Digital Play

Digital Play is an award winning Teacher Development blog, book and e-book aimed at language teachers who
wish to engage their learners and provide a fun way to practice and learn using a highly popular modern medium – computer games.

The book is divided into three sections:


Narrates how computer games fit into 21st century society and how they have been used in education.


Provides practical support in the form of recipe style lesson plans and a bank of activities.


Suggests how to integrate digital play activities into the syllabus and tips on teacher development.


Buy the book: Digital Play (DELTA Teacher Development Series) Print Edition

Buy the e-book: Digital Play (DELTA Teacher Development Series) Kindle Edition

Try an activity out: Digital Play (Quick Scan Blog Index)


The book is so much more than our blog. It includes:

  • Classroom management guidance.
  • Classroom layouts/ set ups.
  • Activities for one computer in the classroom (i.e. a connected classroom).
  • Activities for multiple computers (a computer room or class set of laptops/ netbooks/ tablets)
  • Activities for no computers at all.
  • A comprehensive list of gaming genres and a match to language teaching. 
  • Insight into how learners engage with gaming outside the classroom.
  • List to suitable game sites.
  • Advice and guidance for teachers who are interested in joining the digital revolution.
  • Original step-by-step activities to help teachers bring the world of gaming into the classroom.
  • Comprehensive bibliography for further reading.
  • System and network requirements.
  • Guidance on materials and resources.

Arcane Season – The Stone Circle

Level: Upper-intermediate

Topic: Planning stories

Writing Focus: Fictional story

Time: 1 hour/ 1.5 hours

Game: Arcane Season: The Stone Circle

 This adventure game is great to present to the class in serialised episodes.  Links to all eight episodes and their walkthroughs can be found here.

Screenshot from Arcane Season: The Stone Circle


Connected classroom or computer room. One printed copy of the flashcards. One photocopy of the walkthrough for yourself and direct learners to an online copy of the walkthrough (see link above).

The ‘Arcane season’ online game series is a point and click adventure game that the film studio company Warner Bros runs on a website. It is young learner friendly though it’s worth playing yourself first with the help of a walkthrough to evaluate the ‘scarier’ elements that the games contain. Personally, I’d recommend using the game with upper intermediate English language learners and above. The Arcane Season games are visually attractive with a cartoon feel and its audio elements and short action sequences add an engaging dimension to its play.

There are about 8 episodes in this Arcane Season storyline to date.

Pregaming activity

  • You can take screenshots of elements of the game and present them to the class to stimulate predictions of the storyline or brainstorm vocabulary.
  • Alternatively you can use multiple images from an online images search of the game.

Gaming activity

This can be done in pairs on computers or alternatively in open class on a data projector.

1. Pairs on computers

It’s good practice for learners to take writing material with them to the computer room as it stresses that there is work to do and it’s not just fun and games. Having said that I like to give the learners 3 minutes or so playing the game without guidance from myself or a walkthrough right from the start. Why do I do this? Because it not only helps learners to familiarise themselves with the game but the game is also sufficiently difficult that after a few minutes they are frustrated enough with the difficulty of the game that they are more receptive and motivated to receive guidance. When they are ready the learners can start the game either by reading the walkthrough themselves or listening to you, or a peer, read the walkthrough to them. If you want the walkthrough to be a reading activity, learners can open it on a second internet explorer page.  A third internet explorer page could be used to access an online dictionary but the activity can be more fluid and more engaging for the teacher if learners simply ask the teacher any language questions. It is very important that the teacher monitors carefully to make sure that the learners are writing as they play and NOT just playing the game.

2. Open class with a data projector

The advantage of using a data projector is that you have control of the game. Start by placing the learners into pairs or small groups to allow them to work collectively on their writing. It’s a good idea to have a printed copy of the walkthrough to hand. You can then play a short part of the game using the walkthrough for the class to watch. Be sure to stop regularly to allow your learners to discuss and write the the part of the story they’ve just seen. Monitor and distribute dictionaries as support.

Post gaming activity

Learners can swap their stories, read them and discuss which stories they like the most and explain why. If there is any interesting language elements from someone elses story, encourage them to write it down.

