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Students playing dungeons and dragons in a school library.

Students playing dungeons and dragons in a school library. | Young Minds Inspired

Dungeons & Dragons: How to Level Up Your Teaching

March 12, 2024

Dungeons & Dragons: How to Level Up Your Teaching

Teaching with Dungeons & Dragons? Yes, you definitely can! Learn how the game enhances skills like creativity, teamwork and inclusivity with free, adaptable lesson plans.

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Growing up, my world was shaped significantly by the realms of fantasy, Dungeons & Dragons, and video games, not just as forms of entertainment but as learning tools that helped me understand the importance of empathy, inclusivity, curiosity and believing in myself. I poured hours into creating characters and delving into the narratives of heroes from other worlds, all the while trying to decode the complexities of my own life—a challenge that seemed insurmountable, even with a lucky roll of a natural 20.

Learning about these fantastical realms and diving into their stories has always been my playful way of making sense of the world around me, a creative quest that's still unfolding. With the resurgence of Dungeons & Dragons, spurred by its depiction in video games like Baldur's Gate 3, TV shows like “Stranger Things,” and movies like "Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves," we're witnessing a cultural renaissance that has made the game more accessible and appealing than ever before. This revival not only brings the game to a wider audience but also celebrates the diverse ways it can be enjoyed and the universal themes it explores.

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Characters in Stranger Things playing Dungeons and Dragons.

Characters in Stranger Things playing Dungeons and Dragons. | Netflix

Now, for Share My Lesson’s upcoming Virtual Conference (March 19-21), we're thrilled to introduce a group of experts with Young Minds Inspired who are ready to guide you on integrating the magic of Dungeons & Dragons into your classroom. Enter Colleen Caulfield, Danielle Powell and Shelly Mazzanoble—our charismatic guides for navigating your journey. This free, for-credit session, "Beyond Roleplay: Using Dungeons & Dragons to Level Up Learning," will showcase how D&D can be a powerful tool for enhancing reading, teamwork, creativity and more, even if you've never rolled a 20-sided die before. Read my interview with our esteemed party of adventurers below, and learn more about the session and its speakers here.

Using D&D as an Educational Tool

Andy Kratochvil: Colleen, with your extensive experience in developing educational programs, how do you see D&D fitting into diverse learning environments, and what inspired YMI to collaborate with Wizards of the Coast on this project?

Colleen Caulfield: YMI works with sponsors to provide educators with free resources to supplement their lessons. When we first began working with D&D, one of the things that really struck us was how adaptable and creative the game is, which makes it particularly suitable for diverse learning environments. We made sure to capture that in the educational materials we developed together. Our grades 3-8 programs feature game elements, characters and themes that engage students, and allow them to bring their own level of imagination to the activities. We also made sure that students—and teachers—don’t have to actually know how to play the game to use the programs. Everyone can experience the fun and excitement.

D&D has really been a great partner. First, they’re committed to education. The game piques interest and engagement among students and teachers alike, which makes our job a lot easier. And it's fantastic that so many core elements of D&D are also cornerstones to several curricular areas and developmental learning skills, including reading, math, problem-solving, collaboration, communication, creativity, and more.

Andy Kratochvil: In the realm of educational content, if D&D characters were teachers, what character class do you think would make the best educator and why? A Paladin's unwavering discipline, a Wizard's vast knowledge, or perhaps a Bard's charismatic presentation skills?

Colleen Caulfield: The quick answer is a Wizard, who values knowledge. But I think at different times of the day, teachers could also relate to the storytelling Bard, a Fighter or a Druid striving to maintain balance. While the Dungeon Master [the game's lead storyteller and referee] is not a character class, teaching is often like being a DM!

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Students playing Dungeons and Dragons at school. | Young Minds Inspired

Students playing Dungeons and Dragons at school. | Young Minds Inspired

D&D Clubs and Learning Through Role-Play

Andy Kratochvil: Danielle, your journey from creating your first character Kithri Graveltoes to leading D&D clubs and incorporating the game into the curriculum is fascinating. Can you briefly describe your journey that led you to incorporate D&D into your curriculum?

Danielle Powell: Back when I first started teaching, there was an established D&D club running in my room after school. It was led by the theater teacher and consisted of around a dozen middle school boys. I, myself, had just started playing and was still relatively new to the system. The spring of that year, the teacher left and the principal asked if I would take over the club. I said yes, and jumped in headfirst. I wasn’t prepared; they were playing an older edition with little structure and no supplies, and many of them quit before we even finished the first meeting. I’m no one to give up though, and embraced the challenge. Before long, the club was bigger than before and predominantly female. From there, I took the club to my new school and grew it there. I quickly discovered that there are many aspects of the game that can be used in ways that connect more with the students than textbooks and paperwork. Since most of my students were familiar with either D&D or other role-playing games (tabletop or digital,) it seemed a natural jump to more creative and D&D-inspired lessons. Having [students] show their understanding of genetics with D&D monsters; creating character sheets for scientists and historical figures; and making their own fantasy worlds complete with maps, mythology and governments—it’s something they understand and can connect with and makes it easier for them to understand complex concepts.

