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Engaging Students in Learning: Using Games to Teach about Modern Slavery

My teaching focuses on issues relating to modern slavery and is informed by my ongoing research as well as my work with practitioners as Chair of the Humber Modern Slavery Partnership. But teaching on sensitive topics like this means it’s always important to consider potential impacts on student welfare. Employing innovative teaching methods can really help to break up sessions, which is particularly useful if the lecture requires lengthy discussions of real life case examples of human rights abuses.

One of the most enjoyable techniques I’ve employed (according to my students, but also very enjoyable for me!) was the development and use of a board game as an alternative learning method to teach about the National Referral Mechanism (NRM), the UK's system for identifying and supporting victims of modern slavery.

Creating an Interactive Learning Experience:

Recognising the benefits of active student participation, I sought to create a learning environment that took challenging issues away from the didactic teaching model. By incorporating the game into my teaching, I aimed to encourage engagement, promote the discussion of different perspectives, and provide an environment that required interaction with others in the room as well as the topic at hand.

In reality, the board game was not wholly imaginative! Basing it on the concept of snakes and ladders, I divided the board into squares and marked some of these squares with a colour: red, blue, green, or yellow. At the beginning of the lecture, I gave each student a handful of flashcards in those same colours. They each had 20 minutes to discuss ideas, look back through notes and lecture slides, and write something on each card. Their task was to write a positive aspect of the NRM on the green cards, a weakness of the NRM on the red cards, a statistic on the yellow cards, and a relevant academic insight on the blue cards. I then took all the cards and wrote corresponding instructions, such as ‘move forward/back x number of squares’ depending on the content of the card.

During gameplay, students took turns rolling dice, moving their counters along the board, and drawing cards to read aloud. The objective was for a student to reach the end of the board and "successfully exit the system," symbolising a positive outcome for a victim of modern slavery. By following the instructions on the cards, students engaged with the different aspects of the NRM, fostering discussion and deeper understanding, but they also interacted and debated with one another when their perspectives differed.

Student Feedback and Positive Outcomes:

After implementing the game, I sought feedback from students to gauge how they found it. The responses were overwhelmingly positive, with students appreciating the opportunity to learn in a creative and engaging manner with a bit of competition thrown in. One student specifically highlighted the game's benefits, stating, "Playing the 'NRM Board Game' was something fun and a different way to learn than just having a standard lecture/seminar. I learned new things and could share things I had read about that maybe others didn't know. Very creative way to learn.”


Teaching sensitive topics like modern slavery requires a careful balance between addressing challenging issues and ensuring student welfare. Incorporating alternative learning methods, such as a board game, allowed for the discussion of difficult topics to occur in a more relaxed and collegiate atmosphere. Employing game play can promote engagement, facilitate discussions, and provide a fresh perspective on complex subjects. By embracing gamification and interactive teaching techniques, we can create dynamic learning environments that empower students to actively participate in their own education and gain a deeper understanding of critical issues.

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