Do you use dice in your English classes? I love using dice to create games for teaching English, as there are so many things you can do with them. You don’t even have to have two of them, one die can be enough. I love the look on the students’ faces when they are waiting to see what number they get. This tension creates a commitment to learning, as games help students to take an active role in their learning processes by creating situations where they have the chance to use the language effectively in a meaningful context. Also, playing games is fun and who doesn’t love to have fun? Continue reading
Dr Charles Browne is Professor of TESOL and Applied Linguistics at Meiji Gakuin University in Japan, a recognized expert in vocabulary acquisition and extensive reading, especially as they apply to online learning environments. In addition to creating two well known high frequency word lists for second language learners (known as the New General Service List and New Academic Word List), he has created several free online learning sites including an extensive reading and listing website known as ER-Central, and has helped advise many publishers and companies working in these areas including SecretBuilders, who recently launched a set of ER reading apps using graded readers published by Oxford University Press.
Did you ever notice how whenever you try a new online game, that the first level is almost ridiculously easy to complete but the final levels are incredibly hard? This is done for several reasons, and some of the basic principles of online gaming can be usefully applied to online learning environments as well.
First, most online games provide a way of leveling up – for example if you kill enough monsters in Warcraft, you will gain enough experience points to go up to the next level. Games usually have many levels and make the first level(s) purposely easy both to help gamers to build confidence and interest in the game, to teach them how to use the basic features of the system, and to instill a desire to play the game more to reach higher levels. Second, most good RPG (role playing games) as well as many other types of online games, provide players with an interesting or compelling storyline which helps to pull them deeper into the world of the game, as they become motivated to find out what happens next. And third, online games usually give players a way to accumulate points as well as to rank themselves against other players. This, too, leads to higher levels of motivation and commitment since most players want to achieve the highest score, or at least higher than others around them.
When we try to apply the use of game thinking and game mechanics to learning environments such as second language learning it is called “gamification”, something which, when done correctly, can lead to higher levels of learner motivation, engagement and time-on-task.
Interestingly, one popular approach to second language acquisition, extensive reading (ER), echoes many of these ideas. In 2002, Day and Bamford wrote a very influential article on the 10 most important principles of a successful extensive reading program, with the following 3 principles often cited as the being the most important:
1) reading materials should be easy
2) learners should be able to choose what they want to read
3) learners should read as much as possible
First, if the reading material is easy, it instills leaners with a confidence at being able to read well, as well as the desire to read more and more in order to reach higher levels, very similar to the principles of gaming. Second, when learners are able to choose whatever story they want to read, they get pulled into the book’s storyline and become motivated to find out what happens next in a very similar way that gamers are pulled into the storylines of RPG games. And third, when teachers have students keep track of how many pages they’ve read and post those numbers to the whole class (which is common in many ER programs), it leads to higher levels of motivation through a friendly spirit of competition in much the same way this is achieved in the gaming world.
Lysette Taplin, an ELT Editor for Oxford University Press, Mexico and experienced English language teacher, discusses the educational value of games in the English language classroom in celebration of Children’s Day in Mexico.
Kids have amazing imaginations. This is why they have some really great ideas. And sometimes, these ideas become wonderful inventions. Did you know that kids invented the Popsicle and waterskiing? Did you know that a kid also invented earmuffs? And who invented the trampoline? A kid!
George Baez, “From Dreams to Reality”
Universal Children’s Day (http://www.un.org/en/events/childrenday/) aims to promote the welfare of children everywhere and to encourage understanding between children all over the world. In Mexico, this day is celebrated on April 30.
Many schools in Mexico celebrate Children’s Day by hosting special events and festivals which often entail story-telling, games and more. Children love playing and games are a great way to promote communicative skills in the English language classroom. So, why not celebrate our kids with fun-filled games which also foster language development. They are highly motivating and create an enjoyable and relaxed learning environment which encourages active learning, collaboration as well as creative and spontaneous use of language. Task-orientated games engage students and give them a meaningful context for language use. They focus their attention on the task itself rather than the production of correct speech, and the competitive nature keeps students interested and concentrated as most learners will try hard to win.
The advantage of using games is that they are student-centered and can integrate all linguistic skills: reading, writing, speaking and listening. For example, when reading a dialogue from a story or play, project it onto the board, erasing some words or phrases. Have students work in teams to write the missing words. Encourage students to think of the funniest or most interesting captions to complete the gaps. Then, have teams vote for the funniest options. This activity promotes reading and creative writing while at the same time practices speaking and listening skills as students must understand what others are saying and express their own ideas.
A running dictation game also gets students out of their seats and involves the four skills. Prepare and print a short text and place it at the front of the classroom. Have students work in pairs or small groups and decide on who will be the writer and who will be the runner. If students are working in small groups, have the non-writers take turns being runners. Tell the runners in each team to read the text and memorize as much as possible before returning to their team and dictating what they read to the writer. Tell students that the text must be as accurate as possible, including correct spelling and punctuation. With advanced groups, you can add italics, bold, parenthesis, etc. to make the text more challenging. Once teams have finished writing, hand out a copy of the text for them to check their work. This is an excellent and motivating game that can be adapted for both younger and older learners.
