In a recent post I talked about including fun or more serious activities in class. I suggested that some fun activities, such as running dictations, could be less effective than similar alternatives. In this post I’m continuing on from this starting point. The idea of gamifying activities has been around for a while. I’m looking at the opposite; how degamification may benefit your classes.
The basic idea behind gamification is that people enjoy games, so by making class activities more competitive, students will be more engaged. The idea of adding fun to classes makes them more beneficial. I believe there is a place for this approach, but we need to be aware of the effects it may have on our classes. Competitive games can be dominated by a few students; the best linguistically, the most confident or the most extrovert. You can sometimes see students standing back among the noise of their loudly participating classmates. The noise makes the activity feel successful, but could the quieter students be encourage to participate more with other dynamics?
To explore this question I’ll talk about my experiences with one of the most popular language games, hot seat/backs to the board. I first saw this as a trainee teacher. Brilliant, I thought, it’s so easy to set up and use to recycle language. My students enjoyed it and I continued to use it in my teaching. After a while I started to notice some students were quieter than I wanted them to be. Participation was never equal. I wondered if there was a solution to this. I’d have a maximum of four students per team tried to position students closer to each other. This can help but in classes I taught with 20 students, it became harder to monitor and control effectively. I found that even this couldn’t allow for all students to contribute equally. I moved on to an extreme of two per team. I had classes of twenty with ten backs to the board. I definitely felt there was more engagement from quieter students, but someone would always get the answer almost immediately, as well as being really hard to referee. The game element diminished. Consequently I’d put more words on the board, so students would need to define a few before finishing. This made sure everyone had time to explain some words before someone would shout ‘finished’. I still think hot seat is a good game, but one I’m never truly satisfied with.
One of my alternatives to the game is using word cards. Students pick up a card and explain the word/phrase on it. I have a set of cards including the same language I’d use in hot seat. The language used to explain and complete the activity is similar to hot seat, but without the frantic nature it seems more authentic. In real life conversations speakers compensate for linguistic gaps by explaining the meaning, but without the wild gestures and mad rush which hot seat encourages. In this set up I find all students have the chance to speak. I can monitor more effectively to see which words were problematic, or which students struggled with the lexical set. The cards allow for extension in an easier way, for example by prompted students to personalise the language. Earlier finishers can be prompted to do more tasks like that with the language, which helps set differentiated tasks for groups with mixed abilities. With this dynamic I’m always satisfied with the activity.
Am I suggesting we all ditch hot seat? No, many students enjoy it, as well as it helping to consolidate their knowledge. However, using a degamified version can be more beneficial. My suggestion is to try both and ask your students which they find the most useful. You’ll get different answers from different groups. I’m a believer in giving students the chance to reflect on their learning and feedback into activity selection. Are there any popular games you degamify?
Image CCO Public Domain from Pixabay.com