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D&D in Schools: Communal Storytelling in Classrooms

Pennsylvania Convention Center, 204A

Participate and share: Interactive session
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Director of Design and Innovation
Community Regional Charter School
Design thinker, improviser, and educator, Dan Ryder is a design learning facilitator at CRCS Overman in rural Skowhegan, Maine. Public charter school CRCS Overman provides a customized, project -based learning experience for learners of all abilities and backgrounds, grades 7-12. Dan also consults with the Office of English Language Programs at the US Department of State, creating content such as Panels and Perspectives: Creating Comics in the EFL Classroom and co-facilitating experiences such as the global PD, AE Comics VX. He's also co-author of Intention: Critical Creativity in the Classroom w Amy Burvall.
Utah Coalition For Educational Technology
Matthew Winters is a Utah Education Network trainer specializing in Google Workspaces for Edu. He is also GEGUtah co-leader with Kelli Cannon and Utah Coalition for Educational Technology (UCET) President for 2022-2023, our Utah ISTE affiliate. He is a former English Language Arts teacher at the secondary and college level.

Session description

Role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons are a wonderful way to provide opportunities for students to learn storytelling, collaboration and communication in a classroom environment. Through learning-by-doing, participants in this session will learn how to create and play a classroom role-playing game with students.

Purpose & objective

Traditional writing projects often rely on specific standard formats and timeworn writing techniques. Whether its a personal narrative, a creative essay, or a research project, many of the writing projects that educators present and require of their students as summative assessments often do not interact with the other aspects of writing that are so necessary to be a complete, innovative writer; skills like collaboration, editing, brainstorming, and in-depth question writing are often a minimized or missing component of student writing projects.

However, applying game-based learning, particularly role-playing games (RPGs), provide an innovative and communal structure for writing in any content area classroom. RPGs, popularized by Dungeons and Dragons in the 1970s and 80s, encourage groups of players to create characters and stories with the help of a Dungeon Master (DM), who acts both as a game leader and the storyteller. RPG players make choices within the game which, with the help of trusty dice, move the story forward. RPGs are an adaptable format to any content area with many permutations and derivations available to educators; an English Language Arts educator could lead his classroom through a gaming session taking students to 1920s New York and Gatsby's parties, and a math educator could develop a game that sees students building fortifications in ancient Britain using basic geometric skills, or a science educator could recreate the space race in game format for students to explore. Using the RPG game model to create, recreate, and then document the gaming decision-making process can provide learners with a unique, communal storytelling project.

Furthermore, when paired with a traditional writing modality like a research essay, it opens up possibilities for the topic, question development, and direct collaboration with classmates on a passion project. Of course, throughout this process educators can choose how much technology is applied to the gaming and writing experience from hands-on with paper and pencil to deep integrations of technology with AR/VR, mapping software, and website development.

Participants will engage in the entire process of exploring game-based learning, RPs in particular, then experiencing an RPG campaign developed by the presenters set in a post-apocalyptic school setting. Participants will be assigned a dungeon master who will guide them through the experience, help them explore possible technology applications, and then conclude the experience with a short discussion about curricular applications in participants' classrooms.

Game-based learning is an incredible, under utilized mode for engaging students in the storytelling and writing process across grade levels and content areas.

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In a 1-hour interactive session, the presenters will follow:

- 5 min - Introductions/Share materials for the presentation and game.

- 10 minutes - Explore Game-Based learning and its differences from Game Theory. Dan and Matt will share some of the examples they have used to teach content area subjects using game-based learning models, particularly RPGs.

- 30 minutes - Participants will divide into small groups with a dungeon master (DM). The DM will then lead participants through a Role-Playing Game experience focused on living and surviving as an educator in a post-apocalyptic world. The DM will share the basic rules, help participants play the game, and provide story advances based on group choices. During this time, participants will use a variety of technology (Google Docs, Forms, Drawings, Maps, Adobe Creative Suite, Adobe Aero, and cameras) to navigate the experience and also produce artifacts for future writing.

- 10 minutes - Breakdown of the experience, the parts of the game, and how an RPG model could be applied to different content areas.

- 5 minutes - Closing remarks / Q&A

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Supporting research

Cheville, R. Alan. “Linking Capabilities to Functionings: Adapting Narrative Forms from Role-Playing Games to Education.” Higher Education, vol. 71, no. 6, Apr. 2016, pp. 805–18. Crossref,

Childress, Marcus D., and Ray Braswell. “Using Massively Multiplayer Online Role‐Playing Games for Online Learning.” Distance Education, vol. 27, no. 2, Aug. 2006, pp. 187–96. Crossref,

Colby, Richard, et al. “OOSE YOUR PATH, ADVENTURER. WILL You.. GAME OVER . SNe.” Composition Studies, vol. 49, no. 3, 2021, pp. 14–15. EBSCOhost,

Cyril, Brom, et al. “It’s Better to Enjoy Learning than Playing: Motivational Effects of an Educational Live Action Role-Playing Game.” Frontline Learning Research, vol. 7, no. 3, Sept. 2019, pp. 64–90. Crossref,

Game Your System (Free Template) — Teacher Winters. Teacher Winters, 29 Aug. 2022,

“Gaming as a Tool for Narrative Writing.” Edutopia, George Lucas Educational Foundation, 6 May 2019,

Hammer, Jessica, and Moyra Turkington. “Designing Role-Playing Games That Address the Holocaust.” International Journal of Designs for Learning, vol. 12, no. 1, Apr. 2021, pp. 42–53. Crossref,

“How Gaming Connects to SEL and Career Readiness.” Edutopia, George Lucas Educational Foundation, 6 Jan. 2017,

Laffey, James M., et al. “Mission HydroSci.” Proceedings of the 12th International Conference on the Foundations of Digital Games, ACM, 14 Aug. 2017. Crossref,

Powers, F. Eamonn, and Robert L. Moore. “When Failure Is an Option: a Scoping Review of Failure States in Game-Based Learning.” TechTrends, Apr. 2021. Crossref,

Response: Ways to Use Games Effectively in the Classroom (Opinion). Education Week, 12 May 2019,

Sardone, Nancy B. “Gaming Economics in the Middle School Classroom.” The Clearing House: A Journal of Educational Strategies, Issues and Ideas, vol. 92, no. 4-5, Aug. 2019, pp. 163–73. Crossref,

“Teacher Winters.” Teacher Winters, Accessed 30 Sept. 2022.

“Using Gaming Principles to Engage Students.” Edutopia, George Lucas Educational Foundation, 14 Oct. 2014,

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Session specifications

Creativity & curation tools
Grade level:
Skill level:
Library media specialists, Teachers, Teacher education/higher ed faculty
Attendee devices:
Devices useful
Attendee device specification:
Smartphone: Android, iOS, Windows
Laptop: Chromebook, Mac, PC
Tablet: Android, iOS, Windows
ISTE Standards:
For Educators:
  • Collaborate and co-learn with students to discover and use new digital resources and diagnose and troubleshoot technology issues.
  • Create learning opportunities that challenge students to use a design process and computational thinking to innovate and solve problems.
  • Model and nurture creativity and creative expression to communicate ideas, knowledge or connections.