Student-Centered Learning through Game Creation

By NAfME Member Tina A. Huynh

Tina Huynh presented on “Student-Centered Learning through Game Creation” during the NAfME 2021 PreK–12 Learning Collaborative in February 2021.

“Let’s play a game!” Children often use their imagination and creativity to make up their own games. As teachers, we can channel this creativity to enhance the classroom learning experience. Game creation can help students express their musical knowledge while the teacher acts as a facilitator. By allowing students to design and play their own musical games, they will display their knowledge in ways that can be fulfilling for all involved. Student-led game creation may be inclusive of multiple dimensions of learning, including but not limited to: project-based learning, interdisciplinary learning, assessment, and social emotional learning.

young students use flash cards | SDI Productions

Game Creation

In a game creation project, small groups of students use their musical knowledge to create a game centered around a particular musical element or theme, which is to be played by their peers. There are many choices that can be left to the students: the kind of game they create, from a board game with physical parts to a fully online-based game; the objectives and rules of their game; and the particular musical challenges they wish to include in their game, whether it require singing or rapping, playing an instrument, composing, improvising, or a combination of these. The goal for the games is for a team of peers to win the game using their musical knowledge. A game creation unit can be completed over 4-5 class sessions. The teacher may apply goals for student learning, whether it be assessment of students’ musical content knowledge and performance, reviewing specific musical content, having students practice responding to music making, integrating math and language with arts for an interdisciplinary approach to teaching, or integrating social and emotional learning experiences in the classroom.

“Put the ownership of learning into students’ hands and let them show you the creative and innovative ways they can use their musical knowledge.”

In order for the game creation project to be successful, students must feel challenged by the games yet feel that they can win. The teacher is a key part to this success. He/She/They can offer research-backed guidance on how to create a successful game. Drawing from two game experts who studied how and why we play games and what makes games so enticing, Roger Caillois (2006) and Jane McGonigal’s (2011) respective works can help teachers guide students in creating challenging and fun games.

The Rules of the Game

The four main tenets that a game must have in order to be successful are (McGonigal, 2011):

1) a goal, a specific outcome that players want to achieve, that provides a sense of purpose

2) rules, which create limitations that foster strategic thinking and unleash creativity

3) a feedback system, which indicates progress toward the goal, often in the form of points, levels, a score, or a progress bar. It can be the simple objective of “the game is over when…” Feedback reminds players that the goal is achievable and motivates players.

Elementary classmates working on assignment together | Fly View Productions


4) voluntary participation, meaning that all players accept the terms of the game (goal, rules, and feedback system), and have the freedom to enter or leave a game at will, ensuring that intentionally stressful and challenging work is experienced as safe and pleasurable.

Benefits of Student-Centered, Student-Led Game Creation

By transforming the classroom environment from a teacher-directed space into a student-centered space, the types of conversation will change, the materials in your classroom will change, and the layout of the room will change. These changes will be reflective of the learning that is going on. There will be more creation, creativity, and innovation by the students and teacher. In the social emotional sphere, students will need to learn to solve problems together, work as a team, and resolve conflicts. The teacher can monitor student activity in each group and provide support, suggestions, materials, formative feedback, and guidance as needed. This kind of project-based learning gives students space and freedom to be creative. Game creation can also be a form of culturally responsive teaching. Letting students apply their background knowledge to their classroom experience bridges the cultures of the home and school. A classroom space for creativity with guidance provides benefits on academic, cultural, and social emotional levels.

Benefits of student centered game creation word cloud

Image courtesy of Tina Huynh

Put the ownership of learning into students’ hands and let them show you the creative and innovative ways they can use their musical knowledge.

Additional References:

Caillois, R. (2006). The definition of play and the classification of games. In K. Salen, & E. Zimmerman (Eds.), The game design reader: A rules of play anthology (pp. 122–155). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press (Originally published in 1961 in R. Caillois (Ed.), Man, play, and games).

McGonigal, J. (2011). Reality is broken: Why games make us better and how they can change the world. New York, NY: Penguin Group.

About the author:

Tina Huynh PortraitNAfME member Tina A. Huynh is Assistant Professor of Music Education at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Washington, where she teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in elementary and secondary music education. Her interests lie at the intersection of music in early and middle childhood and cultural diversity. She has led workshops on the inclusion of Vietnamese children’s music in the American classroom at state, regional, and national conferences. Her recent conferences at NAfME (2021) and the Association for Black Women Band Directors (2021) centered on student-led gamification in music education. She received her B.M. in Music Education and B.A. in French at California State University, Long Beach, and her M.M. and D.M.A. in Music Education at the University of Southern California.

Dr. Huynh is author of The Vietnamese Children’s Songbook (unpublished), a compilation of ten popular Vietnamese children’s songs and cultural practices. Her film, Songs of Little Saigon (2021) ( (First Light Productions), about the resilience of eight Vietnamese American refugee musicians throughout Orange County, California, has won Exceptional Merit awards for documentary and first runner up for musical score at the Docs Without Borders Film Festival, semi-finalist for Film Score at the Burbank International Film Festival, and was an official selection for the Viet Film Fest 2021. She is the Project Scholar for the Tacoma Refugee Choir (, “a non-auditioned choir united by the plight of refugees and the conviction that everyone has a voice to contribute.” Huynh is a Kodály and Smithsonian Folkways World Music Pedagogy certified educator.

Did this blog spur new ideas for your music program? Share them on Amplify! Interested in reprinting this article? Please review the reprint guidelines.

The National Association for Music Education (NAfME) provides a number of forums for the sharing of information and opinion, including blogs and postings on our website, articles and columns in our magazines and journals, and postings to our Amplify member portal. Unless specifically noted, the views expressed in these media do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Association, its officers, or its employees.

August 16, 2021. © National Association for Music Education (

April 2024 Teaching Music

Published Date

August 17, 2021


  • Innovation
  • Repertoire


August 17, 2021. © National Association for Music Education (

What does Tri-M mean to you? Tri-M Alumnus Madelynn W.
Messiah University. Learn more. Earn your master's in music conducting or music education. Online. Flexible. Affordable.
Gator Cases new Largo series. Image of high school girl sitting next to music cases in front of green lockers.