Last time I wrote about what keeps us from using games for language learning purposes more often. Now that the hectic weeks of the semester start are behind me and the routine of mid-semester kicks in, I’d like to write about what works in practice.
First of all, the user/learner has to enjoy the game. There are many educational games that simply are traditional language exercises thinly disguised as games; but they are not inherently fun. In order to really leverage the benefits of games, we must not forget about their most important criterion: fun. That may mean to make tough choices: a highly motivating game may not teach you anything about the past perfect, nor will it cover the exact vocabulary items found on assessment lists or a particular textbook. If that is the goal, then games are probably not the best way to learn that material. But if we accept the notion that language learning is often incidental and should be attached to authentic and relevant content, then the number of possibly relevant games grow.
So what makes games good? Compelling narratives, well spaced tasks of increasing difficulty, accommodating different levels of skill and expertise, useful, situation-sensitive feedback information, and a constant stream of rewards (e.g. badges, upgrades, new items or traits, points, ranks, …).
This all sounds good in theory, but which games can we actually use in the classroom or in more informal settings? Here’s a brief list of games I’ve used and their benefits. I’ve written about these before on my own blog, so I’m copying a few sentences from that post here and include links to the different posts.
My favorite game because it’s intuitive, social, and adaptable. Here’s how it works: up to 8 players each take a wireless controller, which sports 4 brightly colored buttons and a large “Buzz” button. Players choose their own avatars and buzzing sounds and then compete in a quiz game show, somewhere along the lines of “Who wants to be a Millionaire” and “Jeopardy”. It’s so simple, you give someone a buzzer and he/she knows what to do. It’s available in a number of languages, depending on where you buy it. You can use the quizzes on the disc, or you (or your students…) can make your own for free by using a web interface. More…
Narrative Games: StoryLines, StoryWheel, and Dear Esther
In StoryLines, the player chooses an expression or a saying and draws it on a mobile device. This work of art is passed on to another player, (by passing the device or through the internet), who is charged to title the drawing. The next user creates another drawing based on the previous person’s title, and so on. More…
In StoryWheel player 1 will see a random image and then is prompted to record a narrated voice-over, which should correspond to the animated image. After that, he/she passes the iOS device on to the next player, who continues the story in the same fashion, and so on until the story is finished and published. Of course this could also be played by only one player. The final result an animated, narrated digital story that can be published as an iBook or online. (You can find some online, public examples here). More…
The free platform called ARIS combines gaming and storytelling elements by using a location-aware iOS app. You can build your own game by using a web interface, thus being able to adapt everything to your needs and situation. Definitely look at the Mentira project at the University of New Mexico to see one possible use of implementing this augmented reality gaming engine.
Quest for the Rest
Quest for the Rest is a great little browser game that lends itself for one language class and that I’ve been using for quite some time now. The game free and easily accessible here without any downloads. There is no text in this brief adventure game. Instead, players click on different parts of the scene to make certain things happen. No language? Where’s the practice in that? Well, as with most games for learning, it’s the activities, the scaffolding, and the debriefing that are crucial. Students discuss strategies, negotiate meaning, and write down their progress as they advance in the adventure. More…
It’s very time-consuming to find good games for language learning and teaching purposes. There are more that I or colleagues have used successfully, for example World of Warcraft, The Sims, and various adventure games. Using games in formal classroom settings can be very challenging as they often do not fit into existing curricula. So very often we use them outside of the classroom, for example during game evenings in the language center. On those evenings, some students choose computer games, while other play board games. Which are excellent for language learning, by the way. That’s why I’ll write about them in one of my next blog post!
Are any of you using games for language learning? I’d like to know!