You can hand out the walkthrough for another part of the ‘Arcane Season: Miller Estate’ game although part 2 is best avoided as some of the game loses narrative elements in favour of puzzle solving (you have to figure out the correct order to prise a lifeless hands fingers off an amulet).


Monster Ink

Level: Upper intermediate/ Advanced

Topic:  Horror

Language skill: Writing

Game: Monster Detective

When a mysterious murder takes place in Fog Town it’s up to you to find out what lies at the bottom of it.  This is quite a dark and atmospheric game so is not suitable for young children but will entertain and engage older adolescents.

Screenshot from ‘Monster Detective’

This is a great game for stimulating writing especially for learners interested in mysteries, point and click games and mysteries.  They also get to practice reading for pleasure outside the classroom if you set this as a nice little optional extra homework.

Easy Play

During the game you need to talk to people, pick up items and clues as well as drag objects out from your inventory to a place on the screen where you want to use it.  Alternatively you can drag objects onto each other to combine the two to make a new item.  This may sound complicated but character dialogues direct you to where you need to go next and generally moving the cursor around the screen will indicate if there is a useful object on the screen by changing into a hand when the mouse is hovering over it.  There’s also a nice walkthrough that can act as support within the game and provide extra reading practice.

Monster Detective Walkthrough

Finding Clues


When you find a clue it gets dragged to your inventory which is at the bottom of the screen just below the game drawings.

You can examine each object in the inventory by clicking on it.  You’ll be told what the clue is and if there is text you will be able to read it at any point in the game.  Just press on exit when you have finished looking at a clue and click on it in your inventory to have a look at it again.

Introducing the game in class can provide a great opportunity to focus on any interesting language you or your learners identify within the game.  There are also opportunities for your learners to discuss what they should do next, why they should do that action rather than another and to speculate about the mystery at the heart of the game.

You should introduce the game in class even if your intention is for your learners to play it on multiple computers or read it at home.  By playing the game in class you emphasize the importance of the text and orientate your learners towards reading.

Interesting Language:

Encourage your learners to record any interesting language they come across within the game.  This is something you can help with while monitoring or later back in class as a post game play stage.  These notes are useful when it comes to writing a more structured composition.

You could also ask your learners to answer these questions:

Who are you?  Who are the other people in fog town?  What do each of the items you find do?  What happened to the victim of the murder?  Why were they murdered?  What do you think happened?

Writing Tasks

  • Review the game giving their opinion on the drawings, storyline, game difficulty etc.
  • Story as a blurb to the back of a book or DVD cover.
  • Story as a newspaper article.
  • Short story based on the game (such as a 50 word mini saga).
  • The story from the perspective of the murderer/ victim.
  • A police report.

Anika’s annotated Odyssey

Level: Intermediate (and above)

Location: Computer room

Skills Focus: reading

Game: Anika’s Odyssey

One day Anika’s toy rabbit gets stolen by an Eagle.  Help her journey out and get it back.

This is a nice attractively drawn adventure game where you have to use the mouse to solve puzzles and move the narrative on.  There are a number of ways you can use this game and it’s up to you on which way you’ll choose with which class.

You can print off a copy of the walkthrough and have it in your hand when you play the game with the class.  This walkthrough is your support and you can refer to it to guide your students in the right direction.  In this situation you only need a projector or IWB with an internet connection to play the game.  You take control of the keyboard and mouse and you encourage your students to raise their hands and tell you what to do.  This can either be in the form of imperatives or as a form of narrative story telling which in turn could be produced orally or in written form.

You can also present the written walkthrough to the class and cover any language items which may prove problematic to your students.  They can then go and play the game in pairs using an annotated form of the walkthrough as extra support and reading practice.  The game experience could then be used to drive written work later in the form of a story, character bios or a student walkthrough.


Print off a copy of the walkthrough:

Anika’s Odyssey Walkthrough


  1. Present the walkthrough to the class and ask them to find seven words that they don’t understand and write them down.
  2. Student’s use a dictionary to look up the words.
  3. Feedback on meanings.


Students use the annotated walkthrough to play the game.  The walkthrough is the reading activity and their ability to play the game effectively is the reading comprehension.

