4 Video Games for Language Learning and Social Interaction

Hello and welcome to another edition of the TESOL Games and Learning blog!

As we continue to improvise and adapt our classrooms to the continuing pandemic, educators may be looking for ways to move beyond yet another video conference session and find new means to engage with students for authentic language practice. Where better to look than video games?

Video games can be a contextually rich environment for students to acquire and practice language. This month highlights four of these contextually rich games that could be incorporated into your online classroom practice. Each of these games features some form of in-text chat function, but it is recommended that these games are accompanied by a voice chat software such as Google Meet, Zoom, Discord, or Skype to bring the social nature of them to life.

1. Animal Crossing

Although only released two months ago, Nintendo’s Animal Crossing: New Horizons has sold over 13 million copies to date. Its success is largely attributed to the easy-going nature of the game, where the player is tasked to make friends, build an island, and generally just enjoy life. The calm nature of the game appeals to a wide variety of players who can visit one another’s islands and chat, interact, and work together to make their islands the best they can be.

The bounty of items in the game is perfect for vocabulary practice and scavenger hunts. Students can write each other postcards through the message board function or create presentations about their island they can deliver to the rest of class.

Pros: Gentle nature appeals to many players, quick play times possible

Cons: Requires a Nintendo Switch video game console, and game purchase

2. Fortnite

Fortnite is a massively popular battle royal game where players compete to be the last player left standing. However, the game continues to evolve; EPIC has released Fortnite Party Mode. In this mode, combat is turned off and players are free to play and socialize as they’d like. Each Friday, the game hosts live concerts and broadcasts feature major musical acts.

Fortnite also features a creative mode where groups of 16 players can join to build an island area, much like Minecraft. This mode is also combat free, allowing players to create and build together at a pace that works for them. Here, players could work together on challenge builds where they need to work and communicate together to complete a task in a set amount of time.

Pros:  Main game is free to play; extremely popular with many students; playable on computers, tablets, and mobile devices

Cons: The servers are open to anyone to join, meaning any classroom activity could be influenced by nonstudents unless a private creative group is formed

3. Minecraft

Minecraft is an open world exploration and creation platform where students and educators can engage in shared adventures and communicate via in-text chat. The modification community around Minecraft has been robust for years and as a result there are a plethora of maps, modifications, and extras that can be added to your game to customize it to your learning content.

There are many maps devoted to book franchises, such as Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and The Hunger Games. These maps are a great addition to a class reading of these books as students can read and then experience the world of the novel in a contextually rich Minecraft geography. From here, they can add their own stories to the world, write fanfiction, or create machinima movies related to the readings.

Pros: Servers can be set to host only class members, plenty of customization options, playable on tablets, phones, computers, or consoles

Cons: Price USD$29.99

4. World of Warcraft

World of Warcraft has a long history and its use in the language learning world is almost equally as long. The game is a hallmark of massively multiplayer online games where groups of players can take on quests to follow the larger story of conflict in the game’s narrative.

World of Warcraft is textually rich with reading, audio, and context-based information that learners can use to practice their language learning skills. Further, players create their own character, allowing them the creativity to develop the character’s backstory and motivations, which can be a great class writing assignment.

Pros: Long documented use in language learning, open world with rich language learning opportunities

Cons: Game purchase and monthly subscription cost (USD$14.99), although free trials are possible; only playable on PC or Mac


Are there video games you’ve found especially effective in your classroom? Please share in the comments, below!

Until next month, play more games!

About Jeff Kuhn

Jeff Kuhn
Jeff Kuhn serves a split appointment at OHIO University, working for the Office of Instructional Innovation and in the Games Research and Immersive Design (Grid) Lab. He frequently delivers talks and keynote addresses on games and learning, game design, and the need for games literacy in educators. He is one of the founding moderators of the Electronic Village Online’s Minecraft MOOC, a community of practice for teachers learning to use Minecraft in the classroom. He has served on the TESOL CALL-IS steering committee, as the Gaming Special Interest Group chair for CALICO, and in the U.S. Department of State’s English Language Specialist program. His research interests include game-based learning, second language writing, and computer-assisted language learning.
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