Guessing Meaning From Context

Level: Upper intermediate+

Location: Computer room

Skills Focus: Reading

Language focus: Guessing meaning from context

Game: Something Amiss

As an autonomous learner there are times when you come across a word that you don’t know and there’s nothing you can do but guess at the meaning. Maybe there is no-one to help you, no dictionary or online resource available or simply you skate over the moment either judging a deeper understanding of the language item not needed at all or that you understand enough.  Perhaps you can see what it is, the topic or situation contextualizes it or that the word looks or sounds like something encountered before.   This is one of the language learner skills that this activity develops a little.


Dictate these three questions in chunks as naturally as possible:

  1. What type of word is it? (verb, noun, adjective, etc)
  2. How do you say it?
  3. What do you think it means?

Tell your learners you are going to write some words on the board and they should ask and answer the questions about each word.  Then write these words on the board:

 shaft          loose          tile          grate          cable          socket

Learners ask and answer the three questions about the words you’ve written on the board for a few minutes.

Hand out the worksheet (download at the bottom of this post) and learners to look at exercise 1 and ask and answer the questions again.  Feedback and engage learners in discussing the meaning of the words.  If learners’ guesses are good enough move on to the next word but fill in gaps in meaning or provide clearer contexts or definitions.


  1. In the computer room ask learners to open two windows in a browser.
  2. They then open the game in one and the walkthrough in another.
  3. Learners complete exercise 2 with words from in the game or in the walkthrough.
  4. Encourage learners to use what they see and the context provided by the game play to help them discuss the words.
  5. Learners continue this activity until attention wanes.

Post play

  • Learners compare and discuss the words and the notes they compiled.
  • Learners feedback to the teacher.
  • Learners use a dictionary to check their words.
  • Learners continue the activity for homework making notes of a dozen more words.

Download Something Amiss worksheet






Reading, Reasoning and Writing

Level: Pre-intermediate – Upper Intermediate

Location: Connected Classroom

Skills Focus: Reading and Speaking/ writing

Language focus:  In-game language

Game: Vortex Point

I Like this game because it is fun and has written text in it in the form of the in-game characters speech bubbles.  This text moves along only when you are ready and click with a mouse.  This allows you time to focus on any language points that arise.  A bonus is that you have to engage with the text and using reasoning be able to make educated guesses on how to proceed in the game.


You may find a copy of the Vortex Point walkthrough useful you to have so that you can guide learners’ enquiry in the right direction and pick up the pace of the game if puzzles prove a little frustrating for learners to solve without help.


1) Before you click play dictate these three questions as naturally as possible:

What is the story about?

What are the names of the people in it?

What do they do?

2) Learners compare their questions for spelling before you press Play for everyone to watch the video intro and song to the game.

3) Learners ask and answer the questions.  You may brainstorm vocabulary items seen in the intro if you wish but they generally don’t appear in the game.

4) After the video feedback and ask them to comment on what they think the game will be like.


  1. Start the game using the walkthrough.  If the walkthrough is talk to an in-game character take control of the game yourself.  If the the walkthrough is do something then ellicit suggestions from your learners as to what this might be.
  2. When text appeared I asked for a volunteer to read it out and focused on pronunciation elements and drilled with the class as a whole.
  3. Below is a screenshot of the first character that speaks and it’s the second thing she says:
  4. I asked learners about a number of language items here.  I asked them what had been the question to “Yes it is”, how they said “This is X speaking”, when they answered the phone in their own language, what other words were like “may” and what the translation of “help” was.   I also asked them to say “yesitis” very quickly along with “owmayiyelpya” and contrasted with a more formal “HowmayIhelpyou”.  This process continued prudently throughout the game.
  5. With a higher level that I wanted to practice writing and the narrative tenses with I would stop playing the game frequently and ask them to write the story using such prompts as “what did they say?”, “What happened?” and “What does your character (the detective) think they should do?”
  6. I continued the game in this way for half an hour (until I felt the activity would end on a high).