Games to practice new or recycled vocabulary can help students learn and retain new words more easily. Chinese Whispers is a simple but effective game that gets students to practice correct pronunciation while reinforcing vocabulary. When playing this game, I usually split the class into two teams to add a competitive element. Tell the teams to stand in a line and ask a student from each team to come to the front of the class. Whisper one vocabulary item to them, or alternatively show them a picture or flashcard without letting the rest of the class see. Have them go to the back of their team’s line and whisper the word to the student in front of them. Tell the last student in each line to say the word aloud. Students love this game and find it hilarious when words get distorted as they pass down the line.
Games encourage students to interact and communicate and to be more sympathetic towards one another, thus fostering understanding. While of great educational value, games are a fun distraction from the usual routine of language learning. They create a relaxed learning environment where real learning can take place and can also reduce students’ fear of speaking in a foreign language, which improves communicative competence. I believe games can and should be central to language teaching and can be used at any stage of the lesson. Many traditional games, such as Hangman, Pictionary, Bingo, Memory, Charades, Battleships, etc. can all be adapted for the ELT classroom. Kids love to play, and fun, exciting games will engage them in communication, making them forget about the language challenges they face.
 Baez, George. “From Dreams to Reality.” Ed. Justyna Zakrzewska. Step Inside 3. Mexico: Oxford University Press, 2014.
 Unicef, Universal Children’s Day: Celebrating children and their rights, UNICEF Malaysia, 2012. Date of access: 08/04/2015. http://www.unicef.org/malaysia/childrights_universal-childrens-day.html
No, we’re not talking about the show choir from the hit US TV series; we’re talking about educational digital games. Karenne Sylvester, who used to write the popular ELT blog Kalinago English, shares her insights into why GLEEs bring more to the classroom than just fun.
Gamified language educational e-tivites (GLEEs) refer to modified language activities that appear to learners as if they are digital “games”. This includes e-tivities like Stress Monsters where learners shoot at parts of a word to indicate where the stress in that particular word lies. GLEEs do not, however, refer to the practice of playing non-educational digital games in educational settings. Although these are perfectly valid experiences, due to the incidental learning opportunities which may arise during game-play, this blog post focuses specifically on the educational benefits of using gamified e-tivities with language learners (rather than discussing general video games).
GLEEs as fun
The time flies!”
(Hamad, Qatari student)
This is probably the most obvious benefit: GLEEs add fun to the language classroom experience. But what exactly do we mean by this word, fun? As simple as it sounds, what one person defines as fun is not always fun for another. According to Nicole Lazzaro, the fun in digital game play tends to break down into four different types of engagement experience:
- Easy fun – creative and relaxing activities that stimulate curiosity
- Hard fun – activities that make you think and meet challenges
- People fun – competitive and cooperative activities done in teams
- Serious fun – meaningful activities that can have real word consequences
GLEEs as motivational tools
On the other hand, for Rigby (an interactive game researcher) and Ryan (an educational psychologist), games and game-like experiences actually offer quite a bit more than just adding a sprinkle of fun. For them, the motivational forces involved include how these environments naturally allow players opportunities to develop feelings of autonomy, competence and relatedness. Their findings were backed up during my recent research into adult ESL students’ perceptions of GLEEs, with my participant-students writing:
As you know, the examples in the book are not enough for us to remind and check the grammar that we’ve learned. But using this game, we have a lot of examples and practices. It’s quite helpful for revision. I could check and know how much I know and how much I don’t know. And it’s not all my own work. It’s a teamwork so we have to talk and discuss [with] each other. By discussing, we can help each other.”
(Mijin, Korean student)
GLEEs as tools for repetition and feedback
Other related benefits arising out of digital game-play in and outside of the classroom include opportunities for repetition and feedback. Well-designed GLEEs include possibilities for students to replay them as often as they like. The resulting points, the clapping or groaning of their avatars when the answers chosen are correct or incorrect, inform students of how they are doing. The pop-up messages of Congratulations and Try Again at the end are often acted upon; some students are willing to redo e-tivities over and over again until they manage to get all of the answers correct.
GLEEs as tools that enable noticing
Finally, one of the most important aspects of GLEEs lies in how they encourage language students to pay attention to language structure and form. This is especially so in competitive game-play scenarios where language learners have to carefully select the right answers from three or four different options. This element of “noticing” (Schmidt, 1990) is considered very important when developing language learning experiences, because this raised consciousness helps enable greater conversion of language input to language intake.
Each team had to answer five different questions about conditional (we had to choose the correct structure of the sentence among three different possibilities), and then, if the team got right the answer, a member of the team had to score a basket. Finally, the team which had more points won the game. During the game I was a little bit excited and frustrated too, because I don’t like to lose and my classmate couldn’t score a basket. However, it wasn’t important after a few minutes because I realized we were understanding the grammar and were having a good time.”
(Jose, Spanish student)
Have you ever played any gamified language educational e-tivities with your students? What did your students think of them?
Schmidt, R. (1990) The Role of Consciousness in Second Language Learning. Applied Linguistics, 11, 129-158.
Rigby, S. and Ryan, R.M (2011). Glued to games: how video games draw us in and hold us spellbound. CA, USA: Praeger.
Karenne Sylvester used to write the popular ELT blog, Kalinago English, before she set off to the University of Manchester to do a Masters in Educational Technology. The focus of her dissertation studies is on gamification and game-like language learning environments. Some of the “games” referred to by her students in this article can be accessed via this link. Additionally, for beginners and low-level learners she has also set up this convenient site of Games for Beginner ESL students, collating fun GLEEs from around the internet, which you are welcome to peruse and use with your own learners.