How do we use computer games?

With many of the online computer games I've tried to adopt a task based learning approach. I feel this approach is best for increasing my learners' awareness of language and for teaching them new language items. I believe there are several beliefs about language acquisition made by this theory that are directly relevant to how we may use computer games in the English language classroom. For example, in my experience I have generally found that there should be three stages to using computer games in the classoom - a pre-gaming stage (or orientation activity), a gaming stage and a post-game stage, which is very much in line with TBL. Each of these stages can have their own set of task types and each type of game can lend itself to differing areas of language. Learner task types can be conducted by individuals, pairs or small groups and the language areas covered could be grammar or vocabulary based or alternatively focus on practising a specific skill such as listening, reading, writing or speaking. As language teachers, our concerns are how best to prepare a class to ensure that the computer games are used effectively. I will now look at some of those concerns.

Choosing a game

The primary concern of the teacher is to select, adapt or create games tasks for the learner. This should be done with the individual learner's interests and language level in mind. Some useful website sources for free online games include:
Games section has an extensive list of games. Each title has a brief description and a rating out of 4.
Comprehensive site dedicated to point & click games. Also has walkthrough links.
Extensive catalogue of different types of games with star rating system.
Large selection of Flash games.
NB With many online games you need to be sure of a reliable ADSL internet connection and have the latest version of Flash Media Player installed.

Preparation of learners for tasks

Some sort of pre-task preparation or orientation is important for learners. This is particularly important as young learners may become ‘over distracted’ by the game and forsake the language element. Such activities might include introducing the game via visual cues (screenshots, for instance), clarifying task instructions, introducing or recycling useful words and phrases to facilitate completion of the task, exposure to text that communicates the games 'narrative' (e.g. a walkthrough) and providing partial demonstration of task procedure (guiding learners through first part of material, say a gap fill, with the game on a data projector, for instance).

The Language Facilitator

While students are ‘gaming’ the teacher should monitor, facilitate and interact with the students. This is to ensure that the students remain on task, receive assistance where required and engage the teacher, a native language speaker, in functional and communicative language production. Incidentally, some of the most productive teacher/ student interactive language moments can come out of instances where neither the learner nor the teacher know how the game proceeds (“try doing . . . No? How about : . . That’s odd! And what about if you . . . ?” Sorry, I haven’t a clue. Does anyone here know how to . . . ?). For this reason don't panic if a learner asks a question concerning the game that you don't know the answer to. Remember that at the end of the day the main aim is to generate language.


The use of a variety of a focus on form techniques, including engaging pre-task activities, analysis of text, guided exposure to tasks, and the use of restricted or “closed” post task activities. These are made and designed by the teacher at a pre-gaming stage though, with time and experience, it's possible to initiate a post task activity reacting to the language needs of your learners.