Andy Kratochvil: If you could pick one D&D spell to make your teaching day easier or more magical, which would it be and how would you use it? Perhaps Mending to instantly repair broken pencils and lab equipment, or Charm Person for those parent-teacher conferences?

Danielle Powell: This was difficult! The students really wanted to help with this one. Ultimately, I settled on Teleportation Circle. There are just so many places I want to take the students (and myself) for more in-depth experiences and field research. The ability to take a quick trip to the Galapagos to check out the turtles during class or have lunch with a volcanologist in Japan to learn more about the Ring of Fire and the latest volcanic activities is invaluable.

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Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves

"Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves" | Paramount

Cultivating Empathy and Teamwork

Andy Kratochvil: Shelly, as senior brand manager and a pioneer of the first D&D club at your son’s school, how do you perceive the role of D&D in fostering educational and social emotional development in children?

Shelly Mazzanoble: Dungeons & Dragons has been hailed as one of the most innovative teaching tools in the world, and I love seeing it in action every Friday after school! By its very nature, D&D provides a collaborative, creative, and social environment among players of all ages and helps develop or hone skills like empathy, problem-solving, teamwork and self- confidence. The game attracts all kinds of students, so kids who may not have interacted before are now bonding and forming lifelong friendships. The support from teachers has been tremendous right out of the gate (many of them were kids who grew up playing D&D!), and our goal is to make D&D accessible to as many people as possible by providing parents and educators with the tools and resources needed to continue supporting D&D in their classrooms, even without any prior knowledge of the game. I would love to see D&D in every school whether it be with our curriculum, a D&D club, or a library full of D&D books!

Andy Kratochvil: Could you share a sneak peek into how the D&D team envisions the game as a tool for education? Is there a particular aspect or feature of D&D that educators might be surprised to learn can be used in teaching?

Shelly Mazzanoble: Social emotional literacy is one of the best parts of the game and why Dungeons & Dragons is an increasingly popular tool in therapeutic practices. By its very nature, the game is collaborative. You must work together as a group to be successful, which is such an important lesson for students who are used to competing in sports, academics and friendships. Players develop empathy—a skill much harder to teach in a traditional setting—because they are literally walking in someone else’s shoes and experiencing a world and its inhabitants so different from their own. The game also celebrates diversity by encouraging players to create unique characters who specialize in different areas. And yes, every game involves math, reading and writing, which feels effortless when you’re adding up a dice roll or writing your character’s backstory.

Once a student discovers the game, a whole new world of inspiration opens up. Creativity is ignited, confidence is boosted, and relationships are forged. D&D goes far beyond entertainment. It can enrich the lives of its players in profoundly positive ways.

D&D provides a collaborative, creative, and social environment among players of all ages and helps develop or hone skills like empathy, problem-solving, teamwork and self- confidence.
Shelly Mazzanoble

Andy Kratochvil: In the grand adventure of education, every hero—or in this case, educator—has a moment of inspiration that leads them to embark on a quest. Could each of you share the “call to adventure” that inspired you to design this D&D-themed webinar for Share My Lesson? Was there a particular classroom “encounter” or a “loot drop' of knowledge that sparked the idea?

Colleen Caulfield: When we received SML’s call for webinar topics, the subject of using D&D to teach immediately came to mind. First, we have a fantastic collection of D&D lesson plans that we want to share with as many people as possible. There’s an inclusiveness to D&D that feels particularly relevant right now. And they’ve been a fantastic and collaborative partner. We’ve put together a session that takes into account people’s varying levels of familiarity with D&D and are excited to be sharing creative ideas for classroom fun and learning.

Shelly Mazzanoble: There is so much momentum happening around D&D and education, and it’s my favorite topic to talk about! For years I had heard stories from educators using tenets of D&D as a way to engage students and mental health professionals who create therapeutic D&D games as part of their practices—both with astounding results. The goal is not to just share these incredible anecdotes and data, but also provide practical, hands-on guidance so that regardless of your D&D game knowledge, educators can incorporate D&D into their lessons and inspire a love of learning in their students as well. The social emotional connection is so important for kids right now, and that’s an area where D&D really shines.

Danielle Powell: There was a day a few years ago where I had a record number of students sign up for my D&D club. 15 students; most fifth-graders. I had two high school volunteers, and I sincerely thought I could handle it. I was very wrong. It was the only time I legitimately thought about quitting and disbanding the club for good. Luckily, I’m too stubborn for my own good and saw it through to the end, learning more than a few things. It was thanks to those 15 kids that I also realized that incorporating it in class helps them not just understand the game better, but also the content I was teaching. Since then, I use my 15 chaos gremlins as an example of both what to do and not do with a D&D club, especially for fellow teachers who are looking for advice. But I ultimately wanted to share that knowledge with more than just my small tribe on campus, and so here I am—sharing it with the (literal) world!

Beyond Roleplay: Using Dungeons & Dragons to Level Up Learning

Want to learn more? Make sure to join our panel of experts and explore how you can use D&D in your classroom!

Andy Kratochvil

Andy Kratochvil is an SML team member who loves hiking, video games, scary books, Mexican food, and finding great content for the Share My Lesson community.He studied political science and French at California State University, Fullerton and received his Master’s in International Affairs from Americ

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