Did you know that over 1.8 billion people around the world play some form of video games these days?
And if you’ve ever struggled over a tough level in Candy Crush Saga, you know why.
Games are fun!
What if you could take the excitement people have for games and apply it to your language classroom?
Can you really tap into that natural excitement and joy gamers have, and partner it with superior language instruction?
In fact, language instructors are increasingly seeing that learning can be more than just fun. It can be a game. Literally.
That’s what gamification in the language learning classroom is all about—creating inspiring language instruction clothed in a student-oriented game.
It’s easier to achieve than you think! We’ll show you six practical steps any language educator can take to set up gamification in his or her classroom.
What Is Gamification, Exactly?
Gamification isn’t the same as including games in your lesson plan. Instead, it involves turning the classroom itself into a game environment.
Imagine being transported into your favorite video game. You are Mario trying to save Princess Peach. You build the very world you inhabit in Minecraft. The fate of the realm depends on you and you alone in World of Warcraft. The game is your world, and you’re the prime player in it.
That’s similar to the rush students get in a gamified classroom. Your syllabus becomes a quest. Your tests become boss battles. Your students are the players navigating their way through the world of language learning heading toward the ultimate goal of fluency.
As they complete assignments or classroom activities, they’ll score points that move them farther along in the “game.” In short, your classroom content is all part of a bigger game in which students play as themselves while they learn.
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The Classroom Benefits of Gamification
In classes that embrace gamification, students can become more independent, more engaged and feel their successes more acutely.
Since a gamified classroom lays out student expectations clearly, students know what they need to accomplish and what their rewards will be. This increases student motivation and allows the members of your class to keep track of their own progress.
Gamification allows for authentic language usage and immersion. You could add in other media to complete the gamification technique, such as written texts or videos. For authentic videos, I recommend FluentU.
You’ll also see your students tackle even everyday tasks with more enthusiasm and engagement when they’re all part of the classroom game you’ve created.
In short, gamification adds a level of motivation to every task, which not only helps your lessons move forward but also increases overall student interaction with the target language.
Be a Top Scoring Teacher with Language Learning Gamification
The idea of turning your entire classroom into a game might be intimidating, but it’s actually quite simple and only takes a few steps.
1. Define your objectives.
The first step in setting up gamification in your classroom is to decide what your objectives are. What do you want your students to learn, achieve or accomplish through a gamified experience?
You may already have these defined in your lesson plans, syllabi or curricula, and you can easily use those objectives for your gamified classroom. But you might also want to get more specific in your objectives.
Maybe you want to target a certain area of instruction such as pronunciation. In that case, you can build your gamified experience around a series of pronunciation exercises for students to accomplish. Or you may want to use gamification for one unit only, with every piece of homework or classroom activity counting toward the game.
Your student tasks might include any of the following: complete a unit in the grammar textbook, read a book in the target language or learn ten new vocabulary words every day.
2. Create your scoring system.
Your scoring system will depend partly on what your learning tasks look like and can take a number of different forms.
Will you award a set number of points for each completed task? Will students have to complete any four out of five tasks to move on to the next level? Will each completed task earn students information necessary to complete the next task (kind of like clues toward solving a mystery)?
You can even design your own “boss battles” on the classroom gamification platform Classcraft, kind of like a collaborative test at the end of a unit, which students will have to win to move on to the next level in your gamified classroom. Another plus to Classcraft is that it has a built-in scoring system for giving and tracking student points.
Any of these techniques will work as will a hybrid of these or others. Think about what motivates your students, and then go with the scoring strategy you think will work best for them.
3. Create a game board or other system for tracking progress.
Points won’t mean anything if your students don’t have a reason to earn them. You’ll need to create a system for tracking their progress as they earn points.
If you want to keep things simple, you might consider creating a game board along your classroom walls. Think of a game pathway such as the one in Candy Land. Students all start at the beginning and move along the path toward the goal as they accomplish tasks.
You can also print out one of these board game templates and let each student keep track of his or her own progress in their own notebook.
Instead of a one-way path, you might also consider setting up levels that students can progress toward. Everyone starts at level one and the possibilities are endless.
After earning a defined number of points or accomplishing a certain number of tasks, students progress to level two. As they get more points or accomplish more tasks they move on toward level three and so on.
Since you’re in a language classroom, depending on the proficiency level of your students, you can have them write a target language summary of their accomplishments and a petition to move on to the next level. That way you can take even more advantage of the system you’ve set up.
4. Decide how you’ll represent students or teams.
Now that you know how you’re scoring and tracking points, you’ll need to decide whether you want students to compete individually or as a team in your gamified classroom. There are advantages to both:
- Are you primarily hoping to spark target language communication and collaboration? You might consider having students work in teams. This way, there’ll be ample opportunities for speaking practice as they work together to accomplish tasks and move forward in the game.
- Are there specific milestones you want each and every student to accomplish? You might want to have students play individually. If you choose this method, focus on helping everyone move forward in the game (as opposed to emphasizing competition and point counting) so no one starts to feel like they’re “losing” in language learning.
Your students or their teams will need avatars or player tokens to represent their progress in the game.
If you’re using digital means like Classcraft to track progress, you can have students set up their own accounts. If you’re tracking progress on a physical board, consider giving students a chance to create their own player tokens or figurines.
If you like, get a little writing practice in by having students create profile pages for their avatars or tokens. Have students include a short description of their token, the strengths that particular player has (a.k.a. their own particular strengths) and any other information you think might be useful or fun to include.
Try giving your students a copy of this player profile and use it as inspiration for creating their own in the target language. Then post everyone’s profile on a classroom wall where others can read about their completion or teammates.
5. Plan rewards along the way.
Once you’ve answered these questions, you’re almost ready to set off on a classroom gaming adventure, but you have one more item to prepare before everyone puts their tokens on Go: rewards. To keep students interested and engaged in the gamified environment, plan several rewards along the way.
If you’re granting points as students accomplish certain tasks, they could serve as rewards in and of themselves. But you might also consider awarding badges for certain achievements (similar to earning badges in Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts) with ClassBadges, a free site where you can reward students for all kinds of learning experiences.
If you like, make paper copies of your badges as well as digital ones and let students post them near their profile if you had them create one in the last step.
6. Let your students help.
Mike Acedo at “Teach Thought” has some great ideas for involving your students in the gamification process in this article. Consider presenting your goals or syllabus to your students and have them design the narrative—the big story—into which those goals fit.
(Hint: here’s a great opportunity to get some reading and conversation practice in as students read goals and discuss how to gamify them in small groups.)
Acedo also suggests allowing students to choose their own path toward a specific goal, creating different pathways that lead to the same progress points. For example, taking a test, doing a presentation or presenting information in a creative way.
Whatever specifics you choose, everybody wins when you gamify your classroom. Students have fun, see their progress and are motivated to continue on in their learning journey. It also gives you freedom to address specific student needs if you see anyone falling behind.
No matter what else happens, you’ll score a ten in your students’ eyes when language learning truly does become a game.
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