Are the children in your classroom often bored?
Are they motivated for school-work?
Do you often organise the activities, so that the children are playing games?
Do the children in your classroom tend to do a lot of work sitting and filling up the workbooks?

Motivation and engagement are prerequisites for the completion of the task or encouragement of a specific behaviour. In education, the reasons for low performance include boredom or lack of engagement (Gamification of Education by Wendy H.H and Dilip S.).

C00lSch00l Games for Young Learners

Gamification is usually connected to computer games, even in classroom use. However, every activity can be turned into a game, as long as the elements of the game are incorporated into the activity (Gamification in Education by Gabriela K. and others).

In everyday practice in schools, games are often not considered as being serious enough for classroom use. Why is that, I wonder, when research shows (Giang V., 2013) that game approaches lead to higher level of commitment and engagement and improve the results by 40%?

All well and said, but there are different types of games and not all of them lead to a 40% increase in the academic performance if they are not designed properly. 

The purpose of using 'games' in education is, mainly, to level up the academic performance, but also to practice social skills.


In order to call the activity a game, it has to include:
  • Participants are actively involved;
  • Different levels of performance (participants can level up according to their accumulated points);
  • Points (that are accumulated as a result of completing a task);
  • Badges, Stamps ... (or something that serves as a reward for completing a task);
  • Ranking of users (according to the accumulated points);
  • Well defined rules to know the consequence if not following them (added by the author of this article).


Game Inspired Designs ... 

... are the activities that do not include the elements of a game but are rather playfully designed. I use them a lot in my ELL classrooms and are very welcome as warm-up activities for either preparing children to a listening activity (concentration) or to introduce the topic/activity of the lesson.

Listening discrimination activity is a good example of a game inspired design and is described in my post 'Positive Emotional Environment'.

Serious Games ...

... are games/activities, designed for a purpose of learning a predetermined objectives through fun. They include all of the aforementioned elements of a game.

To me, serious games are the basis for education with young learners and the approach presented at C00lSch00l workshops is based on them. 

One such game, for example, is a type of cooperative structure 'Numbered Heads Together' (Kagan & Kagan 2009), which I practice with the participants at each project we run at our Saturday meetings

The aim: practising social skills, any language aim (for example sentence structure, vocabulary practice, spelling ...)
Topics covered: any
Project stage: social games
Material needed: depending on the language aim
Age: 6 years old and older (depending on the level of the game and the development of children's social skills)
Levels: many

The cooperative structure:
Children are divided into groups, (optimal is 3-4 children per group). The same task is given to all the groups. Let say that we practice sentence structure 'There is/are (something) + (somewhere)'. The teacher describes one object. Children in groups guess what the object is and they need to agree to one solution. Once they agree, they put together a sentence. Let's say that the described object was 'a chair'. Children in the groups have to come to a sensible sentence that also describes the place of the chair. Solutions are more that just one: There is a  chair in a classroom. There is a chair next to the desk. There is a chair under Mark, etc. 

"Numbered Heads Together in action at the workshop"

The rules:
Children are allowed to talk and discuss only when there is a 'discussion time'.
Once the teacher indicates that the discussion time is over, silence is required.
Only the called child can give the answer.
If the given answer is correct, the group earns points.
Level 1 - only a word is guessed. There is no sentence formation. (1 point)
Level 2 - forming a 1st level sentence: There is/are (a what). (2 points)
Level 3 - forming a 2nd level sentence (There is/are (a what) (where) (3 points)
Extra points can be given for correctly forming the plural/singular of the nouns. 
A group which earns the most points gets some kind of reward ( a stamp, a sticker ...) At the end of the month, rewards are summed up and the final winner-group is announced. The winning group gets a special treatment.

As you've probably realised, it would be better understood if I showed you the activity 'live'. Come to one of the workshops, and you'll be even involved in one. You know what B.F. said: 

The good thing about serious games is that one type of game can be tailored to so many different topics and different levels and therefore repeated so many times children really get the opportunity to get to know the game and the rules. Furthermore, they practice their social skills in their function. 

Well, there might be some challenges at the schools, which are too rigid about a lesson lasting 45 minutes: that is simply not enough time to perform such a game. (But, we'll discuss the solutions for that obstacle in my next post ...)

Games ...

... as a general term include everything mentioned above only, they are meant for entertainment.


In view of the aforementioned game-related information, there is one other aspect I have discovered in a context of language learning: 

How do the games present the usage of the language?

Low-level language-function games ...

... are the games, which focus on memorising isolated vocabulary with no apparent connection/relation to the function of the vocabulary used in a game.

an example:

Basketball: There is a basket in the middle of the room. Around it, some pictures are placed face up. One ball is also needed to play the game. 

Children take turns in stepping on/next to a chosen picture, naming the object in the picture and then they throw the ball into the basket.

The aim: memorising/pronouncing the chosen vocabulary.
The function of the language: none.
The context: none.

Mid-level function games ...

... are the games, in which the game is related to the vocabulary usage/function.

an example:

Find the right shelter: There are hoops of different colours randomly spread around the room. Children move around in a way to present one character, let's say they are the bees. As they are buzzing around, the teacher shouts: "Beware! The hornet is coming! Find the shelter!" Children run to the hoops, but they can 'hide' inside the hoop only if the colour of their clothes matches the colour of the hoop. (Which item of clothing counts is pre-determined.) The teacher checks out if the shelter was correctly chosen: Children show and tell the matching colour with the item of clothing.

The aim: memorising/pronouncing the chosen vocabulary.
The function of the language: colour is used as an identification (adjective) for a noun (clothes, hoops).
The context: The game is tailored from the story 'The three Butterflies'.

High-level function games ...

... are the games, in which the language is used beyond the isolated vocabulary use.

They are the types of games described above under ''Numbered Heads Together'.

A cooperative game in one of the Slovene state schools, where they are introducing the 'C00lSch00l' approach.

Instead of a summary

You know, there's no such thing as a 'bad game' or 'bad activity'. All of them are okay when you know:
  • that you need to use all the varieties of them (not just stick to one type);
  • what you want to achieve with a certain game;
  • to know where and how to place it in a scaffolded programme.

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It was my first month at the new teaching position ...

... as a substitute teacher. 

Having worked in state schools before (using traditional methods and approaches), I was enthusiastically facing the challenges introducing some new approaches of which I had quite some experience while working in private schools. I took the substitute teaching position at the beginning of April when the 'school rhythm' was well established. Being rather confident as a teacher with 26 years of practice, I was expecting a certain level of knowledge as well as some basic level of social maturity from the students (for example looking at me while talking to me, friendly addressing their schoolmates, mutual help etc).

What I received was ... well, not what I had expected. 

I rarely use the frontal approach in teaching, but rather organise group work. The practice has shown me, that while children working together, I need not repeat my instructions so many times because there are 4 in a group and together they remember more than if it was just one. 

The first oddness I noticed, when forming my new students in groups (Year 3) was, that they fenced themselves with folders to 'protect' their space from 'intruders'. They explained to me they were doing this so that their schoolmates couldn't copy from them. I explained to them that this was not a test and that they can learn from each other, help each other etc. They shyly put their folders away and we proceeded with the activity.

In retrospect, the activity didn't work. Not the first and not the fifth time (with the exception of one group), whose members' social skills were better developed and they grasped the benefits of teamwork exceptionally quick. 

Contemplating the outcome I had summed up:

  • Children had no prior contact/practice with real teamwork (cooperative work), where tasks are divided among themselves equally and each member needs to do their part in order to complete the task. They lacked in basic skills which disabled them to see the positive effect in cooperating;
  • Students were unable to nicely/friendly communicate with each other;
  • They were used to follow the instructions (only step by step!), no initiative was shown for finding any individual solutions and they were not used to accepting the negative consequences when not achieving the result ('I'll do it at home, mum will help me, were their excuses.);
  • The time needed for preparing the class for group work was eating up our lesson and we never had time for reflecting on our work;

In order to make my class work, I needed to change the 'working' atmosphere by starting working on developing students' social skills.  

From scratch, I rewrote my programme for the following year, starting focusing on developing social skills, building up the awareness of the acceptance, belonging and responsibility. All of that of paramount importance if wanting to change an 'industrial' atmosphere, where everyone is for themselves into an 'emotional' one, where everyone is friendly/respectful to one another.

Well, let's peep into my classroom the following year ...

I established a new routine In all of my classes from Year 1 to Year 3. I divided my lesson into three parts:

The first part was 'warming up'. The aim was 'becoming aware/familiar my own body', establishing the connection with one another and focusing on building up concentration.

The second part was focused on a cooperative task in which students practiced their social skills.

The last part was a reflection on their progress and a goodbye routine.

Let's see some of the activities I used:

Becoming familiar with my own body ...

Listening discrimination game

I used different instruments (or things that produce sounds). I rid classrooms of chairs so that we had space to move around. Children moved across the room in random directions while making different movements according to the heard sounds (for example, when hearing frequent hitting on a drum, they started running). Children focused on listening while paying attention to the change of the sounds. Moving around demanded their attention focused on controlling their own body and at the same time paying attention to others in order to keep safe distance among themselves (becoming familiar with the surroundings). 

Was there any English language involved? Of course, there was! The instructions were in English, so they practiced listening. The movements were named in English, so they learned some vocabulary in its function.

There are several variations of the described activity, introducing different ways of 'exploring the surroundings' while shaping a line, a circle or any other formation for that matter. 

Students were active all the time. I didn't ask them to repeat words/commands after me, but once they were into the game, they spontaneously commented their movements in English. 

Establishing the connection with one another ...

One simple game, 'clap-hello', was introduced to me at Pilgrims' by Mr Peter Dyer at his 'improvisation workshop'. 

For the game, you need no preparation and no material. The aim of the game is to establish an eye contact with a person you 'communicate'.

I formed children into a circle. I turned to the child on my left and looked into his eyes. When the connection was made, I clapped to him (meaning, I offered him a 'hello'). The child accepted my 'clap' by clapping himself. Then, the child turned to his/her left and offered a 'clap' to his/her schoolmate. 

The rule is that you 'have to accept the clap' and you can offer a 'clap' only to a person with whom you manage to make an eye contact. 

There are several variations of the activity: you may pass the 'clap' to whomever you want, you may choose to change the 'clap' for something else (a word maybe), you can even try a dialogue (verbal or non-verbal) ... 

The aim: socialisation, becoming aware of the concept of a dialogue.

Focusing on cooperative task and reflection on the progress ...

It was not after three months have passed, while regularly playing the above-mentioned activities, that children were prepared to be engaged with some real cooperative work. 

Until that time had arrived, we devoted our English lessons on playing some elementary games outdoors (always project based) and establishing routine/ steps at group-forming and out-going. (The aim: following the instructions, which is listening.)

The medals
With such big a class I had (28-30 students per class) it was a rather challenging job. However, the effort had paid off. After three months, the students formed their own groups with the help of the  'medals'. In groups, they went to the wardrobe, looked after themselves to get dressed up and only when all of the group members were clothed properly, they were allowed to go out. 

Prior to leaving the classroom for the dress-up, we chorally sang the song 'Put on Your (clothes)', so that they knew what they needed to put on (and in the process, they learned cloth items - again in function!). 

What was I doing while children were busying themselves? (After three months of sweating while establishing the routine.) 

Well, I was simply waiting at the exit door, where I checked up whether they were properly dressed prior to letting them out or sending them back to make their dressing up right. I joined them outside when the last group was ready. 

The children (groups) that were first out had the time free while waiting for the rest to join them. (It was part of social education: their good behavior was rewarded with trusting them to be out alone ...)

The outcome at the end of the school year

One of the Year 1 classes needed only 10 minutes from the moment when the song was sung and the children gathered outdoors, such was their motivation to be the first group out ... playing freely! Children cooperated and helped each other at their basic tasks.

Year 2 class was more difficult to 'socialise'. I was able to organise 3 cooperative groups that worked, the rest of the children were occupied individually or sometimes paired up. Those, who were not part of the groups, had not received the groupwork benefits, which caused (the expected) complaints. We discussed the matter, made some progress, but then the school year had finished. And another teacher took over ...

Year 3 students were already deep into arguing with each other when I got them. With year 3 classes I didn't get far. Only a handful of children experienced the benefits of teamwork and were able to employ their social skills for cooperative work. The rest were still in a phase of getting control over their own emotions. 

If I had been their teacher for longer, (and if their class teachers had used some cooperative work) I could have achieved more. The progress the students had shown bore significant improvement in the positive emotional environment within a single year.

So, by starting 'socialising' in Year 1 (in order to establish positive emotional environment) pays off in both, children's motivation and teachers' stress reduce. (After you've made your share of sweating in Year 1, that is.)