7 Game Design Tools for the Classroom

Hello everyone, and welcome to the latest TESOL games and education blog! Using video games in the classroom can be highly engaging for students, but perhaps a more engaging activity is making games. Educators interested in task-based learning can leverage the game development process as a way to engage students in the four skills during an authentic task—creating a game that can be shared with and enjoyed by classmates.

This month’s blog highlights game development tools appropriate for all ages and skill levels of students. Each of these has their own strengths and weaknesses, and I encourage everyone to check out, and play with, a few to determine which tools best fit your students and classroom context. All of these tools are free for students. 

1. Scratch

Scratch is a programming tool with a user-friendly drag-and-drop interface. Users can make a variety of side-scrolling games, making this a great option for younger learners.  Where Scratch excels is introducing learners to coding through a simple drag-and-drop interface that teaches them the logic behind coding without the need to learn to code first.

2. Gamestar Mechanic

Gamestar Mechanic is targeted at middle and early high-school students who are interested in game design, but aren’t familiar with the basics. Gamestar Mechanic uses a game format to teach these basics. Users are given one mechanic at a time to explore before they level-up and gain more access to a wider set of tools. (Note: Free for first quest; varied costs for additional missions and courses; US$1.99–$249)

3. Aris

Aris is a location-based game development editor. Creators can place markers, objects, or plaques on a map of their local areas. These markers, objects, and plaques can be enhanced with audio or video to create story-based games that are geo-tagged. Players venture out into the real world, and when they reach an area that is geo-tagged in the game, information appears on their phones to move the story along.

4. Twine

Twine is an interactive story development tool. Twine uses nodes, or individual web pages, that players can fill with text, images, audio, or video. These nodes can then be linked together to create a choose-your-own-adventure style game. A great choice for students who enjoy writing and story creation.

5. Ink

Ink is another text-based game development tool. Developers can create narrative stories with extensive choices for the player to make and have those choices be recursive—the choices can refer back to earlier choices in the game.

6. Unity

Unity is a powerful game engine used by many developers in both the independent and studio production games industry. Unity is free for students, but its technical requirements make it a better choice for older students.

7. Unreal

Unreal is another incredibly powerful game engine used by professionals across the games industry and is recommended for older students interested in game development. Like Unity, it is free for students to use and has a number of tutorials than to introduce new users to all aspects of the software.

Do you have a favorite or reliable game development platform for your ELs? Share with us, in the comments below!

Until next month, make 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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