Saturday, November 5, 2016

Common Language of Games

"The glue that sticks many different kinds of ‘knowing’ together is language."

 -Vygotsky, 1978                   

My last blog post discussed the numerous benefits of utilizing game-based learning in the classroom and in the comment of our excellent instructor was recommended the article “Learning Technologies and Playful Ecologies” published by WIDA at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  After reading the article I feel compelled to write a blog post focusing on using games and tech tools as a way to “elicit the use of targeter language”.  I immediately related to the example presented.

It frequently happens when only one device is available and you have a group of children wanting to participate in the game.  They begin to work together as a team and taking turns to complete various parts of the game or activity.  My son did this the other day with his friend.  There was one iPad and two of them so they played together, took turns, discussed how to complete levels and why some things were more awesome than others.  It was genuine, engaging, deep conversation.  While Plants vs. Zombies might not have the most educational value when it comes to games, the conversation they were having was rich in language.

The example in the article presented the same idea, except her’s was built around a reading game with a lot more core educational value to it.  While any game can very much drive rich discussion, using educational games can prove even better.  We see that promoting informational literacy and diverse digital experiences, through games and other tech tools, engages ELLs in rich forms of problem-solving, collaboration, creativity, and production, the interactions through which language is built (Himmele & Himmele, 2009).  In the article it discusses how language is developed through it’s use and that using games and technology collaboratively, give students opportunity to use language in a setting that isn’t so much like instruction.  Games are a place where school and a student’s culture can interjected, because the vast majority of students have at least a favorite app giving them a common interest regardless of their different backgrounds.  Everyone loves games!

Any game, digital, physical, educational, entertaining, can provide students the opportunity to engage in conversation and utilize language.  Yet it is the well-selected games the teachers can pick that will give the students the ultimate chance to provide avenues for creation, expression, and the kinds of meaningful activities that facilitate academic language development, as well as frame various learner identities for ELLs (WIDA, 2014). In the importance of understanding what you should look for in a tech tool and games, this article provides an evaluation tool that will ask you some guiding questions and you can reflect on the challenges and opportunities each tool/game could provide.  It is a very detailed three page form broken up into five sections based in content, context, communication/language, the individual child and reflections.  It is a great resource to use in it guides you to look for these key elements and forces you to think of ways they connect to student’s learning.  If you are looking to implement any kind of new tech tool or game that is based around students collaboration, I would strongly recommend this article and the wonderful evaluation resource it provides.

Himmele, P., & Himmele, W. (2009). The language-rich classroom: A research-based
framework for teaching English language learners. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological
processes. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.

WIDA Consortium. (2014). Learning Technologies and Playful Ecologies. Retrieved from


  1. I'm a special education teacher and I work on a lot of relationship building and social skills with my kids. One of the ways that I address this is through Lunch Bunch, which means that one of my students gets to bring 3 friends to my room during lunch to play a game. Playing a game sounds silly, but it is a great way for my students to collaborate, interact with their peers, engage in conversation, maintain conversations, take turns, share, etc. Games are a great tool to utilize in the classroom and I can definitely see how they can be used in language classrooms as well. I've always considered ESL and special education to be similar and this is just another example of how.

  2. When you think of games, I always think of board games. Board games require you to almost always have 2 or more players. These games encouraged active participation and collaboration. Today, we have electronic games that usually can be played by one person, but I can see these types of games can also promote participation and collaboration if used properly in the classroom. Students do tend to socialize a lot more at school when they are participating in a gaming activity. I can definitely see the advantages of video games. Thanks for sharing.