Monthly Archives: April 2011

10 Websites to source online games

Here’s a brief description of ten online gaming sites that have a range of possible games to adapt for use in the EFL classroom.  All these games were chosen because they are free, easily accessible, engaging and easily adaptable.  With each link there is a brief description and some advice on how to adapt the game content to the language learning classroom context.

1 Escape The Room GamesScreen shot 2010-06-02 at 12.51.26 AM

A lot of the escape games here take place in rooms within a house and so target a lot of vocabulary sets associated with furniture and household objects.  You can find walkthroughs for a lot of the games here by typing in:

“the name of the game” +walkthrough

in an online search engine.

Choose a fairly simple game for your learners to play. They can also open a word document and write down the instructions on how to complete the game.

2. Casual Girl Gamer

This is a blog that describes, reviews and links to free online games.  There are also articles about game developers.  This is a great site for finding not only fun games but also a great source for reading material.  Get learners to design their own scan reading activity.  Here are just three questions as an example:

What do you have to gain control of in ‘My little army’? (Myth balls)

How much does the Nintendo 3DS cost?($249 / £220)

Which Platformer game mentions a dessert? (Robot wants ice cream)

3. Jay Is Games

A nice website offering lots of different online games to play online and download.  Again lots of language in each games review for learners to read and extract gaming vocabulary, adjectives or just language they find interesting.  Use the navigation bar at the top to find your way around – don’t forget to bookmark the games you really like.

4. Daily Dress Up

A website dedicated to all manner of dress up games.  It’s also a great springboard to other sites if you can get round to checking out some of the links running down the left hand side.  Play one yourself and write the description for your learners to read and reproduce in the game.  Alternatively learners make their own, write a physical description, daily routines or a short story.

5.  Social Impact Games

If you would like to use games that aim to educate as well as entertain then this site is as good as any as a place to start looking.  We’ve posted a few of the games you’ll find here on the Digital Play blog (such as Third World Farmer) and no doubt continue to do so.  Using games with a real world message behind them are great for extracting vocabulary and then using as a discussion platform.

6. ks3Bitesize

The BBC are aiming games at schools here and many of them cover subjects such as English, maths and science.  The nice thing about this ks3 Bitesize is that you can be sure that both the site and the game content is young learner friendly.  Check them out and you may be in for a pleasant surprise.

7.  Gamershood

One of the earliest gaming websites I started using to find games to use in the classroom.  There’s certainly a lot of choice here and the games have been conveniently organised into genres such as room escape, point and click, adventure and over a dozen more.  There’s even a star rating for each so you can see before hand which are the most popular and the most fun.

8. Free Online GamesI’ve just looked up ‘online games’ on a search engine and this came up as the first link.  On first appearances it looks like there are a lot of games just calling for quick reflexes and not a lot of language but if you look a little further you’ll find a lot more games using the tags running down the right hand side of the page.  Interestingly enough I had this page up on an IWB and got quite a lot of language production from learners talking about what they could see, predicting the game content, discussing what kind of games they liked and so on.

9. Minijuegos

Unless you speak spanish or Italian then I wouldn’t go here as this site doesn’t have an English language option.  Why is it here then?  Well, you have to remember that for all the online searching you do you are probably forgetting your most valuable online tool – your learners.  If they play any online games then find out what they like (speaking practice) and maybe write a description down of what they’d like to see in class (writing).  You can tell them yourself what games you prefer to use (listening) and maybe even write a description down for them to take away with (reading) and find.  Get them to adapt a walkthrough to a game they like and bring it in to use in a future class.

10. Whitestick

A no frills website specialising in online text adventures.  There might be very little in the way of graphics but what is lacking in visuals in the selection here is more than made up for.  In text adventures the gamer reads the story and interacts with the narrative by typing in text commands.  There’s even a text to speech converter you can download so that the written text gets converted into spoken text.  Reading or listening practice – it’s your choice!

Escape the (Plush) Room

Level: Primary

Location: Computer room

Language Focus: Receptive – There is/ are, prepositions of place.  Productive – Short answers (Yes, I can/have etc)

Game: Escape the Plush room


My class was pretty proficient with most of language structures I used within the live listening dictation I scripted for this activity (including prepositions of place, furniture vocabulary and answering questions).  They were however having problems producing short answers using the auxiliary verb which I wanted to work on.  Ok, a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ is usually sufficient to convey what is intended but not only was the course book we were using hammering the point home with some repetitive drilling activities, it’s also a nice foundation stone for later language development especially in an area primary English language learners sometimes have difficulties in – auxiliary verbs.  A class of sixteen learners works out nicely as two to a computer (our computer room has eight computer stations).


This escape the room game posed a nice opportunity for a more fun and seemingly natural context to practice short answers while being embedded in other language elements and in a functional interaction.  Functional being dictating to the learners how to escape from a room in an online video game.  I wanted my learners to be able to listen, understand and successfully use what I was dictating to navigate their way through the game.  They would also be required to respond to any of my questions by forming short answers (yes/ no + subject (I) + auxiliary verb (n’t).  I hoped that any problems arising within the game and subsequent interactions would be driven by learner goals within the game.  that is to play it successfully to the end.


