By Gina Abbas

Above my desk are the words “Boring is Easy” from Kid President. Which explains why I gamify everything, especially my talks. I loathe boredom and love competition and fun to an almost unhealthy level. Gamefication has absolutely made me a better communicator and given me the tools to deliver engaging 15-minute weekly messages to my students.

Why only 15 minutes? Students, especially middle schoolers, don’t have super long attention spans. Brain-based learning expert Eric Jensen, is clear that “teachers should teach in small chunks, process the learning, and then rest the brain” and under no condition, should there be more than 15 consecutive minutes of content input.¹When I teach for longer than 15 minutes, my students are not likely learning or remembering my content.

SO you want to deliver an engaging, interesting, and a well thought out message each week to your students with only 15 minutes on the clock? You can! Here are a few tips to GAMEIFY your messages and win when speaking to students.

1. To beat the clock you got to see the clock. Make sure you have a clock, or timer, or countdown or signal of some kind in the back the room that you can actually see while teaching. Don’t look at your Fitbit watch or phone. That’s annoying and distracting and makes students wonder what time it is and then they start thinking about tacos. Make sure you know exactly how many minutes you have on the clock and at what time you need to be done. Make it a game to beat the clock.

GAMEIFY: Pretend in your game loving brain that if you don’t end on time the floor will turn to hot lava and swallow the audience whole. Enjoy trying to beat the clock and winning that little game in your head. I even keep a tally on my phone. I am weird. I love being known on staff as the one who always ends on time. Yup, it’s a well earned reputation now. Better than being known as the one who always goes long.

2. Have you heard of SLANT? Teachers and speakers use this all the time as a way to track audience engagement. If your students are Sitting up, Leaning In, Asking questions, Nodding their head (or busting out their smartphones to video your craziness!), or Taking notes you are WINNING!

GAMEIFY: Look for the sleepiest student (okay, the sleepy ones are usually leaders!) or for the kid who is texting or the one who is hiding in a hoody looking totally bored. Look for the hardest to win over person and make it a game to grab their attention. Once they look up, wake up, or lean in and smile because you just told an epic story = #winning. It’s a game for me and it motivates me to craft really great messages and engage my audience.

3. TV SHOW it. For every 5 minutes of talking, I give them a minute or two of rest. Think about your favorite TV Show. It usually follows a format of

Talk + laugh + talk
Talk + explosion + talk

The TV show keeps your attention because it’s an artfully crafted story that utilizes brain state changes. Teachers often call these state changes “brain breaks.” (See the book Tools for Engagement by Eric Jansen for more info). When you laugh or it get a little scared = you are totally sucked into the story. Students need these kinds of state changes too. Students learn better when they are actively engaged. When the brain gets breaks from thinking too hard.

GAMEIFY: Tell a joke. Share a crazy story. Play a short game. Do the XP3 Interactive (your pre-designed brain break!). Use the “turn and tell” technique (example: turn and tell a neighbor the current slang word you hate the most right now). Plan a surprise. Do a science experiment. I know I’ve mastered the brain break and give myself another pat on the back for #winning at 15 minute messages when I see kids are laughing, making Instagram videos of what I am doing on stage, or have their mouths hung open in disbelief at what I am saying. These are all signs I’ve upped my game and mastered those precious 15 minutes I have.

GAMIFICATION has transformed my posture towards teaching students. I am crafting messages that not only stick, but are also so much fun to deliver, helping me win every week in just 15 minutes.



Gina Abbas is the author of the book, A Woman in Youth Ministry and lives with her three kids and Star Wars loving husband in Michigan. She can be found decoding Taylor Swift Lyrics or shooting foam finger rockets at her children. Gina loves middle schoolers and is the 7/8 Middle School Pastor at Mars Hill Bible Church.

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