Personalize Your Playful Learning - Student Persona Chart

Many classrooms are now adopting more games and playful learning to engage students in a meaningful way. Teachers have seen the difference it makes in their classrooms when students feel safe to explore, create, and question. One piece of feedback I’ve often heard is that not everyone likes the same kinds of games, so it’s hard to get everyone to participate. Not all students play the same way: some are competitive, some want to tell others what to do, some just want to tell stories. If this sounds like your class, it’s time to personalize your playful learning!

We have ample research on the variety of ways that students learn, but not a lot of research connecting educational play and differentiation. Using play personas based on gamification research by J.Shell and G.C. Krug “Why People Play Games, An Industry Perspective” I’ve created this chart that describes the different types of personas students may adopt in play. In this chart, I’m building off the player motivations from Shell and Krug (which built on work by R.A. Bartle) and adding the education play extensions of what students want to do/accomplish and types of imaginative play that will excite their play personas.

Player Types

Play Motivation Students want to… Play Scenarios
Competitor Plays to be better than others Earn points, badges, status, see fairness Races, Awards, Speeches, Battleground, Arenas
Explorer Plays to experience the boundaries of the game world See a map, ask questions, see progress, find something hidden Experiments, Hiking, Programming
Collector Plays to acquire the most stuff throughout the game Complete a set, complete a trial, earn progressively bigger Archeology, Museum
Achiever Plays not only to be better now, but to be better in the long run Be on a leaderboard, find the treasure, pull out the sword, save the world, completing goals, get knowledge to get better Mythology, Knights, Timed Events
Joker Plays for the fun and social aspects Make silly noises, pretend hurt themselves, laugh and point at body humor, socialize Slapstick Comedy, Sport Bloopers
Director Plays to be in charge Make rules, tell others where what to do, position others, feel like they have control Doctor, Kingdom, Teacher
Storyteller Plays to create and live inside a narrative world Tell and explore stories, add and expand the story, test reality Fantasy, Magic, Underworld, Space
Performer Plays for the show s/he can put on Earn applause, try different characters, get a laugh, overact Drama, News Story, Love Story
Craftsman Plays to build, solve puzzles and engineer constructs Create, build, house, understand the pieces of something, see transformation Architect, Designer, Maker

Once you start to see patterns in the ways your students play, you can be strategic in the types of play you create with them. Here are a few example scenarios where this information can be applied to maximize your student’s engagement and motivation in their learning.

Reading time

Pair up storytellers with jokers for a silly read-aloud that focuses on active listening and reading comprehension. Storytellers read from a book, slowly and clearly. As they do this, their partner joker has to listen very closely and understand the story, so they can add sound effects and noises to set the scene. Let them be silly, just make sure they are really understanding the story and using active listening skills to follow along. As a fun addition for storytellers, you can let them make up an ending to a well-known book and surprise the joker.

Practice time

Pair a competitor and a performer to solve as many problems accurately in a set amount of time. If you have enough students who are competitors and performers, you can have pairs go head to head, divide the class to cheer on their side. Have the performers get the class to cheer on their competitor. This could also work well with a collector and a competitor who are trying to complete a set or solve a certain amount within a set time.

Room cleanup

Have a director and an achiever make a list of all the things that need to get done to clean up. For each item they come up with, offer a small reward of an extra minute of free time. The achiever will want to maximize the reward and the director will enjoy calling out instructions to the rest of the class. Have the director get in front of the class and call out each item and when they complete it. Allow the class mini-celebrations for each minute they earn.


This chart can help you understand your students a little better and narrow in on the types of play personas in your class. For example, you may have lots of directors and jokers or competitors and performers.  Not all students are just one type all the time too, so be careful not to box them into one persona. You’ll be able to customize the play, exploration, and projects you do with them to help them feel most comfortable. When a student’s play preferences are understood, they can maximize their playful learning and your whole class will be involved. Play on!


Feature image courtesy of Flickr, ñoña cachilupi.

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