Post Play

A few possibilities here:

  • Students remember the vocab and write each word on a small piece of paper.  They then organise the pieces of paper into the chronological order in which they occur in the game story.  Learners take it in turns to retell the story to each other.
  • Review the story in open class and start writing the beginning of the story.  Students finish the story for homework.
  • Do a vocabulary test on words that came up in the game.  Tell students if they know the answer they can put their hand up and describe where in the game this vocabulary item came up.  They can’t say the word or translate it.






Skyscraper Parcours

Level: Kids of all levels

Location: Connected classroom

Aim: Better classroom management

Game: Skyscraper Parcours

Flight was a successful blog post and gave us an all a way to give our learners an incentive to work competitively on what was before boring coursebook exercises:

What is the game?

It’s quite simple really.  You control a man’s jumps as he runs across roof tops using the space bar on your computer keyboard.

How did I use it?

I used the game as a reward for work done and good behaviour much in the same way as my now defunct star chart did (my learners voted for this to take its place).  Having an IWB (interactive Whiteboard) helped as I could then present it in a much bigger way and also have my learners use the pen instead of the mouse to play.  I told the class to open their work books on a page which provided exercises on language areas we’d covered in previous classes.  I found an exercise that hadn’t been completed and told them to do that one.  The first person to finish had to put their pen down and their hands on their head.  I then called them out and I either marked the exercises (a tick or a cross) or I read it and told them how many needed correcting.  The latter encouraged them to reflect a little more and review all the work they had done.  When someone had all the exercise correctly completed I stopped the activity and told the class we had a winner.  That learner then went to the board and played the game.  While they were doing this I named the next page and exercise number.  This was more so that the class had a head start on the winner.  Top scores were kept by only recording a personal score if it was higher than their last score.  A high octane game which is quite addictive.  Play the game and you’ll see what I mean.

When do I use it?

The trick is, though, not to overuse it in class.  Use it too many times and you not only tend to lose control a bit (the learners do tend to get excited over the game) but you may also wear the game out.  that is if you overplay it your learners may lose interest in it.  I’ve found that I’ve started to use the game as a reward in a few ways:

Completed Homework - At the beginning of the class I ask learners to put their homework on the desk and form a line at the board.  In this way everyone who did the homework gets rewarded immediately.  While they take it in turns to play the game I mark the homework with the learner next to me.  That way I can encourage them to self correct.  Those that didn’t do the homework have to do it while the others are playing.  They can’t copy and they see that by not doing the homework they lose out on the fun.

Classwork completed - The first one to finish an exercise from the course book or work book gets to have one go.  The learner who tries the hardest also gets to have a go when they’ve finished.  This is my way of striking a balance between always rewarding the achievers (fast finishers) and those that may struggle and usually never finish first but should be rewarded for their effort.  This kind of means the middle range kids may be receiving a little prejudice but if you can see a way around this then please say by posting a comment.

Good behaviour - Although the star chart has been retired it’s still a good idea to keep a record of good behaviour.  In my case it’s a happy and sad face on the board.  Each time someone misbehaves they get a letter of their name spelt out and marks if they have misbehaved so much that their whole name is spelt out – Spanish names tend to be quite long though.  If they are good they either get letters deleted from their name under the sad face or begin to get it spelt out under the happy face.  I’m sure everyone has a different system.  this can get a little confusing ( is ‘Mar’ spelt under the sad face Marta or Marc?) until you are used to it.

I think the longest record for playing on the game was two minutes but a fair trade off if it meant my learners were having fun and completing exercises in their work book.

An Awareness Raising Game with Stop Disasters

Level: Upper Intermediate (and above)

Location: Connected classroom

Skills Focus: Speaking/ Writing

Game: Stop Disasters

This is a disaster simulation game covering such scenarios as Tsunami, Hurricane, Wild Fire, Earthquake and Flood.  Students play the game and discuss strategy and play while making notes on how to prepare for the disaster scenario of their choosing.

When you have to select the difficulty level of the game near the start I recommend the easy level.  The map is smaller and the time playing the game is shorter.


