ngaging Student’s Competitive Nature in the Classroom

Often when educators, parents, or administrators think of a “competitive” student, they’re probably more likely to envision someone in a physical-education class than a student of history. The image, sadly of a toned and seasoned athlete, versus the bookish history major, just doesn’t come to mind. “Competition” is often something we as human beings instinctively associate with physical activity, games, and more athletic than academic settings. However, as the American author, Nancy Pearcey once wrote, “competition is always a good thing. It forces us to do our best. A monopoly renders people complacent and satisfied with mediocrity.”

Is “Competitive” Learning Suited to my Classroom?

The same type of sentiment can be associated with social studies education. Teachers and students are often willing to setting for the typical ebb-and-follow of lecture, class discussion, and traditional historical project. It makes students become disengaged, frustrated, or board with historical/social studies education. This adds a false narrative to the value we place on our history, culture, and civic institutions. In a time where such knowledge and participation is more important than ever, we should be striving to engage more. Competition changes that—it inspires, it challenges, and it makes students what to strive for their best. It also engages them in a content that suddenly becomes more relevant, prevalent, relatable, and more alive.

With all that being said, here are two teacher-friendly options that social studies educators can use to help stimulate “competitive” learning in your own historical classroom.

Competitive Classroom Option #1:

Simple Classroom “Competition” Apps

One of the easiest ways to engage students in friendly “competitive” learning is through the use of review games prior to an exam or the end of a unit.  While there are several apps and different programs available on the worldwide web that cater to this utility, here are three that teachers can pick up right now and incorporate into their classrooms with little or no tech skills needed.

  • Kahoot is a fun, interactive review game that allows students to race each other against the clock to answer review questions. Students can access the site via their own personal devices, either smartphones or tablets. The students can be grouped or participate individually. For teachers, the service is free and questions, images, and other features of the review games can be customized to meet your specific classroom needs.
  • Socrative is an app that students can download for free. It can also be accessed from their own personal devices. Socrative can be used as a quizzing or group discussion tool. While it also has a review game feature where students can again race/compete against each other to answer teacher-directed questions.
  • Factile is a newer site on the “competitive” learning scene. It allows teachers to create interactive Jeopardy-style games to engage students in group or individual review. Instructors can create questions and categories and students can access the review again via their own personal devices.

Competitive Classroom Option #2:

“Fantasy” Sports with Current Events

One of the biggest online industries right now in the US is online “fantasy” sports. Whether it’s football, baseball, hockey, or even golf, players are using their knowledge of teams, statistics, and current events to build successful online “fantasy” teams for bragging rights or other prizes. It’s no wonder that educators are now getting into the mix! Why not, when you can create your own fantasy sports applications to generate student engagement and friendly educational “competition”.

  • Fantasy Geopolitics at is one of those sites. The creator behind Fantasy Geopolitics is Eric Nelson, a former social studies teacher in Minnesota. He wanted to find a new way to engage his high school students in the study of international news. His efforts brought about Fantasy Geopolitics. This is a game which allows students to draft teams of countries and score points for the number of times they feature in the news. You can customize the game and its applications to whatever best suits your classroom needs. also offers a host of resources and teacher “all-star” experts (myself included) who can offer great classroom applications. While subscriptions are charged for this service, the site does provide a great way to engage students in current events.

Feel free to experiment, implement, or adapt these and other “competitive” learning strategies in your own classroom or learning environment; the results may surprise or inspire you. Regardless, you’ll definitely find a new “trick” in the proverbial teacher “toolbox” to further enhance or engage your student’s learning and participation in class.

Have you found ways to engage your social studies classes outside of the traditional methods?


Feature image courtesy of Flickr, University of the Fraser Valley.

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