy XI
Platform: Xbox, PS3, PC
Subject: Economics
Grade: 12th
Description: The lessons in this guide lead students to participate in a virtual, social economy, which is based upon the collective efforts of student participants. Final Fantasy XI fosters a cooperative, safe environment, where learners are free to experiment without real-world consequences. The lessons engage students on multiple cognitive levels and extended domains, while meeting the appropriate CA State Teaching Standards.

Title: Using Call of Duty: Black Ops to Provide Experiential Understanding of US and World History for High School Seniors
Sam Pabon
Call of Duty: Black Ops
Platform: Xbox, PS3
Subject: American & World History
Grade: 12th
Author’s Blog:
Description: How do we help students develop an active interest in modern, post World War II, United States History?  How do we encourage students to develop a healthy curiosity for the complex political considerations that accompany decisions by elected officials to choose military action over diplomacy?  How do we get students to stop playing video games, and start hitting the books? Educators need to use tools that students already are using on their own like the video game Call of Duty: Black Ops.

Title: Understanding Civilization through Conquering One – Using Settlers 7 for 3rd Grade Social Studies 
Author: Mark Wright
Settlers 7: Paths to a Kingdom
Platform: PC/Mac

Subject: Social Studies
Grade: 3rd
Author’s Blog:

Description: This Guide will help you engage your third grade students in a world outside their classroom in a way they never before.  Trying to teach them about the interdependence of nations and communities can be a challenge if they have never left their own neighborhoods.  Trying to explain the consequences of government investment in science, trade, and the military can be difficult if they don’t even have enough money to buy lunch.

Title: Assassin’s Creed II: A Virtual Tour to the Italian Renaissance for 7th Graders 
Pilar Khder
Game: Assassin’s Creed II

Platform: PC, Mac, Xbox, PS3, Wii
Subject: European History
Grade: 7th
Description: This teacher’s guide will provide exciting activities where your 7th graders will have opportunities to investigate the origins and accomplishments of the Renaissance. At the same time, through these materials, you will be able to integrate other important program skills such as analysis, chronological and spatial thinking, evidence, point of view and historical interpretations.

Title: American Conquest: A 5th Grade Social Studies Exploration
American Conquest: Three Centuries of War
Platform: PC/Mac
Subject: Social Studies
Grade: 5th
Description: This guide is designed to allow teachers to successfully incorporate American Conquest into their curriculum as both a motivational tool and a curricular support. Students will experience firsthand the struggles to build and supply a standing army, along with developing alliances and devising military strategy.

Title:  Los Sims: Bringing Spanish to Life with Simulation
Charla Wilson
Game: The Sims
Platform: Xbox 360/PS3/PC/Mac

Subject: Spanish
Grade: 10th
Description: In order to create an interactive experience for language learners, using a simulation game will truly bring Spanish to life.  Teachers are continually challenged by making content comprehensible to students and creating an authentic experience for language learning within the constraints of a classroom.  The incorporation of video games will allow the teacher to use video games as realia (real things from the real world) for teaching and learning. 

Title: Elements of New World History, Exploration, Discovery and Real-Time Strategy for 7th Grade History Students
Author: Kathy Tollman
Game: Age of Empires III
Platform: PC/Mac
Subject: New World History and Expansion
Grade: 7th
Description: Using Age of Empires III in the classroom will provide your students an entertaining and educational supplement to the 7th Grade History lesson curriculum, while providing an opportunity for students to experience life as it may have been during the age of exploration and conquering of the Americas.  The game encourages experiential learning through doing and provides lessons that are student driven and student-centered allowing strong connections to be made between game play and classroom learning.

Title: Using Sentinel: Descendants in Time to Enhance the 7th Grade Writing and Language Arts Curriculum
Author: Eric Allen
Sentinel: Descendants in Time
Platform: PC/Mac
Subject: Creative Writing/Language Arts
Grade: 7th
Description: This guide is an attempt to be a one-stop-shop for other teachers who are ready to experiment with video games as a way of enhancing their writing curriculums.  It takes as its catalyst the game Sentinel: Descendents in Time and uses it to spark the imagination.

