20 Reasons to Use Games in College-Level ESL Courses

by , under For teachers

Picture of students playing a card game

Copyright 2018 Bokomaru Publications

There are many good reasons why serious games remain appropriate teaching tools in college-level second language learning courses for young adults. Before we get into those reasons, there is one thing that we should clear up.

A serious game is not the same as other games. Unlike a game played for amusement, fun is not its primary goal. Fun is merely a useful byproduct of a well-designed learning activity. A serious game’s primary purpose is pedagogical. Above all else, it is intended to support one or more of the goals of the course. Anyone interested in instructional design would do well to consider the pedagogical benefits of serious games.

The Pedagogical Benefits of Language Learning Games

Here is a list of 20 pedagogical benefits that games can bring to the language learning classroom: task regulation, motivation and strategic thinking, preparation, memory and retention, meaningful communicative exchanges, cognitive fluency, attention to form, peer-correction and instruction, openness and respect, patience and planning, mastery experiences and ego-gratification, self-confidence and self-efficacy, contingency planning and resilience, energy and excitement, reduction in egotism, problem-solving and effort, creativity, coherence, self-directed learning, and time-on-task.

How Games Provide these Benefits

  1. Games have rules. Rules can keep learners focused on key structures, allowing careful task regulation.
  2. Games have goals. Goals create motivation and strategic thinking.
  3. Games are a form of simulation. Simulations give us preparation for high-stakes communicative tasks.
  4. Games involve repetition. Repetitions enhance memory and retention.
  5. Games are interactive. Oral interaction gives us meaningful communicative exchanges.
  6. Games require speed. Speed stimulates the development of cognitive fluency.
  7. Games involve decisions. Decisions can direct attention to form.
  8. Games involve feedback. Feedback means peer-correction and instruction.
  9. Games involve turn-taking. Turn-taking ensures openness to the participation of others, equality, and respect.
  10. Games involve waiting for a turn. Waiting teaches patience and planning.
  11. Games have win-states. Win-states provide mastery experiences and ego-gratification.
  12. Games require skill. Skill development generates self-confidence and self-efficacy.
  13. Games involve chance. Chance creates contingency planning and resilience.
  14. Games have sudden reversals of fortune. Reversals of fortune provide energy and excitement.
  15. Games have lose-states. Lose-states cause reductions in egotism that do not damage the ego since game-play is a non-literal state.
  16. Games have challenges. Challenges demand problem-solving and effort.
  17. Games involve problem-solving. Problem-solving sparks creativity.
  18. Games have a beginning, middle and end. Sequence offers coherence.
  19. Games are a form of play. Play is Evolution’s toolbox for self-directed learning.
  20. Games are pleasurable. Pleasure maximizes time-on-task.

**This list is an adapted and expanded list from Prensky, 2001, Digital Game-Based Learning, McGraw-Hill, p. 6.

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