The following text below is the script for the interaction that took place between myself and my learners.  I graded the language to the level of my students and allowed myself to repeat an instruction or question if it was not heard or understood clearly.  Checking learner comprehension was easy as all the computer screens were clearly visible to me (they lined the three walls of the room).  Some ad libbing was necessary but generally minimal.  Sometimes, especially to elicit the short answer forms, I repeated and added tonal emphasis on the auxiliary verb which echoed some of the classwork activities we’d done.  Very occasionally I elicited L1 vocabulary to confirm comprehension but as the game is annotated and learners are able to see the objects the biggest problem I had with some of the vocabulary was low frequency of use in native interactions (last time I used the word screwdriver was probably to order a cocktail) or pronunciation.  I also tried as hard as possible to avoid using the word ‘click’ firstly, because it seems too much of a shortcut and secondly, the resolution not to use it generally generates a larger range of grammatical structures.  Reviewing the text I felt surprised at how much text they had to listen to and how much they had to understand to play the game successfully.  Needless to say they found the game very engaging and though they produced seemingly little language (their language production is marked in the script below in parenthesis, much like this sentence is) it was functional and, to be honest, more frequent than you are led to believe below.  A lot of language produced by learners in this activity I failed to record below.  There was the occasional “repeat, please”, the odd “can I go to the toilet, please?” and the outright strange “The door to the chicken?” (They meant kitchen which wasn’t right either).  They also pelted me with questions, calls for assistance and such which were filtered out in the script in the attempt to weave a more seamless garment.  Without further ado, here it is:

On the table there is a red book. Can you see it? (Yes, I can)
Open the red book.
On the fourth page in the book there is a fuse. Have you got it? (Yes, I have)
On the left of the room there are three cupboards.
Go and look at them.
Open the cupboard in the middle. Is it open? (Yes, it is)
Pick up the fuse inside. Have you got it? (Yes, I have)
Go back. Can you see all of the room? (Yes, I can)
On the left there is a table with a flower on. Go to it.
Move the lamp and pick up the fuse that is under it.
What’s in the vase under the flower? (a key). Pick up the key under the flower that is in the vase. (what is vase? How do you say vase in ___? )
The flower is in the vase. The vase is black.
Go back. Can you see all of the room? (Yes, I can)
Go to the television. Under the television there are three drawers.
Open the drawer in the middle. Take the fuse and the red screwdriver. “How do you say screwdriver in (L1)?”. Ok.
Go back. Can you see all of the room? (Yes, I can)
On the table in front of you there are some oranges. Look at the oranges. What is next to the oranges? (a knife) Pick the knife up and go back.
What is on the wall on the left next to the television? (a junction box)
Go to the junction box and use the red screwdriver to open the junction box. (What is screwdriver?).
You’ve got it. It’s red. It was in the drawer under the television. Have you got it? (Yes, I have?)
Is the junction box open? (Yes, it is)
Put the four fuses in the junction box. Have you done it? (Yes, I have)
Go back to the television. Open the drawer on the left. What is in there? (a CD).
Open the DVD player and put the CD in. What can you see on the television? (a number). Copy the number, please.
Now, look in the drawer on the right. What is in the drawer on the right. Under the television. (cutting plier)
Have you got it? (Yes, I have)
Go back. Can you see all of the room? (Yes, I can)
Can you see the three pictures on the wall? (Yes, I can).
Look behind the picture in the middle. What do you use to open the door behind the picture? (red screwdriver). Ok. Open it.
What’s inside? (A key). Can you take it? (No). CAN you take it? (No, I can’t)
Go back to the four fuses.
Use the cutting plier on the red, blue and yellow wires above the four fuses. Can you do that? (Yes, I can).
Now, go back to the key behind the picture. Can you take it now? (Yes, I can).
What was the number on the television? (number)
Can you see the safe between the television and the fuses? (what is safe?) It’s a secret compartment you put money and things in.
Can you see it? On the right of the fuses and up a little. Can you see it? (Yes, I can).
Put the number on the television there and open it.
Did you open it? (Yes, I did). What’s inside? (A brief case).
Can you open it? (No, I can’t). Click on the brief case. Can you open it? (Yes, I can).
Can you see a key? (No) CAN you see a key? (No, I can’t)
Use the knife to cut the briefcase. Can you see a key now? (Yes, I can).
Open the door with the key. (What door?) The door to the room.


I was pleased but a little tired at the end of the activity.  It had been quite intensive and I had been on my toes reading the dictation, paraphrasing to their level, assisting on technical problems (“Teacher, my mouse doesn’t work!”, “That’s because you’re using the mouse track ball to throw at a classmate.”), class control and behaviour issues and keeping an eye on their game progress on the 8 computer screens.  Numerous other teacher multitasking skills were in play but I had felt it had been a very productive  class.  or do I meant receptive?

Another Interactive Text Adventure : Spent

As Chris Roland showed us with Inanimate Alice (Part I & Part II), there is a lot of scope for language learning and teaching in Interactive fiction.

Spent is a very different type of text adventure. It’s not interactive fiction – firstly, because it deals with a very serious subject : poverty. It is also primarily composed of written text, unlike