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How to propose classroom tabletop RPGs to your school

Almost as often as I see people talk about the benefits of using tabletop RPGs to teach, I see people talking about how difficult it is to get it approved for classroom use.  This article goes over how I was able to get some TTRPG elements approved for my class and gives ideas to help you submit a successful proposal to your administration.

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Set goals for your class

First, we want to look at what this class is meant to do or what we want to add to it.  What are the core points that you HAVE to focus on by the course requirements and what, beyond that minimum requirement, do we WANT to emphasize?  List this out as your foundation.

To give a few examples of what this could look like:

College engineering course/adult education: You HAVE to still include all the projects and lecture topics that are in the curriculum lesson plan.  However, you also WANT to add work-life balance lessons, entrepreneurial skills practice, examples about networking, and a showcase of how to apply engineering skills to real-world applications.

Pre-K SEL curriculum: You HAVE to cover the core SEL lesson of the week.  However, you WANT to also frame it within a fun story that reiterates that SEL point in a couple different ways (to tap into different learning strengths and reinforce that topic).

Middle school science class: You HAVE to cover chapters in a textbook and administer a certain level of testing to gauge understanding by school standards.  However, you WANT to make it fun and get students working together more instead of competing for grades. 

Each situation has fairly different goals because there is SO MUCH variety in the types of classes out there, so it’s important to identify these goals up front since they’re going to significantly affect how you proceed with your plan and will make your proposal look very different from someone else’s.

Brainstorm how tabletop RPGs can help with these goals

For each of your goals, look at how TTRPGs can help achieve them or how you might be able to tailor towards them.  TTRPGs can be used to connect with examples, increase engagement, and help with so many other academic aspects (not to mention all the core life skills and personal growth).  

Compare your statement about your class goals to how you think TTRPGs could apply or help.  The list below gives some ideas that connect with a few of the topic from the previous section along with a few extras that sometimes come up:

  • Give immersive examples of real-world applications by comparing assignments to actual engineering cases and jobs
  • Let students act out or RP an engineering ethics dilemma versus pure class discussion
  • Practice creative problem-solving skills or the engineering design process by having students line up their solutions to in-game challenges/plans with the process
  • Introduce diverse characters and perspectives as NPCs
  • Give additional ways to engage with the material through RP and repeated story themes to drive a point home
  • Practice math skills via game mechanics
  • Conduct homework problems in math, science, etc as side quests, challenges, or part of the mechanics to unlock the next part of the story or get a bonus
  • Make assignments/lectures fun and interesting with RP and storytelling
  • Get students teaching each other vs. competing for grades by having them work as an adventuring group

And this list is by no means exhaustive – there are many more benefits that come from TTRPGs, but hopefully this gives a good place to start.

Once you’ve lined up your goals and TTRPG benefits, ask if meshing your lessons with a TTRPG does work.  Are you able to cover all the goals that you want to achieve with your class?  And is there a way to make up for any remaining gaps?  Keep going until you feel confident that you have a solid base to build from to start forming your lesson plans and proposals.

Incorporating your ideas into your curriculum or lesson plans

Next, we want to look at how to actually get these ideas into your class within your other requirements so you have a solid proposal to give to your admin.  Unless your educational organization has a specific format for their proposals, I would recommend to outline your overall plan for the semester, or at least for a few weeks, and then do a sample detailed schedule of 1-2 classes with any supplemental material so it’s clear what you plan to do.

Each class and lesson plan is going to be very different from each other, so I have some examples of different options to consider or questions to ask yourself when thinking about how to add TTRPG elements to your class structure.  These are not meant to be limiting, just to give you some ideas:

  • Do you want to run a full TTRPG or RP/story elements only?
  • Is this best for an in-class or afterschool program?
  • Will this cover a whole class period or part of a class period?
  • Will you run this every class or for specific classes/days?
  • What system do you want to use?  D&D?  Rules-lite?  Pre-made?  Homebrew?
  • Will each student have a character?  Or will they share characters?
  • How many teams will you divide students into?  Or is the whole class one team?

For my engineering college class, these would be some of my answers based on how much time I have in each class, what I was able to get approved, my class size, etc.

  • RP/story elements only (at least for now)
  • In-class
  • Part of the class period, about 5 minutes max
  • Every class
  • No mechanics, RP/story only (for now)
  • One character for the whole class
  • All one team

And for the Pre-K SEL curriculum, the answers might look like this:

  • RP/story elements with pick and choose mechanic
  • In-class
  • Full lesson (30-60 minutes)
  • 1/week
  • Rules-lite, homebrew
  • One character for the whole class
  • All one team with rotating spotlight

Evaluating effectiveness (grades and other ways)

With most proposals anywhere, you need to be able to show effectiveness to evaluate if, after a trial period, it actually worked.  Many schools and school systems will measure this with student grades as their standby and will likely want to see a plan to evaluate this in your proposal as well.  I would recommend having a couple methods for evaluating effectiveness in your proposal, so you’re not just relying on grades.  One method should be the grading or evaluation system required by your educational institution and the other can be an additional evaluation method that looks for comprehension and other metrics that you can’t always measure too well with a letter grade.

