Game 101 with Jeffrey Kuhn


I had a blast learning from Jeffrey in this presentation.Thanks ever so much @TVeigga for sharing that video I had been looking for.

The link to RELOBrazil FB page:

Previous link not working. So video not playing here. But here is a link where you can watch.

My PLN knows that I’ve been playing/reflecting with the concept of fun and class games/activities for couple of years now. In this presentation, Jeffrey Kuhn gives us tools that will take board games (or any other game) to another level of engagement and interaction. Interestly, about couple of months ago, I asked 3 groups of learners who were all boys and video game players to design a game in which the objective was to check if players understood the comic book story they had read.

They had total freedom to discuss and design it the way they wanted it. I intervine only by asking questions and trying to understand where they were going with their ideas. In all 3 groups, they thought of fun to play first. Then we discussed objective and content, the concept of playability and how that would be achieved taking into consideration the content and objective. In order to be able to win, the players would obviously need to read the story and make sure they understood it. They are very competitive learners and their primary interest is not in the content, but the experience they get through playing. After all, some games they play do have a story to tell, but it isn’t as predictable as the games they were designing. I wonder though if by having a clear content and objective in mind, it had put constraints on their ability to come up with a more creative and fun game. #doubt

One thing Jeffrey addresses in his presentation that reminded of this experience is the fact that designers draw ideas from other games. That’s exactly what happened with one of the groups (3 students). We had playerd earlier this year a game-like activity (running dictation) where instead of giving them the dialogue, I printed the lines of the characters, cut them and stuck the lines around a second room next to ours in a random order and all kind of places (on the desk, board, wall, window, etc.). If there were enough students, I’d make them play in pairs. In this case, only 3 students so they played by themselves against each other. In one room they had a sheet of paper. They would run to the other room, choose a line, turn it upside down so no one would try to write the same sentence, go back to the first room and write it down from memory. Depends on the length of the sentence, they would go back more times. Once they were finished, they would call me (the referee) to check the sentence and if correct they would run take that slip of paper with the line they had just written and choose a new one. The activity ended as soon as there were no more lines to be read and copied. The winner was the one who collected most of the lines.

Every group experienced that game-like activity, but only the 3 students above chose that as a base for their game. They told me later, they were inspired by that experience which they enjoyed a lot. I’ll share more as soon as I get the data I collected from these classes together. That was my first experience in sharing the floor with them to design/create something and I have so much to write about it and reflect but… so little time. Until next time then!

Another group decided to use boardgame framework :)

Another group decided to use boardgame framework :)

Games & Gamers: Learners Beliefs and Attitudes #3

It’s not surprising that learners love playing games, but I have met learners who were not impressed by certain games we play in ELT. They find them childish and not really related to how people learn a language. I learned that directly from a survey/interview I ran with my learners in 2012 when I was taking a course for educators about Games in Education. I carried out an informal research because teachers taking the course from various areas of study, not just English, either did one of the following: 1) they embraced it believing that every student would love it without taking any consideration for the way the game was designed, or 2) they saw playing as entertainment and didn’t see much use for it in education. Hence the creation of educational games usually comes to bridge the concerns teachers have about using games. The main concern is usually to teach, practice or test the content of a certain subject through the game which in my opinion usually kills the game.

In my experience though, both views lack listening to learners and it is an attempt to try to put all learners in the same category. The one-size fits it all mindset. But if we do talk to them in a way that we honestly try to understand how our learners feel and view their learning experiences and their attitude toward certain activities/tasks we will learn that not all learners like games the way gamers do. So finding out if a learner fits into the gamer category has been an asset to me. Secondly to what degree they like games and whether they think they learned English before coming to a language school.

I had a learner in 8th grade years ago who thought he understood English so well because of games that he didn’t see any progress studying English in a school at all. He usually was indifferent to class activites and never saw the need to do homework especially if it was about grammar. He had been with us for more than 2 years at that time and when he first started he was a beginner at least in his oral skills. In fact later on, when he was in 9th grade while I was having these type of conversations to learn more about my learners game preferences and habits, he was in the end of his third year in our school. He said in his interview that he felt he learned only from games and not really from the classes he’d had. Shocking as it might sound, that was his opinion. And his opinion was guiding his attitude whether we liked it or not. This made me think deeply about how learners perceived what was going on in classes and also their learning/learning experiences.

Later, I understood that they might not be able to pin down what is wrong within the system presented to them and give constructive feedback because we either ask the wrong questions or share too little to really understand what is going on ourselves.

Source of the video:

Playability is what makes a game FUN and something worth playing for hours

During that course, we explored educational games and authentic games. The concept of playability (jogabilidade) is one often overlooked in our context because the focus in on the language. Language is the mean sometimes (not always) to get something done. In a game, you might need language to accomplish something or you might not. Some choose to ignore instructions and pass through the levels by simply using their own instincts, perceptions and through trial and errors. Have you ever noticed learners who never listen or read instructions? They just do it and then see what happens. But we also have those who do not lift a pencil until you explain to them what exactly you want them to do. These differences in attitude change the class dynamics for better or for worse, and It can also inform us about our learners assumptions.

In gaming, language might support the task. All gamers though have said up to this day that sometimes it’s not possible to ignore the language and just play, then they have to learn it. But it is what they have to do and whether there is a flow to accomplish their missions or go to the next level that really engages them with the game.

If you have a learner who is a gamer, he might have learned a lot of English through games and walkthrough videos in English. They might even chat online with other gamers. These teenagers don’t feel they really learn from the traditional ways of classroom practice and they might not appreciate most of the things we do. They have found ways to deal with English on their own and they are autonomous, but although they have more vocabulary and maybe be even able to speak some English, they still need feedback on their performance, that is, how well they can communicate themselves in English and need help on how to improve it. But they might not realize they need improvement and that’s a challenge we have to face.

Retelling the story has been really useful with these learners. The key is to challenge them to use the language through interesting tasks or activities, and then have individual sessions to discuss orally what they did. If they are retelling the story orally, I record them and ask them to transcribe it. After that, I correct and we discuss their errors and mistakes in English. If it’s through writing, I do the correction and then feedback session.

The groups where all students are boys and some of them are gamers, I proposed the following task based on stories: Create a game to test if readers understand the story. A post explaining how it has been proposed and negotiated coming up soon.

I’m just a teacher still learning how to teach this new generation of teens and make language learning more enjoyable for them. The link below though is a conference I missed last year and we should all be watching. :) Thanks Vance Stevens and Learning2gether to keep this valuable library of conferences/presentations recordings for us to access at any time.

(Fun) Collaborative Activity for Teens

Inspired by Chrysa’s wonderful work and blog, and her use of those colorful post-its, by my own students love for music and the recent publication of Creativity in ELT, I came up with this activity last Monday.

I like using music as timer whenever possible with my teens because they like listening to music and doing other things. In this activity, I used music as timer, post-its and teens’ creativity to write a story (6 sentences long) which had to be as crazy as possible.

Languague level: This activity can be used with learners who can already write simple sentences and have a good basic vocabulary as it is the case of my group of 8 teens around the age of 13 and 14. I made it doable by not focusing on a particular language point, so learners could use what they know. I wanted to break from the controlled activities that teens usually find so boring.

Step-by-step: First Round

  1. Number the post-its. Four learners in each group, I gave 6 post-its to each learner in the group. So, each group was going to produce 4 stories and work all at the same time. I wrote the step-by-step and rules on the board so they could look at them over and over to review the steps. I used different colors to make it easier to keep track of the story and not to confuse the post-its. Numbering the post-its is important so they can follow the sequence of the sequence too.
  2. Play the song for 30-60 seconds. While the song is playing they write a sentence introducing the story in post-it 1.
  3. Stop the song. They pass to the learner next to them the 6 post-its that had been numbered all at once.
  4. They read what their classmate wrote in post-it 1 and as soon as the song starts again, they write the next sentence in post-it 2 to continue the story. And they do step 2, 3 and 4 again and again until all the post-its have a sentence.

**Once they write the sentence, the song stops and they pass the post-its along, they will naturally ask each other questions about what their classmates had written and read all the sentences again to make sense of what had been written before. And they will also want to find out where the story is going to decide what to write next. They’ll need at least one more minute in between the writing while the song plays to be able to discuss any issue they have to understand the previous sentence. Handwriting might be a problem because they are hurrying to finish before the song stops. Or the sentence just doesn’t make sense and they need to clarify what the other person want to say. The most important thing we agreed was to write a new sentence only when the song was playing. If the song wasn’t playing, it was discussion and reading time. If they didn’t know how to write a word or two, they could write it in L1. In the following discussion time, they would help each other find the appropriate word in English. Timing is flexible. It doesn’t have to be 60 seconds. It can be anything between 60 to 90 seconds. Not before nor after. Too much time leaves space for them to get sidetracked, and too little no enough to get ready for the second round.

They will write actually not just 6 sentences, but 24 sentences! And it doesn’t take a bit more than an hour from writing to discovering what the best stories were. Plus, they have a chance to collaborate with each other by teaching each other vocabulary, discussing what they had read and reading with the purpose of understanding the message.

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We went through the activity one more time. They felt more confident in the second round, but one of the groups said they felt more creative in the first round.

After the second round, each student got two sets of post-its and had to write an improved version of the story. Improved doesn’t actually  mean adding new sentences (but this might work well too), but rewrinting the sentences in a way to produce a better text. While they were writing in a larger post-it the text, they were asking questions about the language, checking vocabulary and looking up words in a dictionary.

Then, I collected all the post-its and asked each group of 4 to listen and rate each story from 1 to 5. I made the corrections while I was reading aloud without pointing out who or what was wrong with the text unless I needed some help to understand the message myself. I tried to read like there were no errors in the text whatsoever.

By reformulating what they had written, they didn’t only got corrected versions of what they had produced in group but also a new chance to encounter the new words again. After listening to all the stories from the other group and rating, they sat together to get the average rate for each story and find out how many points each story got and the average points and the best story from each group.

Learners’ opinions about the activity: In one group, three of them rated 4 because one of the learner in the group was writing the whole sentence in Portuguese or passing the paper along blank. The learner mentioned in the other learners feedback also rated it 4 but didn’t say why. The other group rated it 5. Apart from saying that they loved it, one of the learners also said it’s good to stimulate their creativity and practice English.

Why was it fun?

They were FREE to write what came to their minds.


It’s NOT about GRAMMAR but expressing oneself CREATIVELY.

Playing a song creates this RELAXING ATMOSPHERE.

A pity it’s the end of the semester and I can’t expand this activity. I’ll try with other groups next semester and use the reformulated text as input or prompts. Or maybe by asking learners to add a drawing, picture or creating a longer story?

Talking about creativity, I’ll take the opportunity to give a shout out to the seminar that took place last week. You can watch the recording in Youtube.

Acess the Cgroup website here, and the Digital Wall here.