Welcome to the TESOL Games and Learning Blog

Hello! Welcome to a new year and the new TESOL Games and Learning blog series. I’m thrilled to lead this new TESOL expedition into the world of games. As both a language learning educator and lifelong gamer, it’s exciting to have a new TESOL forum to discuss the rich landscape of games. I hope you will join me each month as we explore games and gamification and examine how each can be leveraged to enhance our classroom practice.

Language learning and games have been a natural fit for decades (see Lee, 1979; Susser, 1979) and it’s easy to see why: Both are inherently social, communicative activities. In the metaanalysis around games and learning, the strongest correlations between games and learning occurs in language (Young, et al., 2012). Yet, uptake among language educators in the use of games, specifically video games, could be described as lagging. In my experience, it’s not a lack of interest or enthusiasm, but an uncertainty on where to start within the diverse landscape of games. After all, the word game describes activities as varied as cricket, Overwatch, and Apples to Apples.

That’s why I would like to begin by covering some foundational aspects of games and work toward a holistic understanding of them before we venture into direct lesson plan ideas for games in the classroom. To start off our gaming adventure, I would like to outline the topics I am eager to cover in the coming months:

  • Games: A definition
  • Gaming vs. gamification
  • What are game mechanics?
  • Making classroom activities more “gamey”
  • Games for the classroom: Choices for beginners
  • eSports, Twitch, and Fortnite—Oh, my!
  • Games and learning: A report from the research

My goal for this blog is to chart the landscape of games and gamification to lower the barriers of entry for educators who are interested in games but unsure where to begin in using them in the classroom. Over the coming months, we will map the mechanics, the concepts, and the communities of practice around games. Understanding these broader aspects is crucial to incorporating games successfully into classroom practice and can inform how we understand them as a literacy practice. Along the way, I will provide links and resources that can help level up your gaming literacy.

Developing a games literacy is perhaps the crucial step in the ultimate effectiveness of games for learning. Colombi and Schleppegrell (2002) asserted that as technology changes it creates new forms of literacy, and these changes require educators to envision literacy as existing beyond reading and writing. All of us are literate in the traditional media literacies: music, books, movies, and television. To this list we must now add games. Unlike traditional forms of media, games do more than describe experiences—games model these experiences (Bogost, 2011), allowing the player choices and agency in ways traditional, linear media do not. Games “create events people can experience and then tell a story about” (crtl500.com, 2015), and it is in this storytelling that games can best serve the language learning classroom.

For those of you already working with games and gamification in the classroom, I look forward to you sharing how in the comments. For those who are gaming novices eager to learn more, please use the comments as a way to reach out, ask questions, and foster connections to enrich your understanding of games. TESOL also offers a fantastic resource in the Electronic Village Online, which offers a session on using Minecraft for the classroom.

Until next month, play more games!


Bogost, I. (2011). How to do things with videogames. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.

Colombi, M. C., & Schleppegrell, M. J. (2002). Theory and practice in the development of advanced literacy. In M. J. Schleppegrell & M. C. Colombi, Developing advanced literacy in first and second languages: Meaning with power (pp. 1–19). New York, NY: Routledge.

ctrl500.com. (2015, October 9). 33 on Metacritic: Why my game failed – Control Conference 2015 [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AbqMjCPmaa8

Lee, W. R. (1979). Language teaching games and contests. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.

Susser, B. (1979). The noisy way: Teaching English with games. The JALT Journal, 1, 57–70.

Young, M. F., Slota, S., Cutter, A. B., Jalette, G., Mullin, G., Lai, B., Simeoni, Z., Tran, M., & Yukhymenko, M. (2012). Our princess is in another castle: A review of trends in serious gaming for education. Review of Educational Research, 82(1), 61–89.

About Jeff Kuhn

Jeff Kuhn is the director of esports at Ohio University. 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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4 Responses to Welcome to the TESOL Games and Learning Blog

  1. Mary Eileen C McDonnell says:

    Jeff, I really look forward to your upcoming topics. If I might add a request that your topic on the research be moved up to an earlier slot. Simply, if I use games in my classroom, I will have to prove its worth with research with my administration and parents. Also, there is a lot of discussion out there relating to “screen time” and the Assoc of American Pediatric’s recommendation for what is appropriate for kids and their development. I’d love to read your research on that as well.

    Thank you!
    ps. I also look forward to accessing the Minecraft for Teachers link!

    • Jeff Kuhn says:

      Hi Mary Eileen,

      Sorry for the sluggish reply, the new semester began with a whirlwind (as always!)

      Proving worth seems an endless battle for games and learning advocates. More than anything, the challenge stems from lack of experience with games; a perception vs reality sort of thing. For some interesting reading on this check out the book Grand Theft Childhood.

      Alongside the research component the other problem we have to solve is how do we get administration and parents to play more games, so they can see the unique problem-solving and skill development opportunities they provide first hand? I’ve seen many teachers accomplish this by starting to use games in after-school clubs and when stakeholders see the positive student response the buy-in becomes easier.

      What’s great about your comment is how closely the issue of worth and screen time are connected as well. The research is slowly coming out that is arguing that not all screen time is the same (check out the writings of Jordan Shapiro for a primer on this). The crux of the issue seems to be engaging with the kids while they engage with screens. Shapiro argues this needs to be more than just “get off the phone” but ask kids what they are doing, why it is interesting, and most relevant for games ask the kids to teach you how to do what they do. Make screen time a learning opportunity – akin to watching Sesame Street with your kid versus plopping them down in front of the TV.

      I should definitely bump up that post on games and research. Any specific areas of research you’d like to see covered?

  2. This is most certainly a literacy field! It can take on the most simplistic forms of drag and drop to coding the next trending app. Exposure to these realms are huge for our population and if I cannot do so or are uncomfortable, this blog should be a powerful resource, as you would be ITRTs. Thank you for your blog literacy!

    • Jeff Kuhn says:

      Thanks Monica!

      As you say it can be as simplistic or as complex as you want or need it to be. When I get asked by educators about what they can do with games (or any technology really) my response is always “what do you want to do?”

      The flexibility and customization opportunities are expansive and the stronger an educator’s literacy skills they more they can capitalize on that flexibility. My personal take on this is we as adults/educators need to allow ourselves more time to play and engage with digital tools. Within that play the next great classroom idea or lesson plan will incubate.

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