E Reading Games

Don Morton, Founder

Chicago, IL
E Reading Games screenshot. Another game on E Reading Games site.
Gamifying the learning experience

When Don Morton started working in the Chicago Public Schools in 2005, he realized pretty quickly that it would take some creativity to keep students engaged. Noticing that his students were highly motivated to play computer games, Don began brainstorming ways to integrate learning with gaming.

"I saw my students playing games, and I knew that if I could get the lessons that I was trying to teach into games, my students would be much more motivated to learn," explains Don. "I began to think about how I could build such games on an online platform."

While still working full-time as a classroom teacher, Don took part in a Google Hackathon where he learned his way around some of the coding languages that would enable him to develop browser games with HTML5 and JavaScript. This experience gave him the tools to turn his hit classroom games into online browser games — but it wouldn’t be easy.

“I built one game at a time, and it took me about a year to build each game, so initially there was very little content,” says Don. “I look back on that old code now and it’s pretty rough — but it really just reminds me how far I’ve come with this project.”

Don began posting these games on his new site, E Reading Games, which was dedicated to gamifying the language arts learning experience. About a year or two after he started posting these games on the site, traffic began to take off. It became clear the site had the potential to reach a lot of young learners — but first, Don would need to figure out a model that promoted sustainable growth.

A game from Don's site.
An impact beyond the classroom

Given the time Don put into the site, he wanted to monetize it to be able to invest further. At the same time, Don wanted to reach as many students as possible — so this meant putting his games behind a paywall wasn’t an option.

“I support a free and open internet that is rich in content,” says Don. “I seek to contribute to that end goal. Educational resources are more accessible and helpful to all language learners when they are free and open. That way I can connect with players all over the world.”

From there, the choice was simple: E Reading Games would need an ad-supported model to continue growing. Already familiar with Google’s resources after the hackathon that started it all, Don turned to AdSense for his ad needs.

“While I take pride in my skills as a content creator, I’m not much of a marketer or ad salesperson,” says Don. “I chose AdSense because Google handles that whole process for me, really serving as a trusted partner throughout the ad sales process.”

Don couldn’t hold back his excitement when those first bits of ad revenue started trickling in. He would excitedly show off a dollar or two he earned from AdSense, as if he’d just won the lottery. While it wasn’t a lot of money at first, it was symbolic of the fact that his content was reaching people and that was translating into income.

Soon enough, the revenue became more sizable. At a certain point, Don realized it would make more sense to pursue this full-time. He was making an income that matched his teacher salary, and he felt there was potential to reach more students through his site.

“I loved working in a classroom, but you’re in a limited space reaching a discrete number of students each day,” explains Don. “Working on the site full-time, I now feel like I can have an even greater impact now given that my site reaches students all around the world.”

“I’m really grateful for AdSense, as it allows us to keep the games accessible to students, no matter what country they’re in or what resources they have.”
Earning high honors

Even if Don isn’t in the classroom every day face to face with students, he’s still hearing of the impact his learning resources have through the many messages and emails he receives.

“Now I receive posts and emails daily where students, teachers, and parents share their gratitude and experiences. It touches me beyond words. I’m just happy to be here to create and connect with these players,” says Don.

He even heard from a group of young men in Missouri who couldn’t get enough of his Context Clues Climber game. They praised the game, asked some questions that could help them beat it, and even pitched some ideas for developing the game further and adding new enhancements.

“I’m really grateful for AdSense, it allows us to keep the games accessible to students, no matter what country they’re in or what resources they have,” he says. “As long as they have an internet connection and a desire to learn, they can enjoy all E Reading Games has to offer.”

He’s even taken his ad model a step further to ensure ads are integrated into the games in an engaging way. “We use Rewarded ads to give players a way to extend the game,” says Don. “For instance, a player might watch an ad to earn an extra life or a special power-up within the game.”

Now Don is determined to keep the momentum going, using his insights over the years to create more games that resonate with students. While it can be hard to glean why one game becomes more popular than another, he wants to really unpack what makes a game work — and makes an impact on young learners.

“As the years have gone on, some students have reached out and described their playing experiences in the past with sentimentality. It tells me that some of my content is really engaging them and impacting them deeply,” says Don. “Hearing about that impact makes it all worth it.”

About the Publisher

Donald E. Morton graduated from Northern Illinois University in 2005 and began teaching English in Chicago Public Schools (CPS). In 2010 he became an AdSense publisher and began sharing his educational content on the Internet. In 2013 he earned his MA in Literature from Northeastern Illinois University and shortly after, he left CPS to publish full time. He currently enjoys creating unique educational experiences on the Internet, spending time with his family, and volunteering in his community.
Donald E. Morton headshot.