  1. Display the game to the class so that you have the screen above.  Tell your class to describe each scenario to a partner saying what it is,
    where it happens and what can be done to prepare for it – dictate the questions if you want.
  2. Mouse over each scenario in turn so that the descriptor appears and give students enough time to ask and answer the questions before moving on to the next.
  3. On a new page of their notebooks ask them to choose one of the above scenarios and write the title down.
  4. They then write ‘Game objective and draw a table of four columns titled ‘What to buy?’, ‘How does it help?’, ‘Cost’ and ‘Other Information’.
  5. Tell them they are going to play a game and complete the table with at least six things that they buy.
  6. At this stage it may be useful to choose one scenario yourself and play part of the game under your students’ direction while they complete a row from the table.
  7. When the newspaper report appears elicit useful language, the function of each sentence (introduce news, give details, provide eye witness account etc) and language elements (present simple, past simple, reported speech, present perfect etc).


  1. Students play the game in pairs on multiple computers.
  2. Students should be encouraged to discuss what they are buying and to justify it to their partner and agree before they proceed with buying it.
  3. Encourage students to make notes using the table.  The ‘How does it help’ section should include the most information so encourage students to fill this area.
  4. Students play to the end of the game and use the Daily News Post to add to the ‘More Information’ section of their table.

Post Play

  1. Students form new pairs and compare notes.  If they chose the same disaster scenario they compare strategies and decide in retrospect how they could have better prepared for the disaster.  If they chose different disasters they can explain what they did and how effective their strategy was.  They can then comment on each others peformance in the game.
  2. Encourage students to expand on their notes adding more information.  They can use the other students notes to expand on their own or they can discuss and include other measures that they think would be a good idea.

Extra activities

  • Write a newspaper report based on their game OR source a real world incident of their disaster scenario and use the language they took from the game to write a newspaper report.
  • Students prepare a radio broadcast and record their news report for the class to listen to.




Spotlight on Digital Play Innovators #8 Marc Prensky

 Marc Prensky is a speaker and writer on the subject of Education and particularly the use of video games as a valid educational tool.  He is best known for coining the terms ‘Digital Native’ and ‘Digital immigrant’.  A Digital Native is someone who was born during or since the introduction of digital technologies while a Digital Immigrant is someone born before this period but who now lives during it.

Marc Prensky first came to our attention through two of his books,  ’Digital Game Based Learning’ and ‘Don’t Bother me Mom – I’m Learning‘.  These books both look at the state of education in the 21st century and examine how video games are a more relevant media by which to engage learners and better prepare and equip people with the skills necessary for the 21st century .

We also saw Marc Prensky at the IATEFL held in Cardiff back in 2009. As well as being the keynote speaker he was also interviewed about the role of aspects of technology in education.  You can see this interview and more here.

The All Knowing Akinator

Level: Intermediate

Location: Connected Classroom

Skills Focus: reading/ answering questions

Language focus: Short answers

Game: Akinator

If you have ever played twenty questions with the names of famous people you will like this game.


  1. Ask each learner to think of the name of a famous person and write it down.  They should keep it a secret.
  2. Choose a volunteer to come to the front of the class and sit down.
  3. Explain that the Akinator is a computer program that can guess who the famous person is that you have written down before anyone else in the class.  Tell the class that the Akinator will ask a question and the volunteer has to answer using a short answer.  For example, “Yes, they are”, “No, they aren’t”.  You can explain that we use ‘they’ for a singular person when we don’t know if it’s a man or a woman OR let the volunteer answer using ‘he’ or ‘she’ from the start.  This gives students a small advantage over the Akinator.
  4. Tell the class after each question the Akinator asks you will choose three people in the class (hands up!) to make a guess at who the famous person is.


  1. Start the game eliciting the information at the beginning of the game (see picture above) from the class.
  2. After each question the Akinator asks, the volunteer answers with a short answer.
  3. Three people from the class guess at the identity of the famous person.
  4. Continue until the Akinator guesses the famous person.
  5. At the end of the game ask students if they would like to change the name of the famous person they have written down and allow time for them to do so.

Post Play

Students play the game themselves in pairs.




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?

Download the questions BBC Senses Challenge

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.”