Post Play

  • It’s a good idea to get personal reactions from your learners on what they thought of the game.  If they liked it and which bits they thought were fun.
  • Another activity is to get learners to recount what they saw of the game as a story to a partner.
  • Brainstorming new vocabulary elements from the game onto the blackboard and getting learners to create their own Vortex Point dictionary worked well too.
  • Next class you could ask students to come to the board and play until they reach the point you stopped in the last class to continue the activity.  Word of warning – some of your learners may have gone home and completed the game and so may reveal and spoil key story elements.
Note if you set finishing game as homework then remind learners that it is essential to read the language in order to know what direction the story is taking and subsequently how they have to play the game.  The reasons for their actions will be guided by information in the text.  For this reason you may choose not to tell your learners about the existence of a walkthrough.  That is, if they have a walkthrough they may use it to ‘cheet’ and circumnavigate the game’s text.


Online Dictionary Work

Level: Advanced

Location: Computer room

Skills Focus: Reading

Language focus:  Descriptions of Nouns

Game: Mortimer Beckett and The Time Paradox

As Mortimer Beckett your task is to travel in time to various points in history and gather fragments of broken objects, put them together and return them to the right time and place.  Good luck!

I used this game with an upper intermediate class who were familiar with using a walkthrough to play an online game.  The usual drill was that they’d open three windows in a browser and play the game, use the walkthrough and access an online dictionary (see above).  You may want to find a different online dictionary that you or your learners prefer to work with.


A word of warning - This game takes a while to load and you get a rather long sequence where an advert plays before the game itself starts to load.  I recommend getting this ready on multiple computers before a class so that by the time your learners get there the advert is over, the game has loaded and on each computer screen the game’s title page is there with the ‘Play’ button ready to press.

Remember that this activity uses three browser windows so having them ready with one on the game, the other on the walkthrough and the third on an online dictionary ready for when your learners come into the room makes the activity run a lot smoother.


Familiarise learners with the task activity.  This was by either eliciting the task if the learners were familiar with it or by relay dictating the instructions to them:

You are going to play ‘Mortimer Beckett and the Time Paradox’.  You will need to use a walkthrough, while you play the game,  to help you when you get stuck on the puzzles and an online dictionary when you get stuck on the words.  You’re not allowed a translation dictionary.  By having three browser windows open the game will be less frustrating and easier to play.  By the way, you should play the tutorial to get the hang of the game.  Good luck!

I always stress that learners should use a definition dictionary and avoid translating into their native language.  They can always ask another student or the teacher for a definition or an explanation.


If you get your class onto multiple computers and you haven’t had time to prepare then you could have a word document or a wiki space ready with the instructions and links to the three pages you want your learners to access.  I use a wiki space page or a word document with hyperlinks saved on a drive which learners can access and use.  If I do the activity this way I make sure my learners know that about the advert and when they can play the game.

While you play the game may prompt you to download the full version (see left).  You can easily continue playing by clicking on ‘continue’ below the picture on the right.  By clicking download one the left you can get a copy of the game.  The advantages of this are that you can access a better version of the game and not use the internet so great if you have connection problems.  You’ll have to have a copy of the walkthrough saved on a document and readily accessible on the computer as well as some good copies of printed dictionaries too but there’s no reason the same activity can’t go ahead.

Post Play

  • Get learners to continue playing the game using an online dictionary.
  • Learners write down three words and their definition that they look up from home.
  • In class students read their definition and others guess the word.

Hopefully by raising awareness of online dictionary resources my learners will feel more confident when it comes to accessing websites that are in English.  During the course of the year I’ve been recommending sites to learners based on their personal likes and preferences.  Sites connected with current news, films and encyclopedic information are just a few examples.







Top Ten Game-Based Learning Articles

You may have been using digital play elements with your classes for a while now and want to know a little bit more about what’s happening in the field.  Here are our top ten (in no particular order) reading tasks for you edugamers out there.  If you’d like to read and comment on their content we’d only be too pleased to hear from you.

1 Language Learning Quests – A framework for blending virtual worlds and digital game-based learning.  This dissertation focuses on the development and a case study of language learning quests and how virtual worlds and video games can be used for learning in general and to identify the learning principles that they embody.  There are a number of reasons why this is of particular interest to us here at Digital Play not least of which is that we worked with Joe Pereira closely on the video-game based learning project quoted here.  Download the dissertation here.

Establishing Guidelines to Convert a Classroom Train-the-Trainer Program into a Digital Game-Based Learning Format.  This Research paper was submitted at the University of Wisconsin and the author wishes to establish a guideline for converting a classroom teacher training session into a Digital Game-Based Learning format.  An interesting direction for Digital Play and one that we think training has been and will continue to go in.  Download the PDF.

