It Makes Sense

Level: Intermediate

Location: Computer room (multiple computers)

Skills Focus: reading

Language focus: In-game vocabulary

Game: BBC Senses Challenge

What makes sense here?  Well, for starters the play here revolves around a BBC interactive quiz based on the 5 senses which happened to tie in nicely with a unit in a class course book that focused on verb forms connected with the 5 senses.  With this topic coming up and having a computer room slot it made sense to do something fun, educational and involving and so here it is.


After covering the topic of the senses in the course book I told my class they were going to do an interactive quiz on the senses that was on a BBC website.  I told them they would have to solve puzzles and answer questions that tested their senses BUT that there were a few questions I wanted to give them to answer.  The questions would all be about the explanations that came when they had completed each puzzle.  They should read the explanations but use their own words to write the answer. Each question number below was connected to the Quiz number in the Senses Challenge.  Here are the questions:

  1. Why is the first optical illusion with the lines difficult to do?
  2. Why is it difficult to adjust the centre circle?
  3. How does the angle of the line affect this puzzle?
  4. How does this room optical illusion work?
  5. What things is your brain taking into account here?
  6. How many did you get right?
  7. Was this one easy or difficult?
  8. What happens in your brain with this one?
  9. How does the flickering image confuse you?
  10. Why do the two foods mentioned in the right answer go together?
  11. What are Amines?
  12. What does Capsaicin do and where can you find it?
  13. Who are the best supertasters?
  14. What does this part of the body do?
  15. How many decibels is bad for you?
  16. Why do you lose your hearing as you get old?
  17. Why do some people get car sick?
  18. What do receptors in your skin do?
  19. What surprises you about this answer?
  20. What do the different parts of the brain do?
You can either cut and paste these into a document and make enough copies for each pair of students OR make a single copy and get students to take it in turns to relay dictate them to a partner.
Check they are ok with all the language there and ask them to make a guess at some of the answers now )talking about them) and give them a few minutes.


  1. Direct students to the website and tell them to do the quiz.
  2. Say that the first pair to answer all of your questions is the winner.
  3. Fast finishers can be set the task of going for 20/20 in the quiz.

Post Play

  1. Feedback on the answers.
  2. Ask students what they learnt about the senses.
  3. Ask them what the most interesting thing they learnt was.


  • For the answers you can:
  • play the quiz yourself and write them down
  • play the quiz again on a single computer and ask students to identify the answers in the explanations.
  • Use common sense.





Learning Games and Neuroscience

In the University of Bristol’s Education Endowment Foundation‘s recent study on Neuroscience and Education, (Howard-Jones, 2014), there is an interesting section on Learning Games.

Classroom practice and neuroscientific research

The review  ”considers the extent to which insights from the sciences of mind and brain influence, or are close to influencing classroom practice”, summarising “existing evidence about approaches and interventions that are based, or claim to be based, on neuroscience evidence.”

The report categorises the approaches into 1) those which are likely to have a positive impact on attainment, 2) those which need further testing to determine the likely impact on attainment, and 3) those which do not seem to have a promising impact on attainment.

Further research required 

When it comes to learning games (p33), the report says that there “is a clear theoretical basis and laboratory-based evidence for a classroom-based approach…but evidence of impact on improved engagement and enhanced academic achievement is limited to young adults.” Learning Games, therefore, fall into the second category mentioned above.

What is known about Learning Games

  • Popular games stimulate the brain’s reward system
  • The brain’s reward response can positively influence the rate we learn
One thing that is worth exploring, according to the report, is the effect of  ”chance-mediated rewards”, which are commonly found in games, and it is noted that “uncertain rewards are more stimulating than either wholly predictable or unexpected rewards”
This neural response to reward is of educational interest “not simply in terms of motivating us and making lessons more rewarding, but because reward appears to have more direct effects on the rate at which we learn.”
The findings suggest exploring further “a games-based approach to learning that increases emotional/motivational response by disrupting the learning-reward relationship with chance, in order to encourage greater reward activity without endangering self- and social-esteem.”






100 most common words in English

Level: Intermediate (and above)

Location: Connected classroom

Skills Focus: vocabulary / 100 most common English words

Game: Quizicon

Nothing too remarkable here.  What you see below is what you get.

There are a number of ways you can do this:

Open Class

Your learners may simply like completing this as a collaborative activity in the classroom.  Present the game for all to see and press start after you’ve read out the instructions.  Then ask your learners to shout out words and see how many you can get as a class in 5 minutes.

