Editor’s note: This post was first published in InterCom, a free, customized weekly newsletter, offered by the Center for Applied Second Language Studies (CASLS). Thank you, CASLS, for giving us permission to re-publish!
In the earliest years of my career, I was often admonished to teach less culture, because “it’s not a history class!” Instinctively, I felt that cultural information was an excellent vehicle for teaching language in a solid, useful context. More recently, I have become interested in the application of game theory to language learning. I was especially interested in virtual reality platforms because of their potential for more authentic cultural experiences, but the available media were too cumbersome for the secondary classroom.
Last summer, I had the opportunity to attend the Games2Teach Collaboratory sponsored by the Center for Applied Second Language Studies and the Center for Open Educational Resources & Language Learning. When the presenters introduced escape room scenarios, cryptography, and puzzle building as teaching mechanisms, it was like the light went on. Within the workshop, another teacher and I began to develop a rough prototype for an escape room game. I used that framework to develop a game based on the witch trials of Zugarramurdi. This first one was extremely time consuming to develop, as I was still learning to build the codes and puzzles.
However, that first game was a tremendous success. My students loved it. I also invited several colleagues to play. I had them play in teams of four; both the students and the adults were completely engaged, and they retained the material well. The theory behind game-based learning, as presented in the workshop, suggests that when students manipulate the codes and puzzles to acquire the target information, the deductive reasoning (and even intuitive leaps to answers) required of them in the process significantly boosts retention by making the material more tangible and more valuable to the student.
I have since built a more challenging escape room scenario based on the relocation of Franco’s tomb and the associated political upheaval. The process of building the codes and puzzles was much quicker this time, because I had a better understanding of the mechanisms. The greatest challenge is choosing which pieces of information to target and build puzzles around; students need to manipulate codes, clues, and puzzles that will lead them to those specific constructs.
Application of game theory to the traditional classroom requires a fairly radical revision of how we address the material. The game drives students to collaborative and inquiry-based learning; it also encourages critical thinking, persistence, and some very real-world problem-solving skills. The feedback has been incredibly enthusiastic, and I will continue to build and incorporate these activities.
- Read Shannon Hill’s classroom activity “Escape Room Games in the AP Spanish Classroom” on the CASLS InterCom website, in which students develop critical thinking and problem solving skills, communicate with their teammates in Spanish, and acquire and retain information related to the Basque witch trials of the 17th Century
Shannon L. Hill, M.A., is a teacher of high school Spanish, including AP Spanish Language and Culture, at The John Cooper School in The Woodlands, TX. Her career spans 28 years of teaching experience at both the high school and college levels.