Learn English or die: The effects of digital games on interaction and willingness to communicate in a foreign language.  This study looks at a core sample of English language learners involved in an online role playing game and seeks to analyse their English language production in order to gauge the effects of playing a game on language development.  There’s some interesting and in depth data here which we found very comprehensive.   Download the HTML or PDF from here.

4 Adaptive Computer Games For Second Language Learning In Early Childhood.  As well as composing a user model for adapting Hypermedia for English language learning in Pre-school this paper looks at some educational computer games and the tasks learners are set as part of the learning process.  Download the PDF here.

5 Alternatives for Making Language Learning Games More Appealing For Self-Access Learning. This investigation compares the characteristics of popular computer games of the shelf (COTS) with those of language learning games in order to identify what specific characteristics make a computer game most conducive for learning English.  This is interesting to those wishing to gain insight into what to look for when choosing a game to use in the classroom.  Download the PDF here.

6 Computer Games and Foreign Language Vocabulary Learning. This article reports on the design and results of an experiment that aimed to test what effects the playing of computer games would have on young elementary-level English language learners.  It looked specifically at their acquisition of vocabulary items being taught to children whose native language was Swedish.  Download the PDF here.

7 Serious Game in language learning and teaching – a theoretical perspective.  Serious Games are a genre of digital games that have an agenda for educational design and this paper presents a theoretical argument for their use based on theories of educational design and learning in relation to games.  Download the PDF here.

Computer Games and Language Learning. Designed as a handbook for teachers andeducators this reader friendly publication seeks to bring a number of things together including defining what games are under consideration here, arguments for their use, the pedagogy, practical considerations and, as well as others, some case studies.  Download the handbook here.

9 Serious games: online games for learning.  A look at some specific games within the genre of serious games, how they promote learning, which sectors within society are using them and finally what directions and developments we can expect to see in this area in the future.  Download the PDF here.

10 Essential facts about the computer and Video game industry.  We’ve included a sales, demographic and usage data report published by the ESA (Entertainment Software Association) which is full of interesting infographics telling you where the computer and video game industry is at the moment.  We’ve also offered you the choice of the the last two years so you can compare and contrast and see how changes have taken place.  Download 2011.  Download 2012.



Disney Top Trumps

Level: Pre-intermediate

Location: Connected Classroom

Skills Focus: Speaking

Language focus:  Comparatives and superlatives

Game: Disney Top Trumps

This is Disney’s online version of the popular Top Trumps game which is great fun for practicing comparatives and superlatives.


Present  and practice comparative and superlative forms.


Learners draw a table in their notebook consisting of four columns.  They label each column and complete the noun column.  We do this together and I usually letter dictate each noun in chunks of three letters.  We then work together to fill in the other columns.  The one that usually causes the most problems is converting ‘first on film’ to an adjective.  Asking what time the class starts and eliciting the adjective for someone who arrives after this time and before usually does the trick.  It’s then just a matter of ompleting the comparative and superlative forms.


  1. Divide the class into two teams (girls Vs boys, for instance).
  2. Open the game and present it to the class.
  3. Choose the two player option for the purpose of practicing the comparative form.
  4. Ask the class who it is and see if you can elicit the name of the film the character appears in.
  5. Go through the six traits asking “Is he/she happy?”, “Is he/she magical?” etc
  6. Ask your learners to choose the characters best trait and click on it.
  7. Another Disney character will be played against the main character and students will have to remember a) who it was and b) produce a comparative form based on the trait they chose.
  8. Ask learners to either say it along or write it down.

For superlatives form choose the four player option and divide the class into four teams (green, purple, orange and blue). Each team should produce either a correct comparative or superlative sentence for their character.  Ask the class to decide if it’s true (1 point) and grammatically correct (1 point).

Post Play

Learners choose a cartoon character they like and make their own Top Trump card.  Tell them they have 200 points to distribute amongst the first five traits and for the final trait (First on film/ Tv) either look it up online in class or set it for homework along with either drawing and colouring the character or cutting it out of a magazine.  Next class you can collect all the cards and play an open class game.



The Idiot Test

Level: Beginners

Location: Connected Classroom with an IWB

Skills Focus: Reading

Language focus:  Colours, shapes & basic vocabulary

Game: The Idiot Test

This is a great game to have on an interactive whiteboard for fast finishers.  Learners can take it in turns to see who can get furthest through the game before making a mistake and having to start again.  This website has a series of 4.



