Hello and welcome to this end of the year edition of the TESOL Games and Learning Blog. For this month’s edition, let’s examine what should guide our implementation of games into classroom practice. If game-based learning is to make the shift from a focus on the games themselves to a focus on pedagogy (Spano et al., 2021), there needs to be more careful consideration of how we implement games in our classroom practice.
The brilliant Carol Chapelle, in Computer Applications in Second Language Acquisition, established six criteria by which we can evaluate computer-assisted language learning tools, and these criteria are a great way to consider how to best fit games into our classroom practice. Let’s take a look at what Chapelle recommends.
1. Language Learning Potential
What to ask: Does the technology allow for my students to acquire language or use the language in practice?
Often, games for the classroom can be selected because of their engagement or the ways they motivate students, but the focus should be on student learning. If the game does not have explicit ways in which the students can acquire or learn language, then it is up to us to create learning opportunities around the game. For example, see the March 2021 blog post, “Language Learning With Among Us.”
2. Learner Fit
What to ask: Does the technology match my students’ (and my) needs and abilities? Will it be easy for them (and me) to use and understand?
Arguably this criterion can apply to us more than our students. If you are not an avid video gamer, consider how well you will need to know the game to use it effectively in class. If you are not familiar with a game, it can be helpful to watch “Let’s Play” videos on YouTube that show and explain games, or to look for games firmly established in educational practice, such as Minecraft.
3. Meaning Focus
What to ask: How can I use this technology to enable learning? What do I want to teach with this technology?
When using technology, the teacher must decide how to use the technology to teach specific language material. With games, educators can often struggle to define what it is they hope to teach by using it in the classroom. This always highlights a lack of connection between the game and the learning objectives or course goals. If you find yourself struggling to connect a game to your course objectives, it may help to explore the process of backward design—in short, do not pick the game to play in class until the lesson objectives have been clearly defined.
What to ask: Does the technology let my students use their language in creative ways? Do they get to see and use language in a specific context?
What is great about games is the ways they can present players with open-ended problems that have no clear solution. It is up to the creativity and ingenuity of the player to invent a solution. Be sure the qualities of the game match the expectations of student language output. If a game stresses creativity and discovery, consider matching it with an active classroom activity versus a worksheet, for example.
5. Positive Impact
What to ask: Does this game motivate and encourage students to collaborate and work together or create conflict? How do we balance these different goals to create a positive learning experience?
People play games for varied reasons, some to compete and some to socialize. When bringing a game into class, consider what each student may want out of the game and create groups appropriately by putting the competitors together and those who enjoy collaboration in a group. A great starting point can be checking out Bartle’s Taxonomy of Player Types.
What to ask: Can I use this in my classroom?
After positive impact, this is the most important criterion for technology in the classroom. Think about ways you may need to change approaches depending on your students and classroom and what technology you and they have. After all, a great game is all about mechanics, and not flashy graphics. If you do not have computers, is there a mobile version of the game? How about a board game that has the same mechanics, or can the game be played with pen and paper?