Evaluating with grades

For the grade portion, this can be from any regularly graded material that’s still around, and, if the assignments and tests stayed the same from a previous class to this one, you can note if there’s a marked difference (though this may take a few semesters or classes to see so you have a good sample size).  In the engineering course that I teach, students are still completing the same assignments as the previous semester, and I can show how notoriously difficult assignments have a marked improvement because we’ve added some story elements to aid in engagement and help with understanding certain sticking points.

Evaluating with other methods

For the non-graded portion, this could be an end of class survey that asks about some of your specific goals, an admin class evaluation, observation notes about the class, etc.  

For the class that I’m teaching, I’m fortunate enough that there’s two other sections of the same class being taught in the semester for my trial, and they aren’t implementing my changes, so I can distribute a survey asking questions about my course goals to all three classes and compare the results.  A few of the questions or prompts may be: 

  • Please give an example of networking (1-2 sentences)
  • Why do engineers need to keep technical notes in industry? (1-2 sentences)
  • What are three lessons from this class that you can apply to your career?

These questions aren’t part of the core grading scheme for the class, but they’re definitely still important lessons for students to pick up and understand and are worth noting in the proposal evaluation.

In addition to the survey, I’m also taking notes about my class throughout the semester and comparing to previous semesters to see if my students are participating actively in each class, what kind of questions they’ve had about the assignments and topics discussed, and if they’ve commented about any of the TTRPG elements that I’ve introduced.

These extra evaluation methods were part of my proposal for the course and part of why I was able to proceed since we’ll have different ways to discuss if the trial was successful and should be continued.

Wording in your classroom TTRPG proposal

My recommendation here is to know your audience and make sure your proposal uses language that they’ll be able to connect with.

If you’ve already been talking about educational TTRPGs with your administration and they’re familiar with a lot of the terms and benefits, then use that!  However, if your administration doesn’t know what a TTRPG is or you think they might be hesitant about allowing a “game” to be a main feature in your class, there’s a few ways that you can reword things to explain what you’re doing in a way that others might be a bit more receptive to.

Instead of saying that you’re introducing D&D or a TTRPG to your class, you could try calling it: 

  • Collaborative storytelling
  • Narrative team building activity
  • Role-play as pedagogy
  • Cooperative learning activity
  • Interactive skills practice

And there’s more ways to describe it depending on what aspects of TTRPGs you’re going to focus on with your particular class.  

For my proposal, I described it as “framing assignments with connected, interactive stories that highlight important entrepreneurial skills”.  The course already had a few assignments with a bit of a real-world story tied to them AND my university has a strong focus on entrepreneurship.  I proposed it as extending the original course format and focusing on introducing some university level goals in a way that they could understand and didn’t involve the word “game”.

Show research to back up your classroom TTRPG proposal

Being able to show research to back up your proposal is another element that can help your case.  I have a list of scholarly resources here that talk about educational TTRPGs that you can use as a quick reference.  For sharing experiences from individuals, several educators are already using TTRPGs and sharing the amazing results and examples from their classes that you can use as testimony. I have a few on the TTRPGkids site that I hope can help:

How I use TTRPGs in the classroom – my XP with classroom TTRPGs

Think of ways you can adjust

Before submitting or reviewing your proposal with your administration, have a couple back up plans or alternative suggestions ready that you can talk about in case they ask for a different idea or for some adjustment to be made and want input.  I don’t like backing down on my proposal, but sometimes it’s necessary to get the start of something approved so it can build up later.

For example, my initial proposal for the college engineering class might be a giant map of choices for the class engineer character that we’re following along on a journey through their college and early career experiences, and we roll dice after each assignment to choose different paths this journey can go down.  If the whole class turns in an assignment on time or is working well during in-class group work, maybe they get a bonus to their roll or can add a trait to the class engineer, and…. There’s a bunch more that we could add here. 

However, that was too much for my initial proposal, so I adjusted.  I parsed it down to a fixed story (no shifting paths or career map) so we could try that out, prove it out and fine tune this part of the proposal, and then I’ll propose it again after I have more data (and if I think it will provide additional benefit after seeing how the first couple semesters go).  

My point is that, while there is something to be said for sticking to your initial plan, it doesn’t HAVE to be all or nothing, and things can develop over time.  It might be better to get some elements into your class instead of none of them.  I also fully believe that after trying those few elements and seeing the benefits, it’s going to be a lot easier to propose taking it a step or two further with a follow up proposal.

Thank you, resources, and please share your questions and XP!

Thank you for reading along here, and I hope this helps to give some ideas for your proposal and maybe also give some confidence that it is possible to get it approved!

In addition to this article, I’m posting more and more resources here in the EDU section of TTRPGkids to help with finding pre-made educational games, support fellow educators, and more.  

If you have requests for a particular topic, questions that I can help with, advice to give fellow teachers, or stories about classroom TTRPGs you’ve gotten approved, please leave a comment on this article (I do check comments often and will respond, plus it really helps others to learn from your questions and XP too).  The more we can talk about this, the more likely it will become acceptable to introduce different classroom formats over time, so please join in the conversation.

Thank you, and I wish you luck on your proposals!

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