Tag Archives: video games

ESL Games

various colored dice

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.

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Video Game Class

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Scratch games, andimations and simulations.

When I first heard about MIT’s Scratch programming language, I thought it was interesting because it seemed like a simple but powerful way for kids to create games.  Scratch is an object-oriented, event-driven, visual programming environment.  All of these terms are explained in detail in an article in the current issue of Make Magazine, but the gist is Scratch uses draggable blocks to create programs, rather than lines of code, which simplifies the process of creating a game (or presentation, animation, etc.).  In fact, it was reading the Make article that got me thinking about another video game class.

A year ago, I taught a course in Second Life with mixed results.  This virtual environment is rich with detail and almost infinitely customizable, but the learning curve was steep and students found it difficult to collaborate within Second Life.  Scratch, by contrast, is very simple — there are collections of games created by kids posted online.  Once games are posted, they can be downloaded, edited, and mashed up as part of the learning process.

So, would Scratch make a good foundation for an elective class in an intensive ESL program?  In a four-week class, the first week could be exploring scratch projects and learning some of the basics, the second week could be devoted to a small animation project, and the final two weeks could be devoted to a final game project.  I would be inclined to get students working in pairs so there would be more interaction (it would be an ESL class, after all).  I don’t have any experience with this programming language or project management in game development, but if the students were enthusiastic enough, and I learned some of the basics before the class, I think we could all learn as we go along and wind up with some interesting projects that students would be proud to share online.

Will I offer this class?  Not sure.  I’m going to try to track down some students who would like to give it a test-drive to see if it could work.  If things go smoothly, maybe it’s something I would try in the summer.  Stay tuned.

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