Title: Spore Hero for Life Science
Godofredo Ginex-Orinion
Spore Hero
Platform: Wii
Subject: Biology
Grade: 7th
Description: What if I told you there was a new and innovative way to teach evolution that gets your students to successfully understand adaptation due to environmental factors? Imagine teaching this unit by giving the students the opportunity to understand what it would be like to be able to create their own life form, then customize and modify its body parts to best suit its needs and survival.

Title:  A Rollercoaster Adventure for 3rd Grade Math
Alicia Young
Game: Roller Coaster Tycoon 2
Platform: PC/Mac
Subject: Math
Grade: 3rd
Description: This guide incorporates the exciting area of video games with effective classroom experiences using the popular video game Roller Coaster Tycoon 2. Your third grade students will enjoy using the game to learn and reinforce third grade math standards, specifically solving multiplication word problems and working with area and perimeter.  The guide includes two comprehensive lessons and multiple extension activities.

Title: Dance Dance Revolution Does a Body Good: Using DDR for Strength and Conditioning
Author: Cora Mann
Game: Dance Dance Revolution
Platform: Xbox 360/PS3
Subject: Wellness
Grade: 9th – 12th
Description: Dance Dance Revolution™ has created a fun and healthy way for students to become more active and realize the benefits of physical activity. DDR delivers a healthy workout to students of all ability levels and is an excellent addition to any physical education class letting students exercise at their own pace while having fun playing a video game. 

Title:  Learning Investigation and Experimentation as applied to Mathematical Reasoning in the 5th Grade
Joshua Striker
Game: Tropico – Mucho Macho Edition

Platform: PC/Mac
Subject: Math
Grade: 5th
Description: By merging the exciting and challenging game of Tropico with the concepts of 5th grade level Science and Mathematics, your students will find themselves immersed into a world of discovery and knowledge. This guide will endeavor to target the specific scientific concepts of Investigation and Experimentation as well as Mathematical Reasoning by placing your students into the role of an island dictator. 

18 Responses to Video Game Teaching Guides

  1. Richard Gerstin says:

    Have you done much work with video games to teach math? If so, please share with me your thoughts.

    • Ted Henning says:


      I have several video game guides that I still need to post that are similar to those posted but already, but focus on Math . I’ll try to get them up in the next few days and look forward to your reaction to them. What grade level are you looking for?


      • Tina Denton says:

        Please post as many…or all you have! These are all GREAT!


      • Ted,
        I received your post today and am very excited to see what you will be posting. I am also very interested in video game guides for mathematics. As a teacher of mathematics at the high school level, the one thing I feel I am fighting the most with my students is ambivalence to coursework. I really want to make the leap into game based learning, but I have no way of developing my own games to support this. The idea of creating “video game guides” that support the learning of mathematics through the use of games that are already established, is a welcome one! While I can’t create the video games, I believe I can create and/or implement a video game guide. I am also interested in applying this guide in a game based learning LMS system.

  2. Anna-Marie Robertson says:

    I am also searching for Game Based Learning for Math. I am a High School Algebra teacher who also teaches the much needed (wish it wasn’t) Foundation Skills Math class.
    I would be very interested in seeing your post. I have been charged with creating a Quest-Based course for Algebra or Foundation Skills Math. I am enrolled in the new 3D Game Lab located at: and I could use all of the expertise and inspiration I can find. Thanks.

  3. Urko M. says:

    It would be great if these guides could be more targeted towards the games in this list:
    After all, schools and teachers often have to work with very tight budgets, and justifying a game license is even harder sometimes than a license for some other software…

    Just a suggestion. Great resources! 🙂

    • Ted Henning says:

      Hey Urko,

      These teaching guides are the final projects for a course I teach on incorporating entertainment video games into a standards-based curriculum and the teachers who create them choose the game to work on themselves. Fortunately, most games can be borrowed or bought used realtively cheaply these days, but I know $$ is always a factor. The list you provided is a great resource and I’ll include it in the course and encourage teachers to review it before deciding which game to use. Along the same lines, I’m encouraging everyone to use common core standards when desigining their guides instead of those from their individual states as this will make the guides relevant to a much broader audience.


