Gamification for ELLs

Gamification in the Classroom for English Language Learners

Saddleback Educational Publishing conducts a Webinar Series to spread information and resources for online learning programs. The following article is an enhanced summary based on our webinar Gamification In The Classroom For English Language Learners hosted by Dr. Sandra Hemphill on July 23rd 2020.

Our topic today is gamification in the classroom for your English language learners. We know that games are excellent for student engagement. I know for myself with my English language learners the biggest hurdle is that a lot of my students are very hesitant. Even if they are more advanced on the continuum, they tend to shy away from engaging in class and games just lend themselves perfectly to that. It does bring about a sense of community. I felt that my class became more bonded than I have seen in the past when I didn’t use games. Some of my students learn best not in your traditional format, so I saw that games are really wonderful. I know for myself when I would incorporate games, I knew that it was going to be a lot of fun. I was more excited to teach the content and my students also were more excited and they could feel my enthusiasm in the classroom. I’m all over the place dancing and singing and my students laugh at me, but they enjoy it.

Research On Games As A Teaching Method

I did want to direct your attention a little bit more to the research and what it does tell us. I know some administrations are sometimes hesitant towards games and there are some misperceptions out there, but one of the leading researchers in education, Robert Marzano, reports that games are a best practice. He has studied and triangulated the data. He’s looked at multiple research studies that have looked at a specific best practice and then he comes up with the best trend through all that data. When he looked at games, he saw that there was a huge impact in the classroom in terms of how students were engaged and their performance on standardized tests. However, he did stress that..

Educational games should have these four factors:

1) Inconsequential competition

In other words, making sure that if a student is playing a game, they know that the points aren’t going to affect their grade, for example.

2) Targeting essential academic content

This is key because we know that our ELLs are not always exposed to that strong academic language that they need to survive in everyday settings. So make sure that’s embedded.

3) Debriefing the game

I think a lot of times we think of games like Jeopardy where you play the game and then you say, okay this is right or wrong and then continue. There has to be a moment where you stop and say, let’s unpack that, let’s go deeper on why that answer is incorrect.

4) Record student learning

Whether you use interactive notebooks or whatever you use in the classroom, the students should record their learning. I always make sure that I go back and have students revise their notes based on any games that we’re playing.

Just to share with you a little bit about my journey with games, this is my fifth year in the middle school setting and I didn’t always use games. I was trying to feel my way and trying to find out what my students’ interests are. This was a pivotal year for me. I felt like I had my a-ha moment as we say in education. Just to give you a little bit of background, I teach intervention three days a week. In that intervention block where I pull students, I have three different classes. One class is comprised of my newcomers and then two classes are further along on their language proficiency continuum. I get to work with each of those classes for an hour.

Many of us see that our students’ speaking scores were quite low. A lot of times in talking with my colleagues and my counterparts that teach content, they would come to me and say, I wish I could get my students to speak more. So I really had to dig deep and think about ways I can get them to be more engaged. I found this game that I could embed into the lesson where my students were simply in a circle and they had to state a sentence in the present and in the past tense. They had to simply catch a ball. If they didn’t clap before catching, then they would answer a question. It sounds so simple, but it completely changed the vibe in my classroom. The very next day when my students walked in, they wanted to know if we were going to play the game again. That told me, wow, this is a turning point. Then I started thinking about how I need to really focus more next year on adding more games in my classroom.

Difference Between Gamifying and Games

Something I had to really dig deep into was the difference between gamifying and games, because I really didn’t know the difference at first. Game based learning is just using game elements to teach a specific skill or achieve a specific learning outcome. It takes your core content objective and makes it fun. Gamification is the application of the aspect of a game to your regular setting. In the instance with the clap and catch, I didn’t do anything different.

Originally what the students were supposed to do as part of our intervention block was just to simply turn and talk with a partner, state the sentence in the present tense, and then state it in the past. By simply having them get out of their seats instead and stand in a circle, I gamified it because the task is the same. You’re just adding that extra game element. Clap and Catch is an example. Another one that maybe all of you are familiar with is called Trashketball, where you’re asking students to answer a question and stand at a certain point in the room and they take a balled up piece of paper or a ball, throw it and try to reach their target in a trash can. If they get it for their team, they win a point. Let me tell you, it’s so much fun! The kids get noisy, but it is a targeted, on task assignment. They’re having fun which is so important.

