I’ve been thinking about games a lot this week. I had viewed games in ESL as a way to engage students and possibly elicit some complex language tasks such as negotiation that might be challenging to practice in a more abstract context. I had even contemplated developing a simple video game design class for the same reasons.
Since participating on a panel discussing the role of video games in higher education this week, I’m seeing games in terms of a more authentic purpose. Specifically, learning games should an activity fun so that the player gains experience doing a given task in a low-risk environment. If the game is fun, the player will be inclined to repeat it, thereby gaining more experience. So, for example, a game that rewards your avatar for making good dietary choices could be a good way for diabetic children to learn about foods that can help them manage their diabetes.
But what is the equivalent in ESL or language learning terms? Should a game be very simple (a fun replacement for a drill-and-kill activity) or complex (navigating a virtual world in the target language)? Can games be made in a way that students can gain something more from doing the activities more than once? Can some part of a game be crowdsourced to the students so that the teacher is not the sole guiding force behind their design? Can games incorporate some web 2.0 or social media elements?
I’m curious to know if any ESL or EFL teachers regularly use games in their classrooms. If so, what games are most useful and what are the essential elements that make them so successful. If you use games, digital or otherwise, please share it by leaving a comment.