      • urkom says:

        I see it as more than money issues. If I see a guide here that I would like to apply, first I should check out the game, to see how it actually fits with the guide, and how it provides useful experiences to the player/student.
        If the game is just a couple of clicks away, as is the case with many of the games in the list above, any teacher, any student, anybody can do that right away.
        And there is no licensing headaches further down the road, if there is interest in scaling up the usage of the game+guide across the school or district. I can tell you that the Accounting and IT Departments will enjoy anything that means less worries and workload for them.
        Some really good ones among that list that have potential (looking at the guides you have above) would be FreeCiv, FreeCol, Widelands, 0 A.D., OpenTTD, Vega Strike, Oolite, StepMania, Spring:1944, Battle for Wesnoth, and the Battle Isle clones.
        Aaaanyway, I’ll stop spamming now 🙂

  4. Ted Henning says:

    You make a really good point. The easier things are for the teachers, the more likely they are to use the games. I need to spend some time checking out the games in your link. Do they provide rich playing exerpiences ie, multiple levels, storylines, great graphics, etc.?

    • urkom says:

      Unfortunately, deep and rich storylines are not frequent in open-source games, where First-Person Shooters are the richest genre.
      Some of the specific options I would consider, looking at the current guides here:
      StepMania is more than a competent contender with DDR.
      And LinCity-NG is a worthwhile alternative to SimCity, as FreeCiv is a worthwhile alternative to Civilization.
      Widelands is plenty of fun to play, and resembles very closely Settlers.
      OpenTTD is another “tycoon” style game that can be considered for math, or even some higher level courses in business studies. Simutrans is also very good.

      This article, though the language is a bit NSFW at times, shows plenty of screenshots and a very complete list of games worth checking out:

      Many of these games have placed a lot of emphasis in building content creation tools. A teacher (or group of teachers) could create custom maps in a strategy game that reproduce historical scenarios, for example. Perhaps even better, the creation of content could become a project for the students themselves.

  5. SamPotasz says:

    This is awesome! It’s incredible to see so many educators so fired up about teaching with games. With regards to easy to set up games, I’d advise you to check out the world of Flash-based games. Especially those we have available for free on GameUp at BrainPop 😉

    Some great elementary to middle school math games are from the Lure of the Labyrinth:,, and and Battleship Numberline:

    And for science, there’s Food Fight, which I worked on!

    • Ted Henning says:

      These guides were designed in a course that focuses on using entertainment video games as learning tools. When the course was first conceived, the selection of suitable games online was slim to none, but since then, some great games have come online. One of the most important aspects about using entertainment games, other than rich gameplay, is the depth of story theyhave and that is still hard to match with online entertainment games, but they’re getting there.


      • SamPotasz says:

        Thanks for the reply, Ted, and interesting point. But I think I’d always choose excellent gameplay over excellent story! And the low technical threshold for online games makes it easier for them to focus on matching gameplay to learning goal. For some excellent work here, be sure to check out Preloaded:

  6. Ted Henning says:

    There are definitely advanatages to online games like those from Preloaded, but graphically, these tend to skew a little younger than console games. Great gameplay is vital no matter what the game is, but story high-end graphics are extremely important in order to create a truly immersive experience. The teaching guides posted here try to provide a deeper learning experience by giving experiential understanding to a topic. For example, using Call of Duty to show what it was like to be a grunt in Vietnam, Assassin’s Creed to explore the streets of ancient Venice or Age of Mythology to engage with mythological creatures. In addition to this “content” learning, these games provide a greater understanding of the systems involved in each of these worlds – how geography, religion, economics, politics, diplomacy and a host of other factors all contribute to how and why things are what they are in the real world. It would be challenging to replicate this depth and richness in many online games.


  7. Pingback: Video Game Teaching Guides | Classroom Aid

  8. Ronda Rafidi says:

    Hi Ted,
    I took your course in 2006 and enjoyed it very much. I must say it was one of the most challenging courses for me since I am a novice player. However, I learned a lot as I created my guide for your class. You eventually published it (with my permission). Recently, I was searching for it, but cannot find it on this new site. It is called Capitalism II: Create the Empire of your Dreams (Oct. 2006). I am currently an online facilitator for several masters level educational technology courses with another university. I shared your website as a resource for my students within one of our discussions. Is there a way to view older archived guides on your new website?
    Thank you,

  9. Pingback: Wake-ing a thirst for literacy | KristianStill/Blog

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