Every student learns differently. Some students will be happy to sit quietly and read a book by themselves, some prefer to work in groups, and some through hands-on experience.
The different ways we learn are endless and yet the majority of academic instruction is still rooted in the same strategy of lecture and drill practice. In recent years, there has been an influx of technology applications in classrooms but the same strategy still applies: lecture and drill practice, only with computers this time.
This is why I was so impressed when I stumbled across a program called Games 2 Teach. Today, I wanted to take a deeper look at their program and what they have to offer.
Table of Contents
Games 2 Teach
Games 2 Teach is a program brought to life through the collaboration of several different organizations like the Center for Applied Second Language Studies (CASLS) at the University of Oregon, the Center for Educational Resources in Culture, Language, and Literacy (CERCLL), and the National Foreign Language Resource Center (LRC), and was originally founded and designed by Dr. Jonathon Reinhardt (University of Arizona) and Dr. Julie Sykes (University of Oregon).
The goal of Games 2 Teach is to provide digital gaming resources to foreign language teachers. The program offers practical classroom examples with full lesson plans, academic publications, and resources and guides on how to evaluate games for classroom use.
Gamification VS. Game-Based learning
Gamification is the process of turning an activity or lesson into a game. An easy example of this would be assigning points to a student for every correct answer to a question or playing a Jeopardy-style review game. The motivation for the student lies within the reward or penalty of the framework of the game. This method works well but once the reward or penalty is completed or removed, typically, so is the student’s motivation
Game-based learning, on the other hand, uses games to introduce concepts and guide students towards specific learning objectives and goals. Game-based learning has a distinct advantage over gamification by engaging students and shifting motivation. The game and learning objectives are intertwined, building motivation for the lesson itself – as opposed to the reward. The end goal is to motivate students in a way that inspires and fosters learning.
Today we’re looking at one of Games 2 Teach’s practical classroom examples and exploring how games can be used as a tool in the classroom.
This War of Mine
This War of Mine, initially released in 2014, is a simulation video game that puts players in control of several characters during a war in the fictional country of Graznavia. The interesting part about this game is that, unlike most war games, the player character isn’t a super soldier or a gun-toting maniac. The characters are survivors caught in the middle of a war and simply want to live.
This brings up a host of moral dilemmas for the player characters.
- Do you rob someone who’s also suffering to improve your situation?
- Do you risk your own life and safety to help someone else?
- With limited supplies, who gets to eat today?
These are some of the decisions and dilemmas that players face within the context of the game and unfortunately, at the time of writing this, it’s also the reality for many people and refugees who are currently living through this situation in Ukraine.
Due to the nature of the game, This War of Mine will see limited use in a high school setting and is unsuitable for secondary and primary school. This particular practical example is designed for adult or college-level learners.
The Game 2 Teach program’s practical example for the classroom is rather extensive and is available for free on their website in the downloads section.
I won’t be going over the entirety of the lessons they provide but rather contributing a brief overview, looking at one activity from each of the three different levels: novice, intermediate, and advanced.
The activities at the novice level focus on self-reflection and descriptions of feelings. Students are asked to write two different poems or descriptions about themselves. The first is without any context given and the second comes after the students play through the first few days of the game.
Students at this level won’t be able to understand the majority of the dialogue from the game but using the visual clues and patterns, they should be able to infer and gain context about the character’s feelings and goals.
With this gained context, students are then asked the same questions from the first poem, with less structure.
This is such a fantastic exercise. When students are given a simple assignment like the first poem without context, the answers will most likely be generic or aimed at simply completing the task.
The second poem is the one that interests me the most. After giving some context and an extreme alternative, like living in a war-torn country, it would be very interesting to see how their perspectives change and how they self-reflect.
Throughout this entire process, the students are engaged, but the focus is always on language acquisition.
- How do the characters feel?
- What do they need?
These questions are answered using descriptive language and then these same questions are reversed onto the students, thereby constantly building up their vocabulary.
The intermediate activity allows students to play the game for a slightly longer duration but then focuses on narration, summaries, everyday needs, and transcription.
Players take notes of the characters’ days as they play, using a simplified journal-style worksheet.
The intermediate activities are similar to the novice activities but focus more on the narrative and everyday needs and life. Perhaps the most interesting aspect is that the video game connection from This War of Mine is taken one step further with the activities by using the Humans of New York project.
It takes the fictional world of Graznavia and allows students to explore real-world refugee stories.
Students take notes of the day-to-day activities of their characters in This War of Mine and create a blog/testimony that they then present to the class.
The students are then all peer-reviewed to show what part of their testimony worked or what part needed more effort — or perhaps stronger language.
The learning objectives presented in this exercise focus on spoken language skills and interpersonal communication using situations of fear.
After playing through day 6 of This War of Mine, students are asked some questions like:
- “How does the content of what you discuss change between situations of normalcy and situations of fear?”
- “When might it be harmful to divulge too much information in both situations?”
- “When might it be harmful to divulge too little information?”
Students are then asked to create a skit for an encounter and must perform it in both a normal setting and a situation of fear.
This lesson is perhaps my favorite. There’s room for natural language acquisition and practice as students come up with their skits and the questions asked involve deep critical thinking and self-reflection.
The focus of the skit and the peer review/discussion afterward provides a platform for students to explore and understand persuasive language and its use in everyday situations and high-stress or high-risk situations.
I think it’s a fantastic way to hit the lesson objectives while clearly engaging students as they try to place themselves in similar situations and explore how they would react.
When I first saw This War of Mine released, I purchased it myself and played it quite a bit. It was completely innovative and new at the time. Very few war games (if any) approached war in the same way.
I had that exact feeling when I looked through Games 2 Teach’s website. I was immediately transported back into the classroom as a novice teacher, looking for fun and engaging ways to teach students. That sense of seeing something completely new or from a different perspective opened my eyes to possibilities.
Typically, when I was in charge of my curriculum and classroom I only looked to board games for game-based learning activities. The thought of using popular video games as a tool never even crossed my mind.
When using board games in the classroom I had unknowingly limited myself to certain types of games and genres.
For example, I would use social deduction games as an introductory activity to debates. The game itself was used as a frame for upcoming traditional lessons but after viewing Games 2 Teach’s research and examples, I see that there’s quite a lot more that can be done, especially when it comes to contextualizing lessons with real-world examples.
It’s opened my eyes to what an educational game can be.
I was fascinated by the Games 2 Teach program when I heard about it. After spending several years teaching ESL courses and being unable to deviate from the standard curriculum, it’s so refreshing to see more innovative ways to teach.
This program also opened up my eyes to what can be considered an educational game. Board games that are marketed as educational board games have a bad reputation of being shallow and unengaging. Some even are marketed as a way to try to trick students into learning, which I think is a bad approach to education and gaming. Having students actively engaged and motivated to learn about a particular topic is the goal, but it’s also easier said than done. Adding digital media and video games to a lesson plan is a fantastic way to get that engagement and motivation.
When properly framed and planned, there are plenty of games that I wouldn’t necessarily think of as educational games, but after seeing the Games 2 Teach program, I can definitely see the potential for a lot of games in my library.
Looking for Educational Games? Check out our video below:
Before starting GameCows with his wife Kendra, he used to teach English Language Arts in the US. He combined his love of gaming with education to create fun game-based learning lessons until he eventually decided to run GameCows with Kendra full-time. He’s known for pouring over rulebooks in his spare time, being the rule master during game night, and as the perma DM in his DnD group. Bryan loves board games, writing, traveling, and above all his wife and partner in crime, Kendra.