We all know that games are very useful to teach a foreign language. As teachers we have already experienced that using games in the classroom makes students feel more motivated to learn as well as providing a non-threatening environment. Moreover, games are a tool to promote cooperation amongst learners allowing them to reinforce their knowledge and articulate their skills. That is to say that, playing a game makes students speak, listen, read and often write in English in a way that they do not associate to “learning in the classroom” so this will also allow the teacher to assess their strengths and weaknesses more effectively.
Therefore, if we are used to using games like Scrabble, Tic, Tac,Toe, crosswords, Hangman, and so on, why not use computer games? According to Dr. Patrick Felicia, lecturer and researcher from the Department of Computer Science, Waterford Institute of Technology, in Ireland, “digital games were associated with many stereotypes and alleged to have negative effects on gamers’ physical and mental health. However, later studies have shown (…), if good gaming habits are followed (eg. appropriate time, environment, moderation of online games, etc.) they can be considered a safe and fulfilling activity.” Computer games, can be therefore a very useful and powerful learning tool.
There are a lot of games that can be used in class and to start I usually use the ones that everybody knows in order to make it easy. In fact, to prepare a lesson based on a gaming activity may not be very simple at first because there is a lot to bear in mind and to research when you are not a gamer (which is my case!).
Here are some suggestions that I found very useful:
- Start with something that you know or that you find easy to use for example “Snakes and Ladders which is a traditional and widely known game that you can adapt to almost every topic that you teach. If you don’t find a suitable version you can always make your own game or even better, you can plan a lesson for your students to make it. Go to La Vouivre and download the free software. After that you just have to fill it in with the questions you want and the possible answers for each question. If you decide to make your students participate in making the game, you can divide the class into groups and each group is responsible for a different topic. While they are asking and answering the questions, they are consolidating what they have learnt.
- If you have the chance to use consoles, you can use some movement games like “Just dance” or “Wii sports resort” and once again you use groups to play in turns and the other groups have to watch and take notes of what is done during the game playing. After that you can deepen the topics of sports, music, healthy habits, food and drink, daily routines, etc.
- If you don´t have consoles or computers available you can use the student’s smartphones and make them download applications like Duolingo, Fluent U, Bravolol or Mindsnacks.
- If you can use a classroom computer, try to plan a lesson using Minecraft. Go to Minecraft Education (it is free now) and plan a lesson according to your students’ needs and level. You can always make a plan that makes your students follow your directions in order to build a village in the game.
- If you are a fan of simulations you can use Slim city and make your students describe their world or use the game as motivation for a creative writing activity.
- With young learners, Class dojo works very well and although it is not only a game, kids usually see it like that and like to use it. Class dojo also allows you to work with parents and share with them what is done in class.
Hope these suggestions make your teaching much more interesting not only for your students but for you, also! Don´t forget you must know the game before you use it so if you want to try it but you have never played it before, you must do so first.
To sum up, games are in fact very useful but you also have to be aware of their age and language suitability. Some might be appropriate for all ages but others might not, so if you are not sure about it go to pegi.info/en/ and search the game you want to use to check if it is the right one to use in your classroom.
Here are some links, in case you want to learn more:
Happy playing, I mean, teaching!