01 September 2016

Gaming Language - A novice PBL unit

I started playing Pokemon GO! for my students and now I can't stop.

That's right.
It's for work.
As I harnessed the power of the Netflix binge with the telenovela unit, I need to harness the power of Pokemon, or rather of gaming, to "catch 'em all" in class this year.

Motivation is the name of the game, and AutonomyMastery, and Purpose are its chutes and ladders.

Pokemon and Motivation

Yes, marvel at
my Pidgeot!
When I play Pokemon GO!, I have no endgame. I really don't know what the point is supposed to be. I do, however, set my own personal goals (and enlist my four-year-old and eight-year-old to help me achieve them):

1) Catch more new critters.
2) Find more Pokeballs to catch more critters.
3) "Evolve" or level up more critters.
4) Get to a higher level to get cooler stuff (like more effective Pokeballs).
5) Find higher powered critters.
I'll also occasionally have myself a little battle, should I find myself near a Pokemon gym, say, at the cafe on campus. But mostly I just like collecting critters of varying types and levels just to have them.

That, my friends, is Autonomy at its purest. I choose what I do with the game and why. I suppose having some predetermined ultimate goal would be cool, but this way, I also get to define for myself what Mastery means--maybe it's getting a critter over 1000 CP, maybe it's collecting 20 water types. But I have something to show that I've accomplished something.

The game itself, however, is not what give me Purpose.

Language and Purpose

The Pokemon aren't the purpose.
Having fun with these guys: that's a purpose.
Much like language, what keeps me going with the game is the opportunity to connect.

There are people wandering around with their families downtown like me who will hang out at a Pokestop with a lure. There was a lady with a design shop near three Pokestops who passed out Growlithe buttons and invited players in for a phone charge and a drink then showed my kids how to use the gift balloon vacuum while they figured out which Pokemon they want embroidered on their backpacks (Lena got Jigglypuff, Paolo got a Team Valor logo).

And just finding people online with the same triumphs and complaints--even if it's over something silly like running out of Pokeballs--just makes me feel like a part of something.

This is EXACTLY what we want for language learners!

So if we can design an experience that 1) encourages students to continually set their own goals, we can get them to an experience that 2) truly connects them with a larger community.

I had been planing a unit on social networking to start the year since Camp Musicuentos, but how much more useful would it be to build up the Why AND How of getting to that network? It's really an excuse to explore metacognition and WHY they have to take Spanish in the first place! (Because they do have to at my school. I know, I know.)

We can make a game of exploring what works for language acquisition and, really, what works for them! The Purpose, then is the language, but it is also getting to know each other--and perhaps more importantly, students getting to know themselves.

By the end of this unit, they'll be able to reflect on strategies and present to fellow language learners what they found does and does not work for them as well as what Mastery, Autonomy, and Purpose mean for them in the context of language learning!

Tools for Setup

Of course I knew I'd have to bring back Classcraft for this StarWarscentric, NBA2K16-playing class. But this also gives me an excuse to work in Duolingo (which students were totally loving as a self-selected homework option last year--and apparently has half my students addicted already this year). I'm also looking forward to having a reason to play Verba and Manzanas con Manzanas if only for a chance to reflect on what worked and what didn't for each (I'll obviously have to stack the decks--literally--since it's the first unit).

I've also been looking for an excuse to tie in some new comprehensible input strategies like FVR/SSR, Movie Talks, and Persona Especial that I couldn't figure out how to connect to maintain any sort of thematic continuity. BUT, if they're all part of the quest to collect strategies that work for them, that tie in with their sense of Mastery, Autonomy, and Purpose, then I can offer some Classcraft XP for things like...
  • recommending a book or article
  • "reading" different genres, e.g. fiction, poetry, biography
  • offering in-depth responses to questions
  • being interviewed
  • remembering everything about classmates
Students could maybe even suggest reasons they should earn XP, thus adding to our cache of language learning strategies if they can actually explain how what they did helped!

Other "excuses" for XP might include
  • DuoLingo accomplishments (levels, skills)
  • DuoLingo addiction (exceeding the 30 minutes)
  • winning a hand of Verba
  • finding 10 cards you understand in the Manzanas con Manzanas deck
  • misiones musicales
  • watching favorite movies in Spanish
  • reading ahead in the novel and making fake spoilers
This year it's Intensa-mente stickers
I picked up in Mexico.

And when we're talking gamification tools,  of course I cannot forget the badges that represent performance/ proficiency levels.Those pony stickers on the notebook graphs really help students track their progress. I'm not sure if it's in line with Autonomy or Purpose, but it does keep me in line with, you know, state curriculum and such. Plus it can be kind of a model for what growth looks like, right?


I've been thinking where I want this all to end up, and is it just me? Or does Shelby County's Path to Proficiency look like a game board to anyone else? My attempt to recreate Srta. Satar's clever and attractive student redesigns of said path didn't work as planned (too many descriptors, too little time/guidance?).  How cool would it be if students were to design their own game--maybe a board game, maybe not--that helped teach the best ways they found to learn a language?

I found this great infograph from Argentina about gamification that breaks down essential elements and that students really impressed themselves interpreting. So we can discuss what elements we already have in place (niveles, objetivos, etc.) and what elements we need more of, and how we can put that into their game.

I think this could really work.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go take this Pokemon gym back from my freshmen.


  1. Love your achievement ideas! Definitely going to "borrow" some of them for my classes!

  2. This is an informative article to aware its reader properly. These types of article helps me a lot to know more about gaming language.I appreciate you for giving us this kind of article with precise and brief information.Custom essay writing service is perfect and best essay writing service for helping students.

  3. I love your thinking on parallels between gaming and language learning and am busy reconciling it with what I've read in this book (https://www.pearsonhighered.com/program/Sykes-Language-at-Play-Digital-Games-in-Second-and-Foreign-Language-Teaching-and-Learning/PGM280956.html) dedicated to the same issue: what do well-designed games and effective language teaching have in common, how can one inform the other, and what roles might the games themselves play in a language classroom? Thank you for the wonderful food for thought.