At Read to Lead, developing a new suite of online learning games is an exciting, challenging, creative, and collaborative process. All hands are on deck as the team moves from ideation and storyboarding to content development and creation. To introduce a new career world, Read to Lead partners with professionals from the specific career field to ensure the learning games feature authentic workplace scenarios that motivate middle school students to dive in.

This year, Read to Lead is partnering with the Financial Inclusion Team (FIT) at the world’s largest asset manager, BlackRock, to develop four online learning games that will inspire middle school students to explore careers in financial services, while building their literacy and leadership skills. Read to Lead and BlackRock FIT network’s shared goal is to empower young people nationwide to envision themselves as leaders in the finance world, deepen their financial literacy skills, and connect the dots from school to careers in financial services.

Here is a behind-the-scenes look at our game creation process:

Step 1: Ideation of learning game series

To kick off the ideation process, the Read to Lead team and BlackRock FIT volunteers engage in a “day in the life” exercise to better understand finance professionals’ goals, challenges, roles, problem-solving strategies, and overall mission. Then, through multiple one-hour ideation sessions, the team creates a gamebook that articulates a description of the work environment and outlines authentic storylines with characters who come from diverse backgrounds. 

“Student learning is at the heart of our design process. We strive to ensure students have authentic ways to see themselves in different careers while making real-world decisions,” says Juliana Hess, Director of Research and Learning Design. “That’s why we’re thrilled to partner with BlackRock’s FIT network. Thanks to their support and expertise, we can provide students with the unique opportunity to ‘be the boss’ in a financial services office and lead a team that works in asset management and investing.”

Step 2: Storyline development

The Read to Lead team reviews each potential story idea developed through our collaborative sessions with BlackRock FIT volunteers. Each story idea goes through a rigorous selection process as the team considers if it would provide students with an accurate and informative look into finance careers and motivate them to build their English Language Arts (ELA) and social-emotional learning (SEL) skills.  

Ali Tepper, Director of Content and Curriculum, shares, “The basic formula for each storyline consists of the boss learning about a problem or opportunity, gathering evidence on both sides of that problem by communicating with staff, completing a workplace task to help critically think through the problem, and making 6-8 smaller decisions that lead up to the big, final decision at the end of the game.”

Step 3: Content development and design

Once the stories are selected, the Read to Lead team storyboards each story from start to finish. The team then collaborates with a scriptwriter and a web development studio to bring the characters and storylines to life. The scriptwriter works to create engaging character dialogue that aligns with student learning goals, while the web development studio is tasked with creating the artwork behind the workplace settings and characters.

Nicholas Overton, Director of Software Engineering, works directly with graphic designers to ensure that the design features will motivate and engage students while they’re playing the learning game. He says, “We’ve been intentional about adding features to the game experience to help students grow SEL skills – like new realistic facial expressions for our characters, so students can receive social and non-verbal cues, and navigate complex conversations like they would in the context of a real day at work.”  

Step 4: Playtesting

When a playable prototype is built, the Read to Lead team pilots the online learning games in three middle school classrooms, so that students can playtest the new content and provide feedback on features to add, change, or fix. BlackRock FIT volunteers are also invited to playtest the new learning games, so they can provide their feedback and final insights.

Step 5: Launch of new online learning games!

After several months of consulting with BlackRock FIT volunteers, educators, students, and other stakeholders, Read to Lead unveils the new suite of online learning games. The overall creation and launch of the new financial literacy learning games is possible because of BlackRock FIT Network’s partnership and a generous grant from the Max and Lorayne Cooper Foundation. Thanks to the support of our donor community, the new Read to Lead learning games are freely accessible for middle school students in classrooms across the country. Teachers and parents can create a free account here


About Read to Lead

Read to Lead uses the power of game-based learning to empower middle school students to build literacy, life, and career skills. Teachers can sign up for a free account to get started!