Game-Based Learning and Pre-K–5 English Learners

In my previous blogs, I talked about using websites and apps to help elementary-age ELs improve literacy skills. In this blog, I would like to mention some games that support STEM  learning for ELs through game-based learning (GBL). GBL is game play that has prescribed learning goals. Activities are designed to balance subject-area learning with games.  I think that game-based learning could help ELs learn language and content-area information because it keeps them involved in the learning. GBL can provide  students with a context for communicating with their classmates and developing social skills.

Although GBL is usually associated with middle or high school students, there are many ways it can be used with pre-K–5 students. First, it is important to read some introductory reading to familiarize yourself with basic GBL concepts. Here are a few articles that I recommend:

There are many apps that help young children learn science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Here are some that have been recommended to me.

  1. 6 Education STEM Apps for Kids. This list covers some very impressive science apps for kids.
  2. Science Fair for kids age 4–6 is based on the PBS show “Sid’s Science Fair” that teaches core science and math concepts.
  3. Hopscotch teaches children in Grades 4–6 core coding concepts. Students explore CS fundamentals like abstraction, variables, conditionals, loops, and more—while making stuff that you actually want to play.
  4. Dragonbox makes a number of award-winning math apps for children in Grades k–8. Dragonbox Numbers teaches children age 4–8 to count, add, subtract, and develop number sense. Dragonbox Algebra has two versions: one for students aged 5+ and one for those who are 12+.
  5. Game-based Learning Apps: Universe Sandbox is a game-based simulation of the universe helping students to learn about science, math, and astronomy.

In order to find a primary resource for this blog, I asked my grandson Devin Clark for input. He has always played games that stimulate creativity, communication, and collaboration. When he was younger, he would create worlds with Sim City.

Devin also played a lot of Minecraft, which  is not the typical simulation game in that students create the world they game in. Minecraft gives students the freedom to create. Teachers can give the students parameters and have them research a historical setting that they want their students to explore. For example, second graders could create a community while fifth graders work on a 1630 Plymouth town.  Minecraft  can help students develop characters, solve problems, and develop higher level thinking skills.  It also helps students collaborate on projects and develops team-building skills. Another benefit is that it develops the concept of digital citizenship. Students learn not to attack each other.

I found one really excellent article entitled “Use Minecraft to Teach Math,” written by a third-grade teacher who used Minecraft to boost his students’ math scores. The children in his classroom boosted their math scores from 18% to 84%. In another class of fifth graders that he taught, students made a list of reasons teachers should incorporate Minecraft into their math classes, including that it helps them become more creative; can be used to teach math, science, language arts, and social studies; and allows them to have fun while learning.

Democracy 3, a government simulation game, is also a recommendation from Devin. The player is the president or prime minister of a democratic government. He or she introduces policies in seven areas—tax, economy, welfare, foreign policy, transport, law and order, and public services. The player has to deal with “situations,” which are typically problems such as   homelessness, and also has to make decisions on dilemmas that arise. This game could be used by students in Grades 5–12.

If you have used GBL in your classroom with ELs, please post your experiences in the comment box below.

About Judie Haynes

Judie Haynes
Judie Haynes taught elementary ESL for 28 years and has been providing professional development for teachers of ELs around the United States since 2008. She is the author and coauthor of seven books for teachers of ELs , the most recent being “The Essential Guide for Educating Beginning English Learners“ with Debbie Zacarian. She is founder of the website everythingESL.net and was a columnist for the TESOL publication "Essential Teacher." She is also cofounder and comoderator of the Twitter Chat for teachers of English learners #ELLCHAT.
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One Response to Game-Based Learning and Pre-K–5 English Learners

  1. Ed Russell says:

    Would you, and/or Devin be interested in joining us to talk briefly about games in learning on Friday 6 May @ around 2pm GMT?

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