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

By grahamstanley  

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 http://www.sploder.com 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 magicaltefl.wordpress.com 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. 


One Comment

  1. bobbylox
    Posted March 26, 2014 at 6:14 pm | Permalink |

    For anyone who wants to make your own edu-game but your idea doesn’t fit the tools described, or you don’t have the time to do it yourself, I’m here to help: http://importantlittlegames.com

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