This is a game that learners even from a very early age pick up quite easily.  A few problems come from not knowing select vocabulary but vocabulary that can be explained quite easily with a basic English level (e.g. click the lightest square – show two or three crayons of the same colour but different shades to illustrate the idea of dark and light as well as the comparative.  Shapes you can draw in the air).


Usually the preplay activity is something that my learners find time consuming and tedious.  The last time I used it was when the class was doing tests and some finished more quickly than others.  I gave them this game to occupy themselves.  The difficult part for me then was making sure that the learners still doing the test weren’t too distracted.  Turning their chairs the other way and monitoring was he best solution to this.


Give learners control of the IWB to play the game.

Post Play

Ask learners what new words they have learnt.

Test learners on vocab that appears in the game.

NOTE  Be very sure that the fact that this game is called ‘The Idiot Test’ won’t cause issues in the class.  If your class takes this as part of the fun and humor of the game then it’s ok.

Honoloko – The Health and Environment Game

Level: Upper Intermediate

Location: Computer room

Skills Focus: Reading

Topic:  Health & the Environment

Game: Honoloko

Choose your character (a breakdancer or a kung-fu master) and move around the island reading facts about health and the environment, answer a few questions and when you get to the end you’ll find out how well you’ve done.  Your score points in Resources and Energy as well as Health and Fitness.

A visually engaging reading game that presents plenty to talk about in image alone.

The written text in this game falls into two main categories – facts/ information (on the left) and the multiple choice question and options (on the right).  The text in the facts/information is quite dense and complex.  You can encourage your learners to read this and maybe do some online dictionary work (maybe even make their own gaming dictionary) but it’s the multiple choice section’s language they really need to know.  Why? Well, they need to be able to understand it more in order to choose the right answer.  For this reason concentrate on language here.  Offer support, input language and get them to use an online dictionary on these parts.  With that said, here’s a quick lesson plan.


In the classroom play hangman The Environment

Draw two columns on the board and write Harmful and Good

Learners write what they do that is harmful and good for the environment.

Learners compare in pairs and discuss how they could do things that are better for the environment.

Feedback and write the top 6 most harmful and 6 best things that learners do for the environment.


Get learners to find the game online and choose the English option.

Learners choose a character, a name and a means of transport.

Post Play

In the classroom learners look at their list of 6 Harmful and Good for the environment.

Give the 3 minutes to add elements from the game into the categories.

feedback and discuss.


You could play this game collaboratively in the connected classroom.  In this way you could put learners into pairs, they discuss which option they would choose in the multiple choice and prepare to explain their rationale to the class.  After a few minutes preparation a person from each pair takes it in turns to explains in open class and finally a class vote is taken on the answer to choose.  If your class has played this in a computer room they can then discuss how they did as a class to how they did as individuals.

Dragons, Dictionaries & Diligent Reading

Level: Upper intermediate+

Location: Computer room

Skills Focus: Reading

Language focus: Following instructions

Game: Nick Toldy & The Legend of Dragon Peninsula

I like this game not only for its engaging storyline and entertaining main character but also because of the sheer amount of text that this game uses and demands both in game in the form of dialogue between the characters and that of the walkthrough (over 3000 words in itself).  The character dialogue also has a fair amount of humour which I think my learners appreciate.


Basically I want learners to go to the computer room and access a) the game b) the walkthrough and c) an online dictionary.  One way to do this is to have a word document saved that they can all access on the system with hyperlinks to these.  The advantage of this is that you can also write instructions, rules, vocab or questions to answer while they are on their quest.  I have to admit to being a little lazy on this count and judged that the sheer bulk of reading that my learners would be required to do was enough work for all of us and so just treated it as a dive in play and read activity.

It’s worth noting that the walkthrough can be used just as a cheat.  That is, to avoid detracting from the playing the game experience encourage learners to only use the walkthrough when they get frustrated with not being able to progress in the game.  Further encourage them to enjoy reading the game rather than clicking their way quickly through it.

By the way, here’s a link to the walkthrough:

Nick Toldy Walkthrough


1 Learners read an intro to the game:

Nick Toldy is a young man who dreams of becoming a knight, slaying a dragon, and winning a princess… or at least that’s what the brochure promised him. But the reality of Dragon Peninsula is a little more… bureaucratic. His first major puzzle involves filling out a form and getting a permit.

2 Learners can then discuss what other obstacles Nick Toldy may have to face on the way to becoming a knight and what he needs to have in order to be a knight.

3 . Take your learners to the computer room.


  1. Ask learners to open the game and another window with an online dictionary of their choice.
  2. Learners start playing.
  3. Encourage learners to make a note of any interesting language and to ask you or consult an online dictionary (not a translator) for any other help.
  4. While monitoring I’ll begin to show learners where the walkthrough is but initially I’ll simply encourage them to read the dialogue and explore the game.
  5. Learners play until you judge enough time has elapsed.  This is generally when your computer slot finishes or your learners get bored.

Post Play

  • Learners discuss the story of Nick Toldy.
  • Learners discuss what they liked/ disliked about the game.
  • Learners go back to the game as a homework assignment.

Music Box Of Life

Level: Pre-intermediate

Location: Connected Classroom

Skills Focus: Writing

Language focus:  There is / There are some/n’t any

Game: Music Box of Life

This is a nice spot the difference game.  Nice for two reasons.  One, that there is no time limit so learners have time to look, talk and write.  Two, that as you find the differences and you move onto the next stage the pictures begin to tell a story. 


Do a little PPP (Presentation, Practice and Production) for there is/ there are. Don’t forget to cover the negative forms too along with the use of a/an/ some and any.


Show the class the first stage of the game (a girl listening to a music box sitting down in her bedroom) and elicit some differences between the two pictures using the target language. e.g.

There is a green carpet.

There are some socks on the girl.

There is an open window.

It’s worth pointing out that the differences in the pictures can be a little more complicated than this.  For instance, The difference between the two pictures is that a corner of the green carpet may be turned over in one and ok in the other.  For the purposes of practicing English at a low level I allow my learners simply to identify the object which is different rather than the actual specifics of the difference.  Also don’t start a level and come back another day and expect the differences to be the same – they change in order to make returning players a challenge.

The purpose of eliciting the sentences is to direct learners towards the language task.  Now that they know that you expect them to produce specific language you can move on.


Put learners into teams of two players.

On a new screen of the game (either start the game from the beginning or go onto the next level) tell your learners that the first team to find the differences and write them down and give them to you can click on the differences in the game.

The game Music Box of Life is designed so that if you click on a difference you get points, a visual effect and an audio cue in the way of feedback.  You also lose points if you get it wrong.  If a team does get a difference wrong ask them to sit down and another team to bring you a difference written down.

Post Play

  • Error correction on learner written sentences.
  • Memory test – can they remember and say some of the differences they saw?
  • Elicit the story that the pictures told.
  • Ask them to play Music Box of Life part 2 for homework and write some sentences.





Scan The Scale of The Universe

Level: Intermediate+

Location: Connected classroom

Skills Focus: Reading

Language focus:  Question forms

Game:  The Scale of The Universe

This interactive guide allows you to zoom in from the edge of the known universe right down through to the smallest thing known (quantum foam) while looking at a few things along the way and in between.



 Pre Play

  1. Tell learners they are going to watch a video and then in pairs have a minute to write down ten of the objects they saw.
  2. Play the video of The Scale of the Universe 
  3. Give  learners a minute to write down ten objects they saw.


  1. Learners take their list of ten objects to the computer room.
  2. In pairs they play the game The Scale of The Universe and find the ten objects they wrote down in their list.
  3. They read the information about each object on their list and choose a single fact.
  4. They then write down the question to elicit the fact along with the answer.
  5. Continue until they have ten questions.
  6. Fast finishers can read some more.

Post Play

  1. Pairs take it in turns to ask the rest of the class one of their questions.
  2. In pairs learners listen to the questions and write down an answer.
  3. Feedback on the answers and declare a winner.  You can give two points for a right answer or one point for the closest answer.
  • You can change the Pre-play activity by telling learners the gist of the video and getting them to predict ten objects they expect to see.  They then watch and tick the objects they saw.
  • You can change the Play activity and encourage greater reading by telling learners they can choose different objects in the game.
  • You can change the Post play activity by eliciting the questions you do feedback on the answers (ask the learners who asked the original question to nod or shake their head as the class guesses what their question was).