'Incentive to work' games

Playing an online game with your learners can be used as an incentive to get learners to do language work.  At the beginning of each academic year parents generally go out and buy their child’s coursebook and workbook that comes recommended by the school.  It’s no surprise then that the parents want to see their money being put to use with the coursebooks getting well thumbed and those workbooks being filled.  Now personally I can see their point here but I also have to weigh using the books like this alongside concepts such as ‘fun’, ‘engaging’ and ‘motivation’.  There’s not a lot of that when you’re standing there saying “open your books on page 34, please.  Do exercise 2 A and B . . .(dramatic pause and then like it’ll make a difference) . . . in pairs.”


I’m sure you’ve all done it/ do it.  Tired?  Need some time to think?  Is it maybe a nice ‘quiet down’ activity?  Do your learners need to focus on a little writing and controlled practice? Are they learning? Peer teaching maybe?  Problem is learners tend to find these activities a bit boring and sometimes lack the motivation to do them or do them well.  Offering a little digital bribery can work wonders.  How?  I’ll tell you.  Offering the first student to finish a chance to have a go at a digital game can be a great way to get them focused on producing language and completing ‘book’ like exercises.  In this way ‘dong the book’ becomes a game in itself.

I’ve posted below a selection of ten online ‘incentive’ games (in no particular order) and a brief description on how to use them.

Rocket Escape is a simple arcade game where you have to control the direction and power of a jet pack to move your jumping rocket traveller from platform to platform.  Have this game open on a computer in the classroom.   Tell learners that the first one to bring you the correct answers to exercise 2B, for example, gets to move the rocket man to the next platform.  As learners come up tick the sentences that are right and tell them to go and sit down and look at and correct the sentences you haven’t ticked.  When a learner gets all the sentences right ask them to read them out to the class before having their go on the game.

Orbox is a puzzle game where you have to move the flashing light around the squares to the red exit without falling off the screen.  This is a great incentive for young learners to write out directions (turn left/ right, go up/down). Ask learners to work in pairs to write out the directions/ instructions for the game on the screen.  The first pair to finish shouts stop and reads out the instructions. As they read them out you play the game.  If they get it right go to the next screen and repeat.  If they get it wrong the flashing light falls off the screen and starts from the beginning.

Skyscraper parcours In this game you run across roof tops jumping from one to the other.  The more roofs you clear the faster you run.  This is a great incentive game for getting learners to write short sentences or produce short but complex sentences orally.  The game itself gets very difficult very quickly so its best that any language exercise you ask learners to do is fairly short to mirror the pace and duration of this addictive and adrenaline fuelled incentive game.

Solipskier is an unusual game in that you have to draw the ski course under the skiers feet as he goes along (using the mouse).  I’ve used this game after activities from the book that took a while to finish.  No other criteria other than that.  “Ok you’ve finished the exercise.  We’ve done the corrections.  Now I think X did very well so they can play the game.”  I then try and spread my choices (over several classes) between the high achievers and the high tryers.  In this way I can reward effort as much as achievement.

Bowman is one the boys like, especially when it’s played between two players or the computer.  Why is it popular?  It involves a little gore (as much as stick man can be gory – i.e. there’s blood).  You click on the mouse to place an arrow, drag back on the mouse to draw the bow and release the mouse button to fire.  Hit the other bowman and see the blood flow.  This is a great activity to encourage short bursts of writing in between goes on the game.  It takes a few goes in the game to get some accuracy so make sure you get the most out of your learners in the meantime.

Fylde sounds simple enough, use the keyboard to move left and right to avoid the black squares.  It’s when the coloured squares appear that you start to get teleported up then down that it gets difficult.  I use this at the beginning of the class and let the two learners who have done the best homework play against each other.  Don’t forget to keep a record of the score for the next time you play. If they start to get too good you know they are practicing outside the class room and it’s time to change the game.

Grammar Ninja is my incentive to get my learners quiet, things tidied away and ready to leave at the end of the class.  If they don’t listen, mess about or take too long they just don’t get to play this.  the great thing is that the game is about identifying language elements in a sentence but in a fun way.  That means they enjoy it enough to want to play it but not that into it that if I want to interrupt it and send them on their way there aren’t too many complaints.  Great!

I live and work in Spain so it was nice to find a game such as Extreme Pamplona for my learners to play.  Run from the bull and jump over the obstacles in the fastest time possible.  Keep a note of learners’ best times in a book.  There are actually other stages to this game but I just stick to the first one (set in Spain) and challenge learners to beat the record of the the fastest to date.  When to play this?  well just for fun if the class has been good and a change in focus is required.

Shopping Cart Hero is short, sweet and fun.  To encourage learners more in pair work speaking activities I set up the activity and tell them I’ll walk by listening and let the two who do the best play the game.  Learners are more motivated in their speaking activities and I sometimes choose the weaker learners basing my choice on effort rather than attainment.  It’s nice to let learners know that effort is just as rewardable and a part of ‘doing well’ as attainment.

Guess how long and what you have to do in 10 second escape.  You have 10 seconds to find objects, solve the puzzle and escape the room.  I use this with higher levels after typical workbook fill the gaps exercises.  Only one thing – the game gets played by the learner who finishes exercises correctly first but so that the class doesn’t see the game the screen is turned away from the class.  When a learner finishes a stage they have twenty seconds to describe the game to the class.  This is so that the next learner who plays has an advantage in the game.

What makes a good ‘incentive to work game?  Games that:

  1. are turn based.
  2. have got no time limit.
  3. require quick reaction times.
  4. have a quickly increasing skill level.
  5. need only the mouse to interact with.
  6. are challenging to play.
  7. are fun to play and simple to look at.
  8. have easy to understand instructions and rules.
  9. can be paused and returned to with ease.
  10. have content appropriate for your learners.

Posted on February 18, 2011, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Hi kyle and Graham.
    I’m an avid reader of your blog and i’ve used many of your ideas in my classroom along with many similar ideas of my own.
    I’ve been asked to give a presentation on “technology in the classroom” at a national level TEFL conference in Bulgaria and with your permission (and of course fully credited) i’d like to talk about some of the ideas from this blog as a part of the presentation.
    specifically i’d like to talk about the Mystery of time and space game (which i’ve done a lot of different things with)and the recent post on games as classroom motivators.
    Please let me know if you have any suggestions or comments.

  2. Hi Simon, we’d be happy for you to do so – if you like, you can mention that the best ideas here and more will soon be available in book form – published by Delta, hopefully sometime in April 2011

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