Friday, December 13, 2013

Playing Around in English

The focus and excitement was palpable with every student in the classroom fully engaged with a vocabulary game. Some were asking me or peers what words meant. (“Mrs. Essenburg, what does “covette” mean?” Puzzled, I went over to look. “Oh! Covet! Like the commandment, ‘You shall not covet.” “Oh! Covet!”) Some were practicing etymology. (“What does ‘lackluster’ mean?...Oh, ‘dull,’ like ‘lacking luster’!”). I felt a little giddy. 

On Thursday one of the students scheduled to give a presentation was absent, leaving us with a stretch of time at the end of the period to fill constructively. Sometimes in such a situation I’ll have students share with a partner or in small groups a book they’ve read this year. This time, since the last presentation had ended with the suggestion to do a little bit of good in the world by giving extra change to the little donation boxes left by NGOs at convenience store counters, I was reminded of the Web site I told students to get out their computers and I’d show them another way they could do a little bit of good in the world and help themselves improve their vocabulary at the same time. 

Students played a multiple choice vocabulary-building game where for each correct answer, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), which administers the game, provides 10 grains of rice which are paid for by site advertisers. Yes, this is legitimate--if BBC can be trusted. (I also gave my students a mini-lesson on fact-checking.) This article from September 8, 2010 says a computer programmer created the game for his sons and then donated in to the WFP.

It reminded me of a conversation I’d had with some students the previous Wednesday night on the train on the way home from debate. A 10th grader promised me he was going to go home and study his vocabulary words for the quiz the next day. An 11th grader lit up at the memory: “Oh! Quizlet! I loved that! I was determined to have the highest score on the Space Race game, so I kept playing it until I did. And it just happened that I also learned the words!” (I make 2 Quizlet lists for each vocabulary list of 20 words--one with definitions, and one with the context sentence of origin in the literature we’re reading.)

I’ve commented in past posts on an article forwarded to me by a fellow department chair--“Five Research-Driven Education Trends at Work in Classrooms.” This week I was given cause to reflect on one of those trends I havent yet addressed: game-based learning

Of course there are many parts of the process of education that just take hard work (in fact, “Power of Perseverance” is another of the 5 research-driven trends that I have commented on), but who wouldn’t choose a little fun and games every so often--especially when it gets kids this engaged?

What else in the secondary English classroom have you found game-based learning can be used for?

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