I want to start with a very simple statement: I love video games. I was born with a Super Nintendo controller in my hand and have never looked back. When I started teaching, I looked for any opportunity I could to introduce games into my class: before almost every vocabulary quiz my class plays VINCO (Latin bingo, it translates literally to “I win”), accompanied by me announcing Latin words with the Match Game theme playing in the background, and I have even adapted a version of the popular game Apples to Apples to fit noun/adjective agreement lessons.
As technology became more and more available to me in in my class, I wanted to bring in new games that incorporated new devices and software into my typical class routine. I found that as I started, however, that I was a little too eager: I would quickly make a game or try something out, and as soon as I hit a bump I would feel a little like this:
After many, many experiments full of trial and error, however, I wanted to share with you two games that I have found fun and helpful both in my class and in my life outside of school. The first is something just about anyone can use, while the second is a little more language-directed, but as you’ll see I think it has potential in other classrooms as well.
Kahoot! Kahoot! Kahoot is on fire!
The first and more recent game that I have found and begun to use in my class is Kahoot. Kahoot is a website where you can make, share, and play multiple choice quizzes online. In order to play students need to have laptops or mobile devices (I let my students bring their phones and have the laptop cart signed out, just in case) where they go to http://kahoot.it. From there they enter the game code that is on the main screen/projector. Once all the students have entered the game, the teacher simply presses a button and the game begins. The main screen displays the questions, and the students use their devices to select the answer. They get points for being correct, and the quicker the correct answer, the more points the student receives. There is a leaderboard that is displayed after every question so students can see where they are as the game progresses.
Kahoot is 100% customizable. You can make a game any number of questions about any topic. This means if you are a science teacher you could make a game about biomes, or if you are a Latin teacher like yours truly you can make a jumbo-sized review game for your Latin 1 Final exam. Because the game is teacher-controlled you can pause whenever you want to review or discuss answers with the students, and you can embed pictures and videos to add more detail to your questions. You can replay the game as many times as you want, so you could pre-test a class at the beginning of a unit and then replay the game at the end of the unit to see what they’ve learned. In addition, there is also a “ghost” mode where you can pit your class against a past version of themselves to see on an individual basis how each student has improved. Also, the game lobby where students join the game has some of the most addictive music I’ve experienced.
Because Kahoot rewards students for quickness of answers, it encourages speed instead of carefully reading the question/answers. In my personal experience I have also noticed students who get off to a bad start can also feel dismayed throughout the game. Students can also pick their own usernames, so you always have to be on the lookout at the beginning (there is a convenient kick user out feature, though). Finally, Kahoot can feel quite one-note: there are only multiple choice answers, which means if a class isn’t in the right mood for that it can get boring quickly.
Overall I really enjoy Kahoot. I find that the good far outweighs the bad, and when used appropriately and planned out ahead of time I think it provides a great change of pace in the classroom that students get excited about. For more ideas on using Kahoot in class, Chris Kesler has four great suggestions, and the Kahoot blog is always showing off the latest ways to bring kahoot into the classroom. Next up: we’re gonna get multi-lingual.
Duolingo ist sehr gut für Sprache!
The next app I wanted to share is Duolingo. Duolingo is a free app and website where people (not just students!) can learn a new language through small lessons that include translation, composition, and pronunciation of the target language in various categories (food, sports, family, etc.). Each category has 1-10 “lessons” depending on the depth of the category, where new vocabulary and grammar are introduced. As the student answers questions correctly, a little progress bar fills up along the top of the screen. When it fills up the lesson is done. If the student answers a question wrong, the bar loses a little progress, meaning the student will have to answer another question or two right in order to make up the lost piece. Once the category is completed, the student has to go back periodically to review or the strength bar underneath diminishes. There are multiple languages that students can learn in this app, and for certain accomplishments the student earns “lingots,” or app-based currency where they can “buy” things like extra seasonal lessons that aren’t offered all the time.
Duolingo is a wonderful “learn at your own pace”type of game. In my school my language colleagues will give Duolingo for homework: either complete so many lessons or play for so many minutes a night and have a parent sign off (in addition, check out what Pilar Munday is doing with it in her college Spanish classes). Some students will do multiple lessons a night to find out how to say “a bee is black and yellow” in German, while others might just do the first lesson in the Family category. Duolingo launched in the past year “Duolingo for classrooms,” where students can sign into a class group and the teacher can monitor how much each student is doing. It provides a class leaderboard and can filter out mature words so that you don’t have a seventh grader learning how to order a beer in Spanish. It also takes itself lightly: as a certain twitter account will show you it likes to make goofy sentences to make the experience that much more fun. The overall appearance and style of duolingo makes it both fun and addictive; you never really lose, so you never feel dismayed about a language, and you get excited when you see a new category on the horizon. Some English Language Learner teachers, like Larry Ferlazzo, are even using Duolingo for classrooms to teacher their students English!
The lessons in Duolingo are in a specific order, so it’s not as programmable as something like a Kahoot. That means if your curriculum and the game’s lesson tree don’t sync up well you may find it to be less useful. On top of that, it’s pronunciation software isn’t the best: I literally sang a random phrase into the microphone and it counted it right, so there is still room to improve. Also: NO LATIN. I mean, really? I know it’s a dead language but they OFFER KLINGON, A FICTITIOUS LANGUAGE OF THE ENEMY OF THE UNITED FEDERATION OF PLANETS. Sorry about that, where was I?
I know what you’re saying: if there’s no Latin, why are you interested in it? Well, because thanks to Duolingo, I have learned a lot of German. While I never plan on teaching it I have always wanted to learn it, and Duolingo has made it really fun and easy for me. Believe it or not, I also use it in my class: I use Duolingo to show my Latin students how Latin helps them learn other languages too. With Spanish and French I can show them the connections of vocabulary, and with German I can show them how they are similarly structured in grammar. In eighth grade I have students who choose either to remain in Latin or switch to another language when they go to the high school. While I know they all won’t stay, I can show them the value of what they have learned already and how even if they change languages next year Latin will always be around to help them.
Additionally, I think Duolingo would be a great way to go cross-curricular. How awesome would it be to learn about animal names in French while you learn about those same animals in a biology unit? What about learning the basics of a language to look at primary sources in world history? While it might take some planning, I really do see potential in taking Duolingo outside of language classrooms.
BREAKING: Tinycards by Duolingo
Right as I was about to post this, I noticed a new twitter account pop up in my suggested follows box: Tinycards by Duolingo. This app is a flashcard app by the team at Duolingo that launched a week ago. When I saw it, I had to give it a download and then write up a quick review for the blog.
Tinycards turns flash card review into a game. There are many pre-made sets of flashcards (including a lot of language sets, since it is Duolingo), and each set has mini lessons attached, similar to the Duolingo model. In each lesson, you flip through cards like you would with traditional flashcards, and as the lesson progresses you are asked to either fill in missing parts of the flash card or match the image associated with the flash card to its information. Once you’ve completed the lesson the card set turns gold and you can unlock a new set of cards to play with.
Just like Duolingo, there is no way to lose, you only have to take more time to win. I could see if there was a way to lose that it would be a bad turn-off for students trying to study. Also similar to Duolingo, Tinycards encourages you to keep going to new lessons. There is something really rewarding about seeing a set of cards turn gold when they’re completed that motivates you to want to turn all the sets gold. In addition, you can add your own flashcard sets to the app, which means I can upload chapter sets from my Latin textbook so my students can practice even more!
As of now, Tinycards is only on iOS. I’m sure it will eventually move over to android and web browser, but that’s a big hit if you don’t have iPads in your classroom. Additionally, I did notice some spelling errors in the user-created card sets, so if you want to rely on others make sure to proofread their work!
While it’s in the very early stages, I think Tinycards is definitely an app worth trying out if you have apple devices in your class or just want to add a resource for your students!
Don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it
I’m sure any of you who follow me on twitter are surprised that I didn’t try to squeeze Pokemon Go into this review. Like much of the nation, I’ve been hooked on this app: I have gone on walks in places I didn’t know existed in my county and even got caught in a thunderstorm last night catching a Charmander (side note: it paid off). This morning I even read an article on how a teacher in Australia is using the app to help his students with autism become more social. While I’m not saying every teacher can or should find ways to put the latest game into their classroom, I want to make sure this message is clear: don’t knock it until you try it.
I want to share a quick story with you all: in one of my classes last year I had a student who was a bit of a loner. At the end of the year I have my classes do a project where they make a review game for the rest of the class to play. When my kids broke into groups, this student wanted to work by herself (which is fine, I always say groups of 1 to 4) and make a game on the website Scratch. While I was worried at first because I had never heard of the site before, I gave her the go ahead and had some alternatives ready in case things fell through. When the day came for her to present I was amazed: she had made from scratch (no pun intended) an amazing game where students would type in a Latin word into sentence and if it was correct their team got a point. The whole class enjoyed the experience, and because of how well her game worked out, one of my goals this upcoming year is to play around on Scratch and see what I can make.
So the next time a student, colleague, or presenter talks about a new game they have been playing remember: don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it, you never know what game (or student!) can help bring your class to a new level.
What do you guys think? Do you have any other ideas you could use with these games? Are there any games you use in the classroom? Have you had any issues playing games in class before? Let me know in the comments below!