HOW TO GAMIFY YOUR ENGLISH CLASS. Step 2

In the first article we discussed what gamification is and why it can help English teachers to motivate millennial teens to work hard at English lessons.

We started our introduction of gamification with the basics — PBL, which stand for points, badges and leaderboard. In the first article we talked in detail why points are better than school marks and how to build a leaderboard which will motivate not only the top students, but also those at the bottom. And we said a few words about narrative which should be added to any PBL framework to give epic meaning to the lessons and not to turn gamification into a meaningless points accumulation.

Extrinsic motivation vs Intrinsic motivation

When we introduced PBL framework to our lessons in my language school, there came immediate results! Students were so much involved; they even started asking for extra assignments if they had missed a lesson, which was a complete shock for us.

In 3 months we understood that points-badges-leaderboard give short-term motivation. On one hand, students focused on earning points, but not on the language learning. Some of them even tried to cheat to get more points. On the other hand, students’ motivation started to decrease, because when you are paid for something you stop enjoying it. We, just as many other people, misunderstood the concept of gamification and believed that awarding points and badges is gamification.

We realized that points and badges are a good thing to start, but one shouldn’t stop here. PBL gives extrinsic motivation but we want to awaken students’ intrinsic motivation.

Daniel Pink in his book Drive talks about three intrinsic motivators: Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose. How can we use this concept for educational and gamification purposes?

Purpose

Teenage students don’t see any point in learning 10 new words or Present Continuous. But they are easily engaged by an interesting story. People like stories, a good narrative is why people go to the movies, read books and play computer games. This is why it is very important to put your students in the context of a story. You can be looking for an exit out of a haunted house, fight with zombies or vampires, fly to far-away planets to save the human race.

One of the most important things is to come up with a hero in your story. Of course, your students, as players, can perform this role. Or which is better, you create a character, who your students want to help. All people are heroes inside themselves; so let your students reveal their inner heroes and give them Purpose.

Autonomy

Engaging games, which keep players playing for hours, do not keep players’ interest by simply offering the ability to earn points and beat levels. What makes the game addictive? Sid Meier, the author of world-famous Civilization, defines the game as a series of interesting decisions. In games a player feels control over the game and makes meaningful choices. In the classroom, unfortunately, students don’t have too much Autonomy. Who makes decisions what to do next in the traditional classroom? More frequently it is the teacher.

In traditional methodology we must start our lesson with the presentation phase, where we introduce the words, which is followed by the practice phase, where students use the language in a controlled way, and we wind up the lesson with the production phase, where we focus on fluency. Can we give our students more autonomy and let them decide which phase they want to start with?

Example

Let’s take A2 students and the target language Accessories (belt, tie, purse, etc). First, let’s wrap the lesson into a gamified framework. Our students are secret agents looking for an evil genius, Alex. They get a message, that Alex can be caught at the Fashion show.

Second, each phase of the lesson will be assigned to a game location. Fashion Experts school is the first phase — presentation. So, before our secret agents go to the Fashion show, they need to study everything about fashion in the Fashion Experts school (presentation of new words).

Shops will be the practice phase. Students go to the shops to do oral and written exercises to practise new words, but they can’t go there without a shopping list where they must write down 12 active vocabulary words.

Fashion show is the production phase. Students turn up at the Fashion show elegantly dressed up and to pass the face control at the entrance they must be able to describe their outfit naming all accessories they are wearing.

If we want our students to feel control over the game, we must let them choose where they start. They can start with the Fashion show. But they will definitely fail as they won’t be able to pass the face control. Or they can start with the shops. And if they are able to make a shopping list, that means that they don’t need the first location, Fashion Experts School, as they are already familiar with the vocabulary. If they fail with the shopping list, they go to the first location — Fashion Experts School.

In the game Haunted House, which we made to practise the Past Simple and the vocabulary on accidents, students walk around the house in any direction they like, which means they can do any vocabulary tasks in any order. But they can’t open some doors unless they demonstrate proper knowledge of the target language. If they take up the task and fail, they can go to the first aid kit, which is a picture dictionary, spend some time on learning new material through matching activities. When they feel they are ready, they get back to the tasks in the Haunted House. When students fail and go to the first aid kit their motivation to study new words is much higher, than when a teacher tells them: “You should study these 7 words to complete the task.”

Mastery

In video games players learn when they fail. So, let your students fail. And let them fail safely, without any penalty. Let your students have unlimited attempts for Mastery.

At my lessons students are allowed to choose one and the same activity several times, leveling up their mastery level. When, as a teacher, I feel that they have achieved the top mastery level I close this activity and they can’t do it again. Students aren’t likely to repeat one and the same exercise again and again. But if you transform it into a game they will be happy to replay it.

Here is one of the examples how you can practice new vocabulary or grammar with unlimited number of attempts.

Caves

At my classes vocabulary and grammar lessons have a special stage which we call Caves. The term goes back to one of the first games where students were looking for gold in caves on an isolated island.

At this stage students practise new words or grammar structures in pairs. The role of the teacher is just to facilitate the process. The teacher puts on the table tasks for Caves — written or oral exercises. Only tasks, which students can check by keys are used for Caves. Each task has its own level of difficulty, i.e. how many points you can earn when you complete the task. The level is marked on the title page by different number of asterisks: 1 asterisk for the easiest, 3 asterisks for the most difficult. Each task should be done by two students. But only the student with the biggest number of correct answers gets points.

Students decide which task to take up taking into account the level of difficulty and the person they want to choose as a competitor. It is important to play 2 or more rounds so that students could think about their strategy. “This student is very strong, I don’t want to compete with him”.

Don’t worry if a student chooses one and the same task several times. At this stage we are focused on teaching and not testing. This is how he or she masters his/her skill. In the first round the student can do only 2 out of 10 sentences correctly. In the second round with the same task his result will become better.

How we organize the work with the Caves

· Write done the number and page of an exercise, each on a separate piece of paper.

· On the reverse side draw 1 asterisk for an easy task, 2 — for more difficult, 3 — for the most difficult.

· Put the papers on the table with asterisks facing up.

· Write down the keys for corresponding tasks and place them under the papers with asterisks.

· Announce the first round.

· Ask students to decide which task they want to do. Stress the idea that only 2 students can do each task.

· Students make their choices and put on the task they are going to do a game piece or any other small item, which will represent them.

· Give students a minute and a half to do the tasks in pairs.

· When the time is up, everybody should stop, put down his or her pen. Students swap their papers and check their partners’ works.

· The person in the pair with the most points wins and gets the points indicated on the paper.

· Go for the second round.

You can work as described above using any coursebook and exercises and tasks from it. You can go further and turn exercises and activities into mini-games and wrap them into a story. E.g. students should fight with cyborgs. Cyborgs are too strong, so two students must attack one cyborg and only one wins.

In my opinion, gamification and game-based learning are the future of education. According to the Atlas of emerging jobs traditional school teachers will be replaced by game educators, specialists “in the development of educational programmes based on game techniques” by 2020. So, learn how to gamify your lessons to be in-demand teacher in the future.

By Elena Peresada

to be continued