A competitive element

Really the same set up as above but instead of shouting out the answers you put your learners into small groups and you give them five minutes to brainstorm and write down words they think will appear on the Quizicon board.  When the timer runs out reset it and tell your learners they get a point for each of the words they’ve listed that appear on the Quizicon board.

Fast Finishers

Sometimes a computer room activity can be completed by one  or a few groups ahead of the others. Give them this game to occupy them while others finish the other set activity.

Hurried Homework

Some learners simply crave a bit of homework that is educational, offers fun but is also a challenge.  I set up an edmodo site for an adult intensive course and this is one of the activities I posted for learners to ‘Do try this at home‘.

Turn Taking

Another team activity where teams take it in turns to guess a word.  If they guess a word right they get a point get it wrong and it passes to the next team. Continue until time runs out and then add up the points and declare a winner.

Memory Test

If a significant number of words were not guessed in a previous Turn Taking class then a return to this game (if your learners are willing) could prove a challenging memory test.  Generally, the game proceeds very quickly at the beginning as learners remember the words they remember and it gets progressively more difficult as they progress near and past where they reached last class.

100% Correct Challenge

Offer a prize or similar incentive (I offered less homework for a short period) to the first person who could present me with proof that they had successfully completed all of the words. I reasoned that even if they did this by cheating it would have required a level of ingenuity that deserved rewarding.



Creating your own computer games: bringing compulsive learning to the classroom

Thanks to Simon Hadley for this great guest post all about creating your own computer games to use with students.

Hunched over a keyboard in the classroom he clicks away furiously with the mouse whilst simultaneously sweeping the virtual room from side-to-side. Game tiles fall before his lightning-quick reflexes. He’s done it, in record time! The fastest student to complete the vocabulary matching game since…the last person! That he didn’t read any of the vocabulary hardly seems to matter. He was a hero!

The problem with a lot of ready-made EFL computer games on a variety of websites is either that they’re not very fun computer games, or they’re not very good for learning. Online hangman is only marginally more entertaining than real hangman and other online games can be completed through fast clicking and trial and error (a far more natural skill to utilise in computer gaming than thinking about English grammar and vocabulary).

I used the “platform creator” because it allowed me to insert text into the game (using the “inscription” wall-tile or the talking characters). I spent many enjoyable hours creating the game “perfect performance” for students to play and practise the present perfect simple.


The basic premise of the game is that of a 2D maze. The character is faced with 2 sentences at every junction, one sentence is grammatically correct, and the other contains an error. If students go the wrong way, a one way door closes behind them and they face an imaginative death, followed by having to start the whole game again from Level 1! If they go the right way they shoot bats, attack robots and encounter various other things but they’re given enough health kits and weapons that they shouldn’t have to restart. This makes the game fun and interesting whilst encouraging students to use their English.

Initially I used the game with students in A2+ groups of 12yr old learners in order to keep fast (and accurate!) finishers occupied in class whilst the other students caught up. This led to slow finishers not having an opportunity to use the game and they begged me to be allowed to play in their short break. Students then asked for the link to the game to play it at home (and I added a secret message at the end of the game so that I could check whether students had completed it).

My school organises a project competition for groups of students each. A small, (mixed ability) B1 group decided to use the site to make their own computer game for the project competition. They then wrote a narrative pre-story for the game which introduced the characters, wrote detailed instructions for the game, and wrote a narrative post-story cut-scene for the end of the game. They also wrote about how they made the game and presented it together to the other students and parents at the competition.

By playing an online game and then making their own, my students have:

  • Improved their accuracy with the present perfect simple by playing a game
  • Enjoyed learning and didn’t want to stop even when they went home
  • Worked together – students designed a level each on paper for homework and then gave instructions to other students in class who recreated their level on the computer
  • Used a variety of B1 level grammar in an authentic context including conditionals and passives and a learnt and used variety of vocabulary related to computers (e.g. dragging icons)
  • Actually been enthusiastic about writing in English outside the textbook
  • According to sploder, thought about “problem-solving and storytelling. Game design uses the whole brain, from the artistic side of creating art and graphics, to the analytical side of creating interesting game levels that work.”

You’re welcome to judge for yourselves whether they quite managed the intricacies of interesting game levels, but they were only 13yr olds and my main aim for the activity was for students to have fun using English skills (particularly writing) outside of the textbook.

I hope you’ll agree that the game and project were not only enjoyable for students but also produced real, noticeable improvements in their English and their attitude towards language learning. It’s not just a silly computer game.

The site is a website for creating your own flash-based online games for free by dragging and dropping pre-made

 monsters, blocks and obstacles into your game.

Simon is currently working on a web-quest style lesson involving QR codes, students’ smart phones and passive structures.

Simon is an EFL teacher at Avo-Bell in Sofia, Bulgaria,he teaches young learners, teens and adults from a variety of levels. He can be found and contacted via his relatively new blog and welcomes feedback and lesson ideas.

 Digital Play says: Thank you Simon for an inspiring post on how to create your own computer games with young learners – we look forward to keeping up with your projects on your blog and hope you come back and share with us any other game-related ideas you may have with your students. 

A Subversive Satirical Simulation

Level: Upper intermediate+/mature students

Location: Computer room

Skills Focus: Reading/writing (reading comprehension check)

Language focus: Reading

Game: McVideo Game

This is simulation game is a parody of the fast food chain McDonalds taking quite a negative view of the production process which you, the plater, become implicit in.  There’s a lot to get to grips with in this game as you jump back and forth between the many areas involved in production whilst at the same time attempting to drive profits for the company up.  This quite complex game has a thirty page tutorial which is what we’ve used to base a reading and comprehension activity on.  Enjoy.


Print out a copy of the McVideo Game Worksheet.  The first page is the Teacher’s copy and contains the questions and their answers.  The students’ copy contains 27 questions.   You may consider this a lot, which is what I did, so I divided the class into pairs and asked half the class to answer the even numbered questions (2,4,6 etc) and the others the odd numbered questions (1,3,5 etc).

Mcvideo game worksheet

Pre Activity

Hand out a copy of the worksheet to each pair and ask them to read and make a guess at any of the answers.

Deal with any language problems as you monitor.

Brief feedback on possible answers and any difficult language.

Reading activity

In the computer room direct students to the game and the tutorial.

Explain that they can’t play the game unless they complete all the questions with the correct answers.

Ask them to read the tutorial and answer as many questions as they can.

Encourage students to ask you, peers or look up online any difficult language contained in the tutorial.

Fast finishers can work on the other questions (odd or even).

If a pair finishes check their answers and then allow them to play the game.

Post Reading activity

In the classroom feedback on the answers.

Write any new language items on the board and elicit meanings/ definitions/ example sentences.

In pairs they take it in turns to define language on the board for their partner to identify.

Students make a note in their notebooks on new language.


Tell students that now they have read and understood the tutorial they can now play the game better than if they hadn’t.  Tell them to play the game for 15 minutes and after that to make a note of their best score.  Next class compare scores and get the highest scoring student to explain how they think they did so well – what was their secret to success.



9 Odd Games

Level: Upper intermediate

Location: Classroom/ No computers

Skills Focus: Reading/ Speaking

Language Focus: Descriptions of games

This is an activity where you don’t need any technology.  Learners read a description of some games and decide if they are ‘real’ games or ‘made up’.



Print off a copy of the ’8 odd games’ for each pair of learners.  Cut up the worksheet so you have separate titles, screenshots and game descriptions.

9 Odd Games

Pre activity

Dictate three questions as naturally as possible in chunks (/):

  • What is the strangest game/ you’ve ever played?
  • What did you/ have to do/ in the game?
  • Would you recommend it/ to anyone else?

Learners ask each other and answer the questions.


  1. Hand out the game descriptions and ask learners to read them and to separate them into two piles ‘real games’ or ‘made up games’.  Encourage them to justify their decisions to their partner.
  2. Pairs compare their two piles with another group and discuss.
  3. Tell them they are all ‘real games’ and none are made up.
  4. Ask them to identify and highlight language that is specific to games.
  5. Ask them to identify any difficult language and ask the class to help with a definition or provide one yourself.
  6. Ask learners to match the titles to the game descriptions (the original uncut copy of the handout is the answer).
  7. Hand out the screenshots and ask them to put them face down in a pile.  They take it in turns to turn a screenshot over and discuss which game they think it is and why.
  8. Feedback on the name, screenshot (brief verbal description to identify the screenshot) and the description.

Post activity

Here are a few suggestions of what you could ask learners to do.

  • Learners rank the games in order of strangest to least strange and discuss differences with another group.
  • At home research a name, screenshot and description for a game.  Next class collect them in and repeat the activity above using all the learners’ own material.
  • Learners use the language they identified as ‘game language’ to write a description for a game they ‘make up’ – description and title.
  • Learners research a strange game and write a description for homework to tell the class about. NOTE be prepared to monitor this as you may wish to censor some of the games learners find.



Monkey Madness Speaking Activity

Level: Pre-intermediate

Location: Connected Classroom

Skills Focus: Speaking

Language focus: In-game vocabulary

Game: Monkey Go Happy

In my experience I’ve found that young language learners can assimilate and produce language above their level if they have an incentive to do so. Many times forms of digital play provide this incentive and learners can respond both to the challenge of the game as well as the language elements.  Here’s such a game.


Download the Monkey Go Happy Presentation (see below).  It’s worth nothing that there are some language elements here that are generally above the level of my learners.  You could pre-teach some elements but while learners are engaged and enjoying an activity I prefer to deal with language reactively.  Sometimes if you give your learners a chance to produce language freely like this you can be pleasantly surprised.

There’s also a Monkey Madness walkthrough here if you need help.  The questions on this webpage can be clearly seen but you have to highlight the hidden text next to the numbers to see the answers.

NOTE There are 17 slides of which 15 are screenshots of the different stages of the game Monkey Go Happy.


  1. Tell the class they are going to see some pictures from a game they are going to play later.  Either do the activity open class or, if they are up to it, tell them to discuss the answer to each question in small groups.
  2. Show each slide for thirty seconds before moving to the next.  Help your learners with any language difficulties.
  3. When all the pictures and questions have been covered, OR when your learners start to lose their attention, stop the activity.
  4. As a follow up you could test your learners’ memory and ask them to write down words from each of the screen shots.  You can show the pictures again for 30 seconds to help them.


  1. Put learners into pairs or small groups.
  2. Elicit how to do each stage of the game from a pair/ group.
  3. If they do well let them come up to the board together and take turns to complete a single screen of the game.

Post Play

  • Learners test each other on some of the new vocabulary.
  • Learners make a game dictionary and translate words into their native language.
  • Learners choose one of the screenshots and write about it (the instructions, a story etc)

Monkey Go Happy Presentation (PDF)


Valentine’s Typing

Level:  Primary

Language Focus: Alphabet

Skills Focus: Pronunciation

Game: Valentine’s Typing

This game is used to practice and consolidate the pronunciation of the letters of the alphabet.  It can be played either in a connected classroom or a computer room.

Hearts float up the screen with a letter inside.  Type the letter in and the heart disappears.  Stop the hearts from floating up to the top of the screen.

Pregaming Activity

Lower levels
To do this you need to have a data projector, a computer with internet access and Flash player installed. Seat the class in rows in front of the data projector. Go to the game and skip the instructions so that the game is started as quickly as possible.

  1. As the hearts start to float up look at the screen and call out the letters. If you want, don’t touch the keyboard and point to the letters. This means that you lose the game but encourage the learners to call out the letters as this is happening.
  2. When the game ends start again and encourage the learners to call out the letters but this time you move to the keyboard and type in the letters that the learners call out. At this stage it is not necessary for you to look at the game on the data projector.
  3. When you have finished a game ask for a volunteer or nominate one of your learners to come and stand by the keyboard.
  4. Start a new game. The learner at the keyboard now listens to the others calling out the letters and the learner types in the corresponding letters on the keyboard.
  5. Move to the computer room so the class can play the game in pairs (see gaming activity below).

Higher levels
To do this you need to have a data projector, a computer with internet access and Flash player installed. Seat the class in rows in front of the data projector. Go to the game and put the instructions on the board. Choral drill (all the class reading at the same time) the instructions on the screen. Then start the game. Pretend you don’t know how to play the game at the start and elicit from the class what you should be doing? As the class tells you what to do play the game. Then conduct the game from stage 3) above.

Gaming Activity

In the computer room sit two learners (A and B) to a computer. Learner A sits in front of the screen with their arms folded. Their role is to “look at the letters and tell your partner”. Learner B sits in front of the keyboard and CAN NOT see the screen. Start the game and monitor to ensure that Learner A is calling out the letters in English (correct pronunciation) and learner B is not taking a look at the screen. Once a pair completes a stage or loses a life the learners can swap roles/ seats.

Top Ten Connected Classroom Guided Reading Games

Digital Play has come across Carmel games who have a series of games with nice written text elements and, if you’re lucky, a little audio too.  These games are great for doing in a connected classroom as an open class activity.  Using a walkthrough yourself to keep on track but eliciting the story and play from your learners, these games make for a great speaking or guided writing activity. The first one, Vortex Point, contains a link to a lesson plan that acts as a good blueprint on how to use the games in class.

Vortex Point

A lesson plan will help lay out the methodology (click the link in the title) we’ve used with this and the other games and give you a clear idea of how to use the game in class.  The story here is that you are a member of a team of paranormal investigators.  It’s your job to solve the mystery of some stolen gold bars by what looks like a ghost.

Written walkthrough

Video Walkthrough

Vortex Point 2

This is the continuing story of the Paranormal investigation team based at Vortex Point.  This time you are presented with the case of a young girl mysteriously disappearing.  The only witness is a friend of hers who can only tell you of the appearance of a ghostly clown in a set of photo booth photographs just before the disappearance.

Written walkthrough

Video Walkthrough


Small Town Detective

A journalist has disappeared under mysterious circumstances and you’ve been hired to track them down and bring them safely home.  Travel around the town picking up clues and talking to key witnesses to help you solve the crime.

Written walkthrough

Video walkthrough


Mermaid City

Your name is Chad and you run a hot dog stand and some young punk has opened another hot dog stand right next to yours and he’s trying to run you out of business. Your quest is to find a way to shut him down and carry on with your business of making and selling the best hot dogs in Mermaid city.

Written walkthrough

Video Walkthrough

Lucky Luke

You are a millionaire and your money seems to have attracted the unwanted attention of a rather crazy woman and her son.  Before you know it you are engaged to be married to the woman and set to inherit a rather nasty stepson.  You need to work quick and find a way to escape from what will surely be a nightmare of a marriage.

Written walkthrough

Video Walkthrough

Ray and Cooper

Cooper loves sitting on the sofa playing video games all day with his best friend Ray.  However, one day this all changes when Ray goes out to get nachos and never comes back.  Forced to abandon his gaming and go and look for Ray, Cooper soon discovers that things are not as simple as they seem.

Written walkthrough

Video Walkthrough

Pierre Hotel

There are some strange things happening at the Pierre Hotel. and it looks like it’s your job to get to the bottom of things.  As you explore the hotel you begin to discover that all is not as it seems and, is that Dracula working at the front desk or is it just your overactive imagination?

Written walkthrough

Video walkthrough


The Proposal

Tonight’s a big night for Josh Bullock. He’s planning on proposing to his girlfriend during the Grand Ball at the Orchid Hotel. However Rocco Reynolds, who was her boyfriend fifteen years ago, has something else in mind. Will you make it to the Grand Ball on time?

Written walkthrough

Video walkthrough

Creepo’s Tales

Here Creepo the creepy clown tells the story of ‘The Choppin’ Mall’.  You work in a burger bar and a competitor is selling burger’s with a sauce that is out of this world.  Set out to discover the secret ingredient and put a stop to the strange practices going on.

Written walkthrough

Video walkthrough



10 A Night In Crazytown

Jason is out on a date and has just lent his car keys to his date when a news flash makes him realise that he has just given his car keys to a notorious car thief. Rushing outside he is just in time to see his car disappearing into the distance. Can you get Jason’s car back?

Written Walkthrough

Video walkthrough



Spotlight on Digital Play Innovators #7 Steven L. Thorne

Steven L. Thorne is the Associate Professor of Second Language Acquisition at Portland State University and also works for the Department of Applied Linguistics at the university of Groningen, the Netherlands.

We wanted to write about Steven L. Thorne ever since we saw him give the plenary speech at the 46th Annual International IATEFL Conference & Exhibition in 2012 in Glasgow.  We were impressed by his knowledge, expertise and his ability to wax lyrical on the topic of Awareness, Appropriacy and living  language use’ and have considerable things to say about research conducted within many games, specifically World of Warcraft.

Steven L. Thorne is an academic (and virtual world) champion for the use of video games in language acquisition and development.  His talk of the collaboration, debate, communication and social engagement endemic within such game genres as Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPGs) stresses how all this is mediated by language.  For this reason, gaming could prove a very interesting avenue for language teaching.

You can watch also Steven L. thorne presenting a very interesting talk entitled ‘Intercultural engagement and the new frontiers of language learning’ .