What’s in a Game? Part I

Apart from being motivating and fun I would like to reflect on the language learning aspect of using games in class. I’m asking myself questions like what a game like the PPT Game Name that Tune would offer learners in terms of language practice or what kind of learning would take place.

Here are some thoughts and assumptions:

* It offered support for different language levels. It should! After all I have learners in different stages and can only deal with a certain amount of language or challenge at the time.

* They had meaningful and comprehensible input. It was meaningful because they were engaged in an authentic situation with the challenge to understand the clues in order to complete the game. And comprehensible input because the clues were given in a way that matched each level.

* It was not just playable. Playability plays a huge part in how a game will be perceived by the learners. It has to do with how enjoyable a game is. They had fun! No doubt about it. I played with 4 different classes (from mixed-levels to a group of the same level to actually a class of one.)

* Apart from engaging with reading/listening to the clues, Speaking is not going to occur to a great extend. It will only take place if the learner is an active language user. In this case, my one-to-one class in which the learner is a teen and very active language user, it was a blast in all senses. Have you ever tried to play with only one student any game?

* Everyone participated and were attentive to the game at all times.

* Music is really a great element to engage learners and it has an affective aspect.

* Presenting things in a different way is for sure a winner. The wordcloud is really interesting. By mixing tunes and colorful written text once again was engaging.

* It needs a lot of time to play and enjoy it all the way to the end. So depending of the class time and the size of the class, you’ll need to limit it to maximum of 10 tunes and be prepared to spend at least about 40 minutes just playing it. In one of the groups that they are in the same level of English (Group of 3 students), they wrote down the answers as planned, but no much speaking was going on and it took 30 minutes for them to play it. In another class (one-to-one), I changed the dynamics and we played orally only (no written down the answers) and generated lots of sharing about his favorite tv series, the ones he didn’t know anything about, joking around and challenging himself to get 20 out of 23. It took us an hour and 20 minutes to play with all the tunes.

My conclusions:

If this game was presented without the support of the PPT, it wouldn’t have been as engaging and helpful to set the focus on completing the task. Their eyes were glued to the computer screen at all times. Audio and visual stimulus are really useful with my teens and I should bring them more into the classroom, not just in the format of videos, but also using music, color and games. Wordclouds and posters are particular interesting ways to do so. Another aspect of listening that I didn’t mention above, but could notice once again is that they want to be challenged in their listening of the language as well. Some students could read the clue cards, but prefered to listen to me giving the clues orally. Offering support and allowing learners to push themselves instead of being pushed seems equally important. I’ll keep that in mind in the near future. As for language practice, listening and reading were the main skills being used by the learners. Speaking would be a plus if they interact in L2 during the game. In one of the groups they showed great excitement and exchanged comments with one another, BUT in L1. Higher level learners told me last semester that when they are in class they don’t notice they are using L1 because they get excited with the tasks and it is hard for them to focus. Another reason would be because they know lower level learners wouldn’t understand so they switch off completely. This is one of the drawbacks of working with the whole group at once when they are mixed-levels, one affects the other greatly. I am trying though to keep this whole group task to a minumum now and trying to find solutions where the group can be split for speaking practice. Grading would be a coercitive measure in which I really don’t feel comfortable with, but I know would be very effective with them.

Engaging in a game is not the same as engaging in practicing the language, I mean practicing when learners are the ones producing it. So, although playing games is fun, and because it is fun, it is also engaging it is important that everyone in the game have the chance to participate, fair chances of winning and practicing the language even if the language aim is different for each level, it is still important to be enjoyable for everyone.

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6 thoughts on “What’s in a Game? Part I

  1. I like how you took the time to reflect on what had happened. I think you hit on an important point about the differences between having fun and being motivated. You also touch on the intrinsic versus extrinsic motivation when you think about grading. These differences make up such a large part of what happens in the classroom.

    Thanks for sharing your experience with us.

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    • Thanks so much for taking the time to read and comment Nathan. Sorry it took so long for me to reply. Games in EFL/ ESL seems to discussed from the perspective of fun and motivation quite often. And it might be just me, but I haven’t seen it discussed from the point of view of learning, unless it is said to be fun for learners, thus motivating. Please anyone reading this, correct me and point me out to any discussion or article/book that does discuss it further than this. I think Games are really productive when learners are fully involved in the game play (One of my very first blogpost discusses playability which I talk about the Hungry Fish – a variation of Hangman) and L2 is used in order to complete it successfully and win. Good games take time to be played and not everything we call games in class falls in the category of games, but certainly for students more fun and engaging than doing grammar exercises. I’m learning to ask students what they learned or are learning, so we can all understand what is going on in class. I asked them what they learned with that particular game and they really couldn’t say. Some even tried to say vocabulary, but couldn’t write down what words or phrases they learned. Because there was nothing to learn there. It was on the other hand, more of a input opportunity and could have been oral practice as well if they used L2 at all times like my 1-2-1 students did. In another post, someone suggested that students could create the quiz themselves. I want to try that out next and see how much they will perceive it as real learning.

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  2. Dear Rose,

    Excellent reflections on your part, well thought out and well written as well. Really interesting to see how you experimented with different variations of the same activity based on your learners’ needs. From experience, I’d say that even when speaking does not take place “physically” in the classroom, it’s not really a problem because learners may be digesting and speaking in English by means of their thought processes! In fact, I’ve also read some studies that have stated that it’s absolutely alright for learners to use L1 in the classroom, so long as it’s used with the intention of understanding and discussing a task in the L2 (which I thought made a lot of sense, especially for lower level learners).

    Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts here, and I’m definitely going back to your older posts and reading it as I mentioned to you before!:)

    Ratna

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    • Thanks so much Ratna for sharing your thoughts on this reflection. You make a great point of the place of L1 in class. But the problem starts right there where you made the point. Lower levels would use L1 to share their thoughts and excitement about the game, after all the game was really enjoyable and even though I was so worried that I had to grade the clues to suit different levels and that would kill the fun of it, for them it was really fun. In some groups I asked for the feedback and they all agreed they loved the game and when I asked if it was a fair game, they were happy that everyone in the group had a chance to participate. It was not about competing so much as about to have fun playing together. If I am not wrong, those advocating digital games in the classroom make the point of using a reflection time or follow-up activity afterwards as a mean of practicing the language. That might be something I should make sure happen after the game. A follow-up activity that create an opportunity for them to use/review the language they had listened or read (in this case the clues) in order to create opportunities for them to write and speak.

      I’m a believer that for understanding the language or the instructions, L1 is completely fine to be used in the class, but as their language repertoire increases the need for it should decrease. In this groups I have learners who can really use English and their explanation for not using it is because of their friends (they won’t understand) or because they get excited about the class. Both are reasonable reasons and possible to be true reasons too, but I have also seen groups with no Lower level learners do just the same. So, it is hard to change their attitude towards speaking in L2 at all times in class. I have seen only those who are fully convinced that it is benefitial to do so in their own (intrisicly motivated to speak). Well, I’ll continuely try to experiment and find a way to trigger this need with them. It is quite intriguing and painful at times when you decide to look deeper in what happens in the classroom, but it is worthwhile and thanks to Break Rules course through iTDi and John F. Fanselow I am learning to do that in a playfull manner and being less judgmental of me and my learners.

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  3. Pingback: What’s in a Game? Part 2 | ROSE BARD – Teaching Journal

  4. Pingback: 2014: And let the fun begin! | ROSE BARD – Teaching Journal

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