Thursday, August 8, 2013

Social Gaming in the Classroom

This was written for an assignment in the technology class that I am currently taking, but I wanted to share it will all my teacher friends outside of the class as well!



English Language Learners and Social Gaming

by Brooke Carlyle
Summer 2013

For quite a while (as long as I have been teaching, or a student myself), teachers have used games with an academic focus to interest and engage kids in their learning. In my classroom, my students have played math games that help them think critically about order of operations, multiplication and division fact fluency games, word games to boost spelling and vocabulary, and have even created their own games focused in several content areas. As a teacher, I also implement more traditional board games that still help support specific skills that I want my students to master. Some of these games include Boggle, Scrabble, Pictionary, and Bananagrams.

Today, I would be willing to bet that some of these games are being played more than they ever have before, both by children and adults. Why? Because of Web 2.0. These games have turned into social networking obsessions and are more commonly referred to as Words With Friends (a Scrabble variation), Scramble With Friends (a Boggle variation), and Draw Something (a Pictionary variation). These games, which are already incredibly popular with upper elementary and older students (and their parents!) can greatly benefit ELL students as they work to develop their English vocabulary. However, as with most technology, there are possible barriers that could make using these games in an educational way, difficult for those students. With planning and foresight, those barriers are easily avoided.

Logistics and Benefits for ELLs
Barriers and Solutions
Words With Friends
Words With Friends (WWF) is a game based on Scrabble by the company Zynga Games. It became incredibly popular over the last few years in a wide variety of age groups. WWF can be downloaded and played on iPhones, iPads, iPod Touches, Android, and Windows phones/tablets, Kindle Fire, and Nook Tablet (many schools have access to some or one of these technologies.
The idea of WWF is to take turns arranging all or some of your 7 letter tiles to form words on a “game board.” Points are based on the value of the letters in the word, and where they are placed related to bonus squares on the board. Play continues as both players build off the words already on the board.
This is a great way for students to work on their spelling and vocabulary. A dictionary is allowed when there is a dispute about a word (or its spelling) and that could provide the opportunity for students to learn new words. I would also encourage my students to challenge themselves by giving a definition or synonym for the word they are using.  WWF can be played with two people on the same device, or two people can play against each other using separate devices.
This is a game I would use in 5th grade and higher classrooms.
The use of technology often requires specific directions. I wouldn’t expect a student (ELL or not) to just pick up a classroom iPad and know exactly how to navigate through the programs, find WWF, and use the game exactly as I intended them to. Their knowledge of this is also highly dependent on their schema with technology and these games. Maybe their parents play WWF on their iPhones all the time, or maybe they’ve never held an iPhone or iPad in their life.
To overcome this, I would provide direct instruction to my students as I use the device and show them how the game is played. You could also play traditional Scrabble at some point before introducing WWF. That way you are not focused on navigating the technology, but more so the rules of the game.
Also partnering students strategically, with one having more knowledge of how the game works, could be a helpful strategy as well.
Scramble With Friends
Scramble With Friends (SWF) is another game produced by Zynga Games and it plays off the traditional board game Boggle. Players are shown a 4 by 4 grid of letters (16 letters total) and slide their finger to connect letters to form words. Words can as small as 2 letters, but points are earned based on length of the word. Words can be formed vertically, horizontally, and even diagonally.
Even when I play this game I notice TONS of easily formed sight words, making this game more appropriate for younger students (as Boggle generally is).
This is a game I could see used in primary classrooms, along with intermediate and higher. The beauty of this game is that it is as hard as you make it. It does an excellent job of meeting children at their level.
Just as with WWF, anytime you are introducing new technology or instructions on who to play a game, students (especially those who are not native English speakers) may struggle. This struggle would be benefitted by direct instruction from the teacher on how to access and play this game and actually playing Boggle in the classroom beforehand.
Draw Something
Draw Something was created by a company called OMGPOP. It is a game that is based on the classic game of Pictionary. Draw something can be played on iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, and Android devices. Just like in Pictionary, each player is given a word and they must draw a visual representation of that word to help the other player guess what it is. Draw Something is great because players are given a choice of 3 words that they would like to draw (easy, middle, and hard). This is built in differentiation! I love this game for ELLs because one of the most effective techniques to use when supporting language acquisition is to provide visual representation of vocabulary. That is exactly what this game does!
I could see this game being used in primary grades with support from an adult or older student. I would not hesitate to use this game with my 6th graders and older students.
Similar barriers exist for ELL and any student when using this game. Students must be specifically taught how to use the device on which they are playing AND the rules of the actual game.
Again, this can be helped with direct instruction, and playing the non-technology version of the game as a whole or small group in the classroom.
If younger students are playing Draw Something, it could be helpful to have an adult or older student there for support.

More information about these games and more can be found at:


  1. What a useful post! I love that teachers are continuing to play the traditional versions of the games, as well, because they are classics and as you mentioned, a building block for the computer versions. I am going to check out Scramble with Friends since Boggle was always a family favorite. I didn't realize there was a computer game for it! Your posts have been wonderful and beneficial to teachers all summer!

  2. I have played word with friends and never even thought about relating it to the old fashioned game of scrabble! I think a lot of the older kids would enjoy this game, especially if you can make it into a contest!