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Excellent Learning Games That Teach ELA and ESL

Filament Games | Educational Game Developer

It’s been too long since we’ve covered some excellent ELA (English Language- Arts) and ESL (English as a Second Language) learning games on the blog!

via Giphy

As we mentioned in our last post about ELA games, they tend to be a bit — how do we put it? More slippery and less straightforward than educational games to teach STEM. For example, there are plenty of games that can teach students grammar and spelling, which are plain sailing enough, but in a more grey area are games that teach character development, mood, tone, and narrative arc/storytelling structure — for example, the hero’s journey. 

via Wikipedia

Why are games good tools to teach these large literary concepts? Learning about narrative in a story-rich, choices matter game is comparable to learning about narrative with a book – but the game may capture students’ attention in a different way. As Hubert Ham puts it in an article for Edutopia, “structuring a unit around a video game is not so different from the way you do it with a book; the only real change is in how your students consume the story.” Ham suggests that it is fruitful for students to compare their experiences of a game, which will be different for everyone. He notes this “…approach surfaces nuances in narrative and introduces different vocabulary terms and literary devices within the same story, as well as stimulating discussion about themes.” To put it another way, story-based video games allow students new entry points into literature.

As one can imagine, there are a variety of possibilities and genres that exist under the umbrella of ELA educational games. See below for some ELA games that range from teaching structural basics to more complex literary concepts.

iCivics – Argument Wars

To write skillful and compelling essays, students need to know how to form an argument and back it up with credible evidence. In iCivics’ newly-updated Argument Wars, learners put their persuasive abilities to the test by arguing a real Supreme Court case. Featuring brand new card-based gameplay mechanics, players face off against rival lawyers in landmark cases such as Brown v. Board of Education, Miranda v. Arizona, Texas v. Johnson, and more. With the added bonus of history education along the way, students can refine their persuasive abilities and really dig into what it takes to make a point convincing.


A Normal Lost Phone

Accidental Queens’ A Normal Lost Phone is a game about just that – players find a lost phone, and are given the opportunity to look through it and piece together the life of its owner. What might seem like a very ordinary experience gives students a challenge to put together a non-linear narrative, fostering empathy for the main character in the process. iThrive Games, a former collaborator of Filament Games and video game studio, aims to help teens grow in social-emotional learning, to examine and disassemble systems of equity, and use technology to advocate for justice, among other missions. They’ve recently created a free ELA curriculum around A Normal Lost Phone called Sam’s Journey. Find out more about this curriculum from teachers and students by watching the video below:

via Clever Library

Squiggle Park: Dreamscape

Squiggle Park: Dreamscape combines strategy game mechanics and reading in a world where dream creatures called “reveries” are invading a player’s dream dwelling, or “dwell.” While defending their dwell, students level up their literacy skills by reading passages and answering comprehension questions. Students can build up their space, collect resources, adventure, and even (in the spirit of healthy competition, of course!) battle one another in this mobile app game for grades 2-8.

Gone Home

Similar to A Normal Lost Phone in its unfolding and nonlinear narrative, Gone Home is an exploration game created by The Fullbright Company. The player assumes the role of the protagonist, who is tasked with searching an empty house from top to bottom to discover why their family is missing. Since in-game the year is 1995, the mystery cannot be solved with a single text message or phone call, leaving the player to sift through old notes and other clues. Of the game, English teacher Dr. Paul Darvasi writes on his blog, Ludic Learning: “As a text, it exemplified the literary strategy of revealing character through setting. Its prolific and diverse documents might help instruct on how the conventions of language change, depending on intent and purpose.” Read his whole post on the decision-making and implementation of Gone Home as a learning tool in his English classroom here.

Pivoting to ESL learning, when it comes to incorporating games into a curriculum, the possibilities are also vast – almost any text-heavy game could be good practice for non-native English speakers to improve their reading comprehension. However, research has shown that immersive learning is the most efficient way to learn a new language– and serendipitously, video games are highly immersive when it comes to language learning! Games provide a fun alternative for those who may feel overwhelmed learning a new language in a classroom, or for those who feel they have plateaued in their skill. Below are games that aim to fully immerse players in everyday situations where they can practice and learn English.

Mondly VR

The successor to the Mondly app (which also has a kids version!) Mondly VR is a casual language-learning app where characters provide the player with immediate feedback. Mondly VR can be used to learn English, but it also contains 29 other languages to learn, including Spanish, German, French, Italian, Arabic, Russian, Korean, Japanese, and Chinese. The dialogue and situations in the game are meant to mirror common real events while traveling, such as checking in to a hotel or ordering dinner in a restaurant — so a player can feel prepared and confident to speak in a new language, no matter where they go!

Project Colby

Developed by Filament Games in partnership with Amazon, ESL Prototype (Project Colby) helps non-native English speakers develop fundamental speaking, reading, and listening skills through simulated conversation. This game includes fully-rigged 3D facial animations, so English Language-Learners can gain exposure to lifelike expressions and emotional cues. With this holistic approach, players learn both verbal and nonverbal communication in English. 

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