Games In The Classroom

Classcraft For Teachers

A dear colleague of mine uses Classcraft in her classroom. She teaches at the high school and raves about this all the time. Classcraft has a paid version but the free version is amazing. You simulate a role-playing game in your classroom where all your students have avatars and it’s a great way to really get them thinking about things. Let’s say your target is that you want them to be kind to one another, or say specific things to each other, or if there’s like an academic goal that you have…You embed that within the game. You can have it projected on the board, but the students are going along their regular class time with you but they’re actually excited because they want to see what their avatar is going to do and what their team is going to achieve as a group. There are rewards that you can add that your students would be willing to work towards. It’s something that I encourage you to look into.

UNO Game For Teaching Vocabulary

I’m going to go through a series of games that I have incorporated in my classroom. I’ve actually used these games in my YouTube videos as well just to show teachers how to implement them. This first game is what really changed the game for me, and it’s called Who Wants. You simply have to use a pack of uno cards and the objective of this game is just to get students to speak in complete sentences and use nouns and adjectives in a sentence. You can use it with newcomers and beginners. Each student will get seven uno cards. Unlike the traditional game of Uno the goal is that you have a set of cards that are all of the same color or all the same numbers. It’s cohesive in that way and what happens is on the board you will list one through nine, whatever nouns that you are working on for example, and then on the other side you’ll have a list of colors. Each color is connected to an adjective.

If I’m the first student and I’m dealing cards, I’m going to look at my deck of cards and for example, let’s say I have three reds and the rest are yellow. I have a choice. I can try to make them all red or yellow. I will turn to my neighbors in the group and say does anyone have and their target is to get a specific card. So they may say I need a yellow car, and someone will say expensive. Does anyone have an expensive car? If someone has it, they’ll say yes I do and hand it to the person. The object of this is to get your students speaking using that vocabulary, that sentence structure. Just taking a simple concept like uno cards can really change things.

Guess The Word

The next game is called Guess the Word. The objective of this game is for students to listen to a partner’s prompt and to guess a mystery word. It’s appropriate for intermediate levels but there are ways you can tweak it so that it’s appropriate for your students who are beginners and newcomers.

How this works, and this is featured through Teach This, which is a great company that I’ve also collaborated with, each student is going to work as a pair. One student will be student A and the second student will be student B and you’ll take this piece of paper, cut it in half, and they’ll both get it. As student A, I’m going to ask Student B questions to see if I can get them to answer the question to guess the mystery word. I can say what color the sky is. Person B will say it’s blue and they will check it off. You’ll give them a certain amount of time to ask student B a question and then after the timer goes off, you’re going to switch teams and have them take turns, have student B do the same thing. Once it’s completed you can have the students see which partner got the most points and they win.

I know that a lot of you are probably wondering how this can be applied digitally. There are different ways of doing that. You can send them ahead of time and have them in breakout rooms but what’s really nice about the Teach This company is that they have been mindful of the situation that we’re in with quarantine and being on lockdown and so forth. They have digitized a lot of their games.

Would You Rather Questions For Kids

The next game is Would You Rather. It’s a game that is produced by a company called American English and this game comes in paper format and you print it out, but I actually used this in my zoom meeting sessions with my students so I found a way to digitize it and got creative with it. It’s appropriate for intermediate levels. You can tweak it for students at the advanced and newcomers. The objective is that students will listen to a prompt and use a sentence frame to complete a thought. Your students obviously will start at the start aspect and then they’ll roll a die. There is a YouTube link that has a die that will play and you can pause it. One of the things I do is I have the students count to 10 and then when they get to 10 then I’ll look to see where the dice lies. Let’s see the dice right here is on number four. The first student will move four spaces.

There are different questions, like Would you rather live in a house or in an apartment? It’s a great way to warm up your class and we have a lot of fun with this. We end up laughing a lot. If your students are really excited about the actual act of rolling a die, one thing you could do is have them take a random piece of paper and divide it into nine squares and have them get something that looks like a penny and just throw it. Whatever number it lies on, that’s how many spaces that they can go. I know some of my middle school students don’t mind but some of them some like that tactile component. This is a great warm-up. It’s a great way to start the class.

Scavenger Hunt Ideas For Teachers

Another game is a scavenger hunt. Believe it or not, middle school students love this. I know my students did and it just took it to a different level as we were exploring descriptive words. This game was meant to entice them to start thinking about descriptive paragraphs and descriptive sentences, getting those words that really come alive. So we did this during a session together and that was a lot of fun. It gets them thinking about things around their house because my students tend to compartmentalize academic vocabularies. This was a great way for them to start connecting certain vocabulary words and descriptive academic words in their home.

Bamboozle Online

I wanted to also mention these online resources that got my students really excited. The first one is Bamboozle. I’m not sure how many of you have played it before. but what’s really nice about Bamboozle is it’s completely free and it has a plethora of topics. So if you’re covering adjectives, grammar, sentence structure, prepositions, it is all embedded in that. Prior to playing the game, you have that choice to have a little game preview and have your students practice some of the content that they will be seeing so that it’s not as overwhelming when you actually play. How to play the game is you’re going to use Bamboozle to divide your students into teams. Teams take turns choosing and asking random questions. Once they’ve answered a question there is a check box that you will click on and it tells whether the answer is correct or incorrect. You have the ability through to group your students into teams. You can have teams of two, three, and four or however you want, and there’s two modes.

There’s a Quiz Mode and then there’s the Classic Mode. Quiz Mode is in my opinion rather boring because it’s your typical answering the question and if they get it right, they get it right and you move on and it calculates the points. The classic mode is what my middle school students go crazy over. They’ll answer the questions as they normally would but when they get the answer correct, there is a segment of it that will switch it up for them and sometimes the other team will automatically win the points that they were supposed to win. There’s also another option in Bamboozle where unexpectedly you lose points and they gain points but obviously if you have students who are really sensitive and developmentally do not like losing points even though they actually won, then that you can go to the other mode and do it that way. It’s reallynice because it’s set for all types of personalities of students.

Bingo In The Classroom

Sometimes I use Bingo in my classroom and again when you’re online teaching with your students, it’s harder to obviously do anything that is paper and so forth. What’s really nice about this digital version of Bingo is that it works a lot like Kahoot. You create your bingo card with the target vocabulary words that you are focusing on with your students, but then you send your students a link and then it automatically randomizes the vocabulary words for you. The students can have two windows open. You’re talking with them in the chat box and through Zoom, but then simultaneously they get to play Bingo with you. I use the free version and it allows you disperse it out to 30 students.

Kahoot Game For Distance Learning

Some of you do use Kahoot in your classroom. I love Kahoot for many different reasons. For those of you who haven’t played it before, Kahoot is a virtual game. You send them a link and then they can answer questions either on a computer or on their phone. Within seconds after everyone has answered the question, it tabulates how many points everyone has received. I like to actually use this game not in the traditional sense. If I’m covering a vocabulary word or series of vocabulary words, I use it to test to see how familiar they are.

I’ll have a vocabulary word displayed but then the choices are how familiar are you with this word. There will be a continuum: I’ve used this word in everyday language all the way to I’ve never seen this word before. I’m getting immediate feedback from the students and I know what to focus on, versus just going straight to teaching.

Other Games For ESL Students

The next game is very similar to the Bamboozle game that I have used, and this is thanks to a wonderful friend of mine who is also a teacher YouTuber by the names of Games for ESL.

In this game you are also going to make teams and the object of the game is force students to take turns clicking on the letters to the game. Then it’s going to display a question that they answer. Then there’s a twist to it, just like Bamboozle. This is a screenshot of an actual lesson that I did with my students. The question was How does Trino react to the book lady?

They go ahead and answer that question and then they have to decide to keep the box or give the box. They have to accept the consequences of what’s in that box. If they say they want to keep the box, they could receive 100 points, but it also could be they lose 100 points, give or take. Just like Bamboozle you have to decide whether your students are too sensitive about losing points. It’s meant to be a playful, innocent type of game.

More Content Coming Soon

Just to give you background about myself, I’m very active on YouTube and Instagram. I’m trying to break out into the twitter world. I’m trying to master one social media link at a time. I only started this channel back in September and it’s been really exciting to get to interact with different teachers from all around the world. Eventually we will be moving to doing live streams so that we can interact with one another and I’m just so happy to have this opportunity to share this information with all of you!