The power of gamification for ESL students: a game changing approach

Welcome, educators!

Let’s be honest, the traditional approach to language learning can sometimes be daunting and dare I say, a tad bit boring!

Verb conjugations, memorising vocabulary, and understanding complex grammar rules can make even the most enthusiastic learners a bit weary.

What if you could turn learning English into an exciting quest, packed with challenges to overcome, badges to earn and goals to reach?

Sounds like a game, doesn’t it?

Well, that’s because it is! Or at least it can be, with the power of gamification!

This blog post is your guide to understanding how gamification can revolutionize your ESL classroom, creating a dynamic, engaging, and effective learning environment where students are excited to learn!

What exactly is gamification?

Gamification in education involves applying game design elements to learning systems to boost student engagement, concentration, and enjoyment. This approach can include components such as points, badges, leaderboards, levels, challenges, immediate feedback, and narratives.

Multiple studies confirm the positive impact of gamification within the educational setting. One significant study published in the Journal of Educational Technology & Society found gamified learning environments can substantially improve student engagement and learning outcomes (Huang, W.H., & Soman, D 2013). Similarly, a comprehensive review highlighted that gamification increases motivation, which in turn enhances learning outcomes (Dichev, C 2017).

Benefits of gamification within the English learning context

Gamification in language learning has been demonstrated to have multiple benefits, including improving memory, motivation, vocabulary building, and grammar understanding. Here’s the breakdown:

  • Active learning

Games often involve active participation, which can enhance learning outcomes for students who learn best by doing. In a gamified ESL classroom, students might actively use English as they play a game, rather than passively listening to a lecture.

  • Memory

Language learning often involves significant memorization. Incorporating game elements such as flashcards, matching games, and memory games can help students retain new vocabulary and sentence structures more effectively. A study by Huang & Soman (2013) published in the Journal of Educational Technology & Society found that gamified learning environments can improve memory retention.

  • Motivation

Gamification can boost student motivation by making learning more enjoyable amd engaging. Elements such as points, badges, and leaderboards can encourage healthy competition and a sense of achievement. The same study by Huang & Soman (2013) suggested that gamification can significantly improve students’ motivation.

  • Vocabulary building

Games can be an effective tool for vocabulary acquisition. The repetition of words in different contexts within games can help students remember and understand the application of new vocabulary. A study by Turgut & Irgin (2009) found that digital games can enhance vocabulary building. 

  • Grammar

Gamification can make grammar learning less tedious and more engaging. Grammar games can help students understand complex grammatical structures in an enjoyable way. A study published in “Procedia – Social & Behavioural Sciences” found that gamification can improve students’ understanding and use of grammar.

  • Reduced stress

Games can make the learning process more enjoyable and less stressful. This can be particularly beneficial for students who feel anxious or overwhelmed in a traditional classroom setting. According to a study in the “Journal of Educational Computing Research” (Chang, C.K., Hsu, C.K., 2011), gamified learning can reduce language learning anxiety.

Implementing gamification within the ESL classroom

The benefits of gamification are pretty neat, right? So, how can we implement them in the classroom? Well, here’s how:

  • Turn lessons into challenges or quests

This simple gamification technique involves transforming typical lessons into engaging challenges. For instance, a grammar lesson can be made into a “Grammar Quest” where students earn points for correct answers.

  • Utilize technology

Many online platforms and apps like Duolingo, Quizlet, and Kahoot provide engaging ways for students to learn and practice English. They offer interactive games, progress tracking, and reward systems, enriching the learning experience.

  • Role play

Assign roles to students and have them act out different scenarios. This method allows students to practice English in a fun, safe, and immersive environment.

  • Award badges or certificates

Give your students a badge or certificate when they reach a certain milestone or master certain skills. This can significantly improve their motivation and give them a sense of achievement!

  • Implement leaderboards

Integrate leaderboards into your classroom to foster friendly competition. Be careful to ensure this doesn’t create an overly competitive environment that could discourage some students.

Possible challenges and solutions

Gamification, as with everything else in the world of teaching, is not without its challenges. But don’t worry, we’ve covered the solutions too!

  • Balancing fun and learning   

While games are inherently fun and engaging, the key is to ensure that the fun aspect of the game does not overshadow its educational value. The games should be designed to promote learning outcomes, not just for the sake of playing.

Solution: Design games with clear educational goals in mind. Use games to supplement, not replace, traditional teaching methods. Regularly review and adjust the games based on the learning progress and feedback from students.

  • Different proficiency levels

In any classroom, there will likely be students with different proficiency levels. This can make it challenging to find games that are appropriate for all students.

Solution: Consider using adaptive learning games that automatically adjust to the student’s proficiency level. Alternatively, you could divide the class into groups based on proficiency levels and use different games or adjust the rules of the game for each group.

  • Assessments

Measuring learning outcomes from games can be more challenging compared to traditional teaching methods. It’s not always clear how much students are learning from the games, and there’s a risk that students who are good at games but not necessarily at English could score higher.

Solution: Use a combination of assessments to evaluate student learning. This might include traditional tests and quizzes, as well as observations of student participation and performance in the game.

  • Time constraints

Incorporating games into the curriculum may take additional time, both in terms of planning and execution.

Solutions: Plan ahead and integrate games into the curriculum in a way that aligns with your teaching goals. Also, consider using games that require minimal setup or can be reused for multiple lessons.

The key to successful gamification in the ESL classroom is careful planning and execution, taking into account the specific needs and characteristics of the students. It’s also important to constantly evaluate and adjust the gamified activities based on student feedback and learning outcomes.

Next Steps

Implementing gamification doesn’t necessarily mean a complete overhaul of your curriculum or pedagogical approach. Instead, think of it as integrating an extra layer of excitement and engagement to your existing lesson plans. You might be surprised how a simple element of play can turn a typical lesson into an immersive and highly engaging experience for your students!

Start with something manageable, like introducing point systems or incorporating simple games into your lessons. Try out different strategies, observe how your students respond, and adjust accordingly. The best part about gamification is that it provides you with the flexibility to experiment and see what works best for your particular classroom setting.

Remember, the goal is to boost student engagement and make learning English an enjoyable process. Even small steps towards gamification can result in significant improvements in your students’ motivation, participation, and ultimately, their learning outcomes. It’s a journey well worth embarking on. So why wait? Go ahead, take that first step and let the games begin!

Do you want to develop yourself as an educator?

At IELC, we give you the opportunity to join a great team, develop yourself, and make a difference to Indonesia’s future by teaching English the right way to the next generation of English learners.

You will also get access to continuous training and professional development and get to meet fantastic, like-minded colleagues and team members.

Take the first step to enjoy a supportive and fun working environment, develop yourself, and get a rewarding job with IELC.