Language Learning and Games


Do you remember the times when your teacher used to play fun games with you in school, usually during the periods after examinations when you were awaiting the year-end holidays? They were real fun weren’t they? Better still, most of us would not have noticed that we were continually learning something whilst playing these games! This is probably why teachers are increasingly being encouraged to incorporate games into their lesson plans. These can range from off-the-shelf games like Hangman and Boggle, to more customized activities such as scenario reenactments and quizzes.

Some educators and learners, whom we interact with, seem to encounter a few problems when traditional teaching methods are adopted during lessons as the current group of students belong to Gen Z- a highly connected generation that has been using technology all their lives. These learners tend to get bored easily when lessons are conducted in a traditional manner, whereby the teacher delivers the information and students passively absorb the material. This particular issue is most prevalent in the area of language learning. Problems encountered using traditional teaching methods for language also include students having limited language exposure (if they solely rely on the teacher’s explanations), limited retention of vocabulary and having inadequate areas to apply their knowledge.


These problems can be tackled by incorporating games into lesson plans as play enhances certain brain functions. Cognitive experiments that were carried out with rats suggest that those brought up in a more stimulating environment with more options to play, showed evidence of growth in the cerebral cortex, which is responsible for language learning and information processing. Play also triggers the secretion of BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor), which aids in the maintenance and growth of brain cells- a necessary function for learning.


Games also seem to have an effect on your mood. Games generally help to relax students. They also keep lessons interesting as games usually involve some form of friendly competition. These playful activities also encourage creative thinking and spontaneity, which in turn motivates students to be more involved in the learning process. Moreover, playing is an investigative way of learning, which develops self-motivation, allowing students to gain knowledge without perceiving the learning process as hard work.


When it comes to language learning, the application of games is rather widespread as different games can be used to develop different language skills (both oral skills-speaking and listening; as well as literacy skills-reading and writing). This has been most apparent when games have been used to improve students’ vocabulary. Many researchers have found that the relaxed atmosphere that is cultivated by games; help students retain the meanings of the new words that they’ve learnt. Usage of games also creates a realistic testing ground to assess the acquired knowledge. For example a game called “Selling and Buying Things”, simulates a market environment, with some students acting as shopkeepers and others as customers. It requires students to actively use the words they’ve learnt, in oral communication. This allows students to realize how useful the acquired vocabulary is, motivating them to enhance their knowledge. Hence, including games into lessons gets students to experience the usage of the language more vividly, understanding its usefulness; ultimately making the learning process more meaningful.


However, educators should be careful when it comes to choosing the games that are to be included in their lessons. Choosing the right educational game is not as simple as picking an off-the-shelf game (although games like Scrabble and Pictionary do help a great deal!). Instead, students will benefit significantly if the games that are to be included in a lesson have been specially devised for learning. Games such as these are aplenty in recent times- a simple Google search pops up with an endless array of options. However certain factors need to be taken into consideration before deciding on an educational game. Your students’ language proficiency as well as the difficulty and complexity of the game are two of the most important factors. If a game is too complex it can demotivate the students. If a student’s proficiency does not match up to the game’s expectations, the student can easily find the game too challenging causing deflation and eventually disinterest. Other factors to be taken into consideration include time allowance for the games, the classroom setting, as well as the number of students involved in the activity.


Upon choosing an appropriate game, the educator also needs to explain the gameplay clearly. A lack of understanding of the rules can lead to poor participation and a dissatisfactory experience, which would not benefit the students. Explanations of the intentions or learning objectives of the game also serve to direct students’ focus on the aim of the activity, allowing them to be more involved in the learning process.


Sources:

  1. Dewar, G. (2014, 02). The cognitive benefits of play: Effects on the learning brain. Retrieved 03 09, 2015, from Parenting Science: http://www.parentingscience.com/benefits-of-play.html

  2. Hayes, J. G. (2011). Language and Learning in the Digital Age. New York, U.S.: Routledge.

  3. Simpson, A. J. (2011). Why Use Games in the Language CLassroom? Humanising Language Teaching , 13 (2).

  4. Watters, S. L. (2013). Review of "Language at Play: Digital Games in Second and Foreign Language Teaching and Learning". Language Learning and technology , 17 (3), 47-51.

  5. Nga, N. T. (2003, 12). Learning Vocabulary through Games: The Effectiveness of Learning Vocabulary through Games. Asian EFL Journal .

So, do you want to give this interactive form of learning a try? Why not contact us? Brainworks Education has been in the enrichment industry for the past four years and we have worked with over 30 schools around the island. Our language-based activities are fun and have clear learning objectives embedded in them. Drop us a mail at hello@brainworks.sg to find out more.


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