Stickyball ESL Blog

The Gamification Concept: How to Include It in Language Lessons

The Gamification Concept: How to Include It in Language Lesson

Guest Post by Brenda Savoie

In a very popular TED conversation, game designer Jane McGonigal explored important questions: why are games so attractive, and how can we get as much from our games as we’re giving them? As a collective, people spend 3 billion hours a week playing video games. Older generations take those numbers for granted, and they are devastated by the way young people are wasting their time.

However, educators have found great ways to implement games into the classroom, through a concept called gamification of education. Since student love games, we cannot prevent them from enjoying them no matter how hard we’re trying to awaken their love for reading. Instead, we can embrace this inclination of theirs and use it to make learning fun. Gamification is especially useful for the ESL classroom.

In the continuation, we will list 4 methods that help you introduce games in the teaching processes.


Teaching Similar Phonics Sounds to ESL Students

Teaching ESL student to speak English fluently and naturally requires a strong emphasis on phonics. Many of the sounds of the English language are simply not used in other languages, and ESL students can easily confuse many of the sounds, or treat two different sounds as if they are the same.

A prime example of this is the “short e” sound (as in “met”) and the “long a” sound (as in “mate”). To many ESL students, the words “met” and “mate” will sound exactly the same, and this can make it difficult to understand them in casual conversation. (Imagine someone asking over and over, “Do you know Jane?” when they are really talking about someone named “Jen”.)

Students also tend to confuse the “short I” sound (as in “hit”) and the “long e” sound (as in “beef”). This can easily lead to confusion. Imagine someone saying “John beat me!” when he/she really means to say “John bit me!” Or take the more classic example of someone talking about how much they love the “beach”, when it sounds like they are saying something much, much different (and much more inappropriate).

Check out these free, printable lessons, which compare and contrast sounds that may seem similar to ESL learners:

Short a vs. Short e

Short a vs. Long a vs Short e

Short i vs. Short e vs. Long e

Short i vs. Short e vs. Long e

Thr vs. Fr

Similarly, it can be difficult for students to master the subtle different between “short e” (as in “bed”) and “short a” as in (“bad”). In my own conversations with ESL students, I’ve gotten stuck several times trying to understand what a student is saying because of this small difference.

And it’s not only vowels that are hard for ESL students to tell apart. Sounds such as “fr” (as in “free”) and “thr” (as in “three”) often sound the same coming out of the mouth of a non-native speaker. Also, if students don’t have a “v” sound in their native language, they will be likely to produce it as “b”, leading to further confusion.

If all of these problems are not addressed in the course of a phonics class, students will end up speaking unintelligible English, regardless of how well they understand the grammar and vocabulary words. You will be struck by sentences such as “Ban has free pats”, when they mean “Ben has three pets”.

To remedy this, it is important to stress these similar sounds in phonics class, giving the students a chance to practice saying these sounds as well as hearing them. This can be the difference between a student who is praised for sounding like a native, and a student who is greeted with furrowed eyebrows and questioning looks.

Learning a Second Language: Food for Thought!

Being bilingual is an advantage that many companies are seeking in today's global business world, and it's a skill that many colleges hold in high regard as well. There's a lot to like about what learning a second language does for an individual, and this even goes well beyond the obvious advantages of being able to speak fluently in two languages. Studies show the benefits go into other areas of academics and thinking, to being able to find creative solutions to problems, and even in creating positive changes in the very matter that makes up the brain.

Learning a Second Language Literally Changes Your Brain

This is a recent discovery that can be more thoroughly followed up on because of modern technology like brain scans, and how those tools and that technology just keeps getting better. One of the first things that really jumped out is that bilingual individuals have much denser gray matter in the language section of the brain than those who only speak one language.

What does this mean? Basically, it means that entire area of the mind is not only larger and more expanded, but the overall skills of a person improve in every area that uses that section of the brain. This includes pattern recognition, learning vocabulary and using their own native language, and thinking more analytically than those individuals who have never learned a second language.

In addition to the gray matter, some studies seem to indicate that:

- Bilinguals can focus on two tasks more easily

- They think much more analytically

- The memory section of the brain is larger

- The reasoning section of the brain is larger

- The section of your brain that deals with planning is larger

Considering a language takes four areas of the brain (Auditory Cortex, Broca's Area, Wernicke's Area, Motor Cortex), it should not come as a surprise that so much of the mind can change because of learning another language, but this just scratches the surface.

That's an impressive array of actual brain changes - and all of them are definitely a positive.

Many Benefits to Becoming Bilingual

These benefits of a stronger and larger brain come out in many different ways. Bilingual individuals often have a higher IQ and can multi-task much easier.

For individuals with a history of dementia or Alzheimer's in their family, it is worth noting that those who learn one or more non-native languages also seem to realize a slower progression into the various stages of dementia if they are ever diagnosed. Studies continue to explore why this relationship might exist, but it does go to show how an extremely active brain makes all the difference when it comes to staving off some of the afflictions that can come with old age. Even before old age, your memory tends to improve. A better memory is useful for just about anything, whether in the academic world or the business world. It also doesn't hurt when traveling or simply enjoying life.

Even decision making seems to improve once you learn another language. What more can you ask for?

Learn That Second Language!

The benefits of being bilingual are incredible, and many of these positive changes are the types that will also affect other areas of life. From finding the right career to being able to pick up skills faster and more thoroughly, the mental and physical changes that come with learning a new language can set off a cascade of positive effects for anyone who dedicates themselves to studying and growing as a linguist.


About the Author

Anabela Barros is a professional who runs nacel London, a popular language immersion program offering students opportunities to live abroad and learn English as a second language. To learn more about these exciting programs, visit


Ways to Learn Thinking in a Foreign Language


Ways to Learn Thinking in a Foreign Language: Guest Blog by Sophia Anderson

Although most people don't really pay attention to it, we all have our own internal monologues going on all the time. It is this very ability that can help you improve your knowledge of any foreign language. But, learning to think in another language is easier said than done, which is why we have put together a list of 7 practical exercises and tips to help you start doing so. Keep on reading.


Tips and Techniques for Injecting Fun into Classes with Beginner Students

The following article is taken from the Introduction of our new e-book, The Great ESL Games Compendium! - available for instant download!

   When teaching beginner students (and here we are generally referring to young, elementary school students), the most effective thing you can do is find ways to make class fun from beginning to end. If your students are constantly begging you to “Play a Game!”, then they are probably bored and need stimulation. However, games should rarely be necessary in class. Instead, all parts of class—from reviewing the lesson in the main textbook, reading a story as a class, and writing assignments, to warm ups at the beginning of class and wrap ups at the end of class—should be constantly injected with lightheartedness and fun. This will keep students engaged, interested, and, most importantly, looking forward to your English class. Here are some tips on how to make this happen.

  1. Start Strict

Whether it’s your very first class with a new class of students, or simply the start of another day with your regular students, start off by establishing order, making sure all of the students sit calmly, writing names on the board (if applicable), and ensuring that the students know that this is a classroom, not a playground. It is crucial to establish this respectful baseline, as this allows you to create a fun class that will not easily get out of hand.


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