Do you remember your favorite activity in school as a child? Without a doubt, mine were the games. From hide-and-seek to puzzles, every day I was prepared to live a new adventure. Probably, I am not the only one that grew up with the idea that knowledge, games, and enjoyment should not be separated from each other. The 4-day workshop Games2Teach Collaboratory sponsored by CASLS (University of Oregon) & COERLL (University of Texas-Austin) reminded me of this as an educator as well. Facilitated by Julie Sykes and Stephanie Knight from CASLS, the workshop provided ideas, tools, and skills for educators to promote second language acquisition through the lens of games and collaborative experience.
The workshops enlightened the idea that the classroom is a microcosm of learning experience in which games are a key part, because they are provocative and increase the authenticity of using knowledge and learning experiences in different settings. Take for example “The Candle Problem”. Imagine that you have a box of tacks, a candle, and a box of matches. How would you hang the candle right on the wall without burning yourself? There are 3 (or more!!) possible solutions such as using a few tacks to attach the candle to the wall or to build a base for the candle to stand against the wall… but what would be even easier? Using the same box of tacks to place the candle in it. This kind of game develops in the learner skills to solve problems focusing on the most practical solution and having fun while doing it!
Creativity, thinking, and playing are skills that learners of a second language can use in their learning journey with the guide of their teachers. To develop a collaborative game, it’s important to keep in mind what are the components of the study, general themes, concepts, and critical skills that learners must develop in the unit or chapter. A lesson plan, using this teaching strategy, can be divided into four parts: vocabulary, strategic skills, grammar, and pragmatic skills. We were provided with one example that encompassed these elements with a narrative oriented to a game to collaborate. The main theme was travel and weather. Instead of repeating vocabulary or grammatical forms, the lesson plan focused on a narrative in which students were ‘secret agents’ that had to help a missing colleague to finish her mission. By using this narrative, students already were involved in the idea of solving a problem and using critical skills while learning and enjoying their mission. Students were also developing skills for listening and reading details and using commands or interrogative words to bring the best solutions into the game.
The workshop, aside from providing us as teachers with tools to create games, gave us space to create and share our own ideas of how to incorporate the knowledge in our teaching. One of the participants shared a lesson plan using emojis to create a puzzle for students to learn the characters and vocabulary of a theatre play. Another participant had the idea of creating a virtual scenario in which students were gaining ‘points’ while solving language problems, and in the end, moving to a different level to solve a crime. And there was even someone that had the idea of using “The Candle Problem” as a vocabulary-building game.
What would you want to play while learning and collaborating with others? If unsure, make sure to sign up for the next workshop!
Denise Castillo is a Ph.D. Candidate at the University of Wisconsin- Madison in Hispanic Literature. She has been teaching Spanish at college level for 10 years. Her passions include education, literature, and continuing her learning journey as an educator.