How Games and Gamification Can Benefit Language Learning

April 2023

This month we’re exploring games and gamification, and we’re diving into the neuroscience behind them both. Have you ever wondered why games are so much fun? Are you looking for some educational games to bring into the classroom? This issue will have you wondering no more! 

Our cover: ”Critical thinking is the most important factor with chess. As it is in life, you need to think before you make decisions.” – Hikaru Nakamura

Cover photo by Randy Fath on Unsplash; others from Pexels

Watch before you read...

Game designers know so much about capturing attention and keeping the dopamine flowing. What teacher wouldn’t love to bottle their knowledge and slip it into the classroom? To delve into games and gamification in foreign language teaching, we teamed up again with JALTCALL, the JALT special interest group for Computer-Assisted Language Learning.

In the Main video, Rachel Bolstad encourages teachers to take inspiration from digital games to enhance learning. In the More video, Graham Stanley takes a deep dive into gamification and gives foreign language teachers practical tips for using games and gamification in their classes. To get us started, Heather Kretschmer writes about factors to consider before using games or gamification in the classroom.

In the Think Tank, Julia Daley explains key psychological concepts underlying successful games. Next, our readers share some wonderful game ideas and their thoughts on using games in the classroom, while Lawrence Levy makes a compelling case for using board games. Finally, Louise Ohashi investigates the viewpoints teachers and learners have concerning using digital games to facilitate language learning. Then, in the PLUS, student Takeshi Goto counters what a teacher wrote about him by writing about the teacher.

Our Thoughts on Games*

Learning and Bonding through Games Heather Kretschmer

As a freshly minted MA TESL graduate, my first teaching job in Germany involved working with a group of unemployed adults trying to reenter the job market. As part of the reentry strategy, they had been strongly “encouraged” by the local employment agency to take intensive professional development courses, for example English courses. So, this particular group of adults landed in my English course, which ran for two months, five days a week, eight hours a day. Yup—we spent 40 hours a week together. Quite the marathon.

Think Tank Articles

Fun, Flow, and Fiero—How Games Motivate Players to Persevere Julia Daley

Gamification, or the practice of making education more like a game, has a seductive appeal for educators—after all, who wouldn’t want their classroom to be as engaging as a game? Gamers are motivated to master new skills and apply them to solve problems in creative ways, are willing to persist in the face of difficulty, and enjoy themselves while doing all of this. If only our classrooms could be more like games, then students would enjoy learning!

A Tsunami of Gaming Ideas from our Readers Think Tank Readers

Editors: At our request, a number of language teachers sent us their comments on gaming and suggestions for games.

Some Tips From an “Old Hand” at Boardgames and Two Recommended Starters Lawrence Levy

Playing games in a university class? Not very serious, is it? Students having outright fun in class? Not the point of higher education. Education is a serious endeavor. Don’t waste limited time on frivolous activities. Really? Says who? When I started my Boardgames Communication class I was on the receiving end of many scowls and a few quietly reserved smirks. More than twenty years down the road, the class has earned a niche following in the elective offerings and even some positive acknowledgement from colleagues. The following points of advice have been distilled down from teaching a full year (two-semester) English Communication class for over twenty years, using boardgames as the only medium of study and use of class time. I will assume that readers of this piece will not be using the same boardgames—only the same class approach; however, it is recommended for best results to use games as a regular part of class time, rather than as a “one-off” treat in class. Students love it!

Language Learning with Digital Games: Worth a Closer Look Louise Ohashi

We all know that games can be engaging and educational, so it’s unsurprising that many teachers include them in their courses and recommend them to students for self-study. When I first started teaching English, boardgames and card games made regular appearances in my lessons and I still get requests for an encore whenever my students play with an old deck of Taboo cards. In the last decade though, digital games have taken on a bigger role in my educational toolkit. I have seen the pros and cons of them first-hand, both as a teacher and a language learner, but there is always something else to discover, right? To learn more, I decided to read up on the use of digital games in language education then conducted a survey with 88 English teachers and 102 English students at Japanese universities. In this article, I’ll share some of the spoils of my labour.

Think Tank Plus

Building Trust between Teachers and Students Takeshi Goto

Editors’ note: In our January Think Tank on Gratitude, Paul Mathieson wrote an article titled “Drawing Inspiration from Inspirational Students.” His article featured one particular student, Takeshi, who not only agreed to let Paul use his photo in a story, but also “added humour and colour to the activity… Moreover, his willingness to put himself out there in that activity opened the door for incorporating student “characters” into other in-class stories and activities.”

We were fascinated by the article and wanted to hear what Takeshi had to say about the class. So, we asked Paul to have him write a follow-up. It seemed unlikely Takeshi would, since he had already finished his English courses, but to our delight, this article, no easy feat for Takeshi, appeared in our mailbox! Here it is unedited (at least by us) to keep his voice. Our deepest thanks to both Takeshi and Paul.

Call for Contributions: Ideas and Articles Think Tank Staff

Become a Think Tank star! Here are some of the future issue topics we are thinking about. Would you, or anyone you know, like to write about any of these? Or is there another topic you’d like to recommend? Do you have any suggestions for lead-in, or just plain interesting, videos? How about writing a book review? Or sending us a story about your experiences? Contact us.

Going Deeper

A number of our contributors are involved in game-centered textbooks, probably more than we are aware of.

As mentioned in the “Tsunami of Gaming Ideas from our Readers” article, Fiona Wall Minami authored an escape room book Escape the Classroom. Curtis Kelly, who also contribute to the article, has numerous games in his Active Skills for Communication series and information-gap mysteries in his Snoop Detective School Conversation Book (new version in press).

Kevin McCaughey, contributor to our Think Tank on Body Matters, wrote The Dice Book. We saw a haloed Kevin at the TESOL conference last week.

Dorothy Zemach, a contributor to an upcoming issue, is also the author of a free ebook: An Introduction to Using Games in the ESL/EFL Classroom. Dorothy was at TESOL too, wearing a tiara, but unfortunately, we did not get a photo of her.

If we missed anyone else, tell us on Facebook.

Heather Kretschmer and Laura Gibbs blessed our February and March issues with such good creative activities that they were interviewed in a podcast soon after!

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The MindBrained Think Tanks+

is produced by the Japan Association for Language Teaching (JALT) Mind, Brain, and Education Special Interest Group (BRAIN SIG). Kyoto, Japan. (ISSN 2434-1002)

Editorial Staff

Stephen M. Ryan                Julia Daley                   Marc Helgesen

             Heather Kretschmer          Curtis H. Kelly            Skye Playsted               

    Jason Walters                               Mohammad Khari




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