Have you ever felt like your chest was about to explode?

No, I’m not having a … (whatever you thought I might be having!)

This is what I’m feeling!

I’m delving into the world of game designing thanks to Jeff Kuhn’s effort to spread this notion that gaming literacy for teachers is a great way not just to understand the world our teens live in but also to rethink how games are being used and the possibilities. In his presentation “The World is Not Enough: The Need for Game Design” for Gaming and Gamification WebConference: A win-win for language learning, he convinced me of its benefits if they are well-designed.

As games gain traction in the language classroom, the conversation for teachers is shifting toward a fuller understanding of how games work. In this session, we’ll examine how we can utilize game pacing, possibility space, and intentional design – three key design elements of a good game. Jeff Kuhn, 2014

The whole conference is a must watch and I’m surprised that I missed it last year!

In what part of the planet was I to miss it?! I have no clue.

I had always been skeptical of the use of so called “games” in the language classroom because they didn’t seem really fun. It was always clearly about using language accurately and like most texts used in class as a pretext for grammar or vocabulary learning/practice. And as I didn’t know what to do to make things better, I always opted to leave them out.

I believe I also had my prejudice against games which is part of a cultural assumption that learning should be hard work, or else it is not really learning and as it is deeply ingrained we ended up clashing our beliefs with our teens own beliefs. ( Sykes & Reinhardt, p.14 )

Consider the feedback my 12, 13 and 14 year-old learners just gave me today. They are in the second semester of classes.

“It was really cool and E. has a dictionary in his head. But it was really cool, great, I loved it and I think we should play it more times.”

“I think games are very good to practice writing and speaking.”

“I think games really worth to make us learning the content. Even though I always lose, I still like it.”

“I loved it! It was really fun, well organized and nicely challenging. I like challenges.” The learners also add 5 stars and a heart.

“The game is good and it was well organized. It was good to learn the past and to translate correctly. It’s really fun.”

“It was fun, but my partner and I were a little confused on what to do in the first round of the game.”

“The game was really fun and my friend and I helped each other.”

“I loved it because it was really fun. And very challenging and I love challenges.” also stars and a heart!

**Their feedback was written in L1**

After writing their opinions freely, I gave them the Institute of Play “Playtest Reflection Template” to fill out. You can find the form and more info, here.


This isn’t only about the game itself but the immediate feedback I get from the students which shows me how much they enjoyed, whether they found it easy or difficult to play and how clear my instructions were. And it doesn’t stop there. The set of questions that follow covers learning goals, suggestions to improve or modify the game and learners own preferences. As I ask them to write their names on the form, I am also able to learn more about my learners as learners and people in the world.

Sykes and Reinhardt points out that tasks and games are goal-oriented, and as I read the chapter I started to think about the lesson I had to give today in which the content was simple past in all forms through a dialogue… followed by the usual comprehension questions.

Before even thinking about opening the book, I told them we were going to play a game in which the goal was to collect as many cards as possible in order to win the game. The objective of the lesson was learn new verbs in the past in the negative, affirmative and interrogative forms. When I invited them to play the game, I shifted their attention from the content to the game and the goal of collecting cards to win.

In order to play and that was part of the game, they had to read in pairs and make sure they really understood the dialogue. They had their dictionaries with them. Once they were ready, they would look at the floor, select one of the cards, picked it up and go to the next stage of the game:

  • Translate the verb from L1 to L2 by using their dictionary if they didn’t know the meaning in L2.
  • Find an example sentence that was in the simple past within the dialogue.
  • Copy the sentence onto a colorful slip of paper that represented the team, hand to me for correction and keep up until there were no more cards on the floor.

All the verbs on the floor were in the text, but not all of them were in the past. So, this would make them go over the text over and over again. But I did not inform them of that. They discovered that by themselves.

For each card they collected they got a point.

One of the things I have discovered in the last few months is that once they have a score, the ones losing want to continue playing so they can beat whoever is winning and as my classes are very democratic, the ones losing always get to decide whether to continue or not. But instead of playing it again, I invited them to play a sequence of the same game which would involve using the colorful slips of paper they had just written on.

They got really excited and the rule was pretty simple, take the sentence and translate it to L1. They used the back of the slips to write and each slip was worth 2 points. If it was totally correct (form and meaning), they’d get 2 points. If it had a mistake or two, they’d get 1 point. And totally incorrect, no points at all. I’m happy to say that the sentences which focused on checking their comprehension was almost all of them correct. And only the two students who had the most difficult with the game (see the graphics above), didn’t produce any sentence because in this round dictionaries were not allowed. In fact, in the reflection form, they suggested being able to use dictionaries at all times.

The instructions are pretty much adaptable to any text or content. And I had no idea of what to call it. So, I just called Find and match game . I’m pretty excited with this learning journey. I finally made peace with fun.


3 thoughts on “Have you ever felt like your chest was about to explode?

  1. I know what you’ve been through with this so I’m glad. I’m not reconciled with games just yet but you are inspiring me to read up on game mechanics and such like to try to liven things up without becoming a games machine. Thanks for writing about it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I felt over the moon watching most of them (6/8) extremely engaged, smiling and colaborating. The pair who felt that the it was too challenging for them, felt that way because in the second part they couldn’t use the dictionary. They both suggested that dictionaries should be used. I’m curious to see whether next time, they’ll change their strategy to take more advantage of the first part of the game when they have a chance to learn and check dictionaries.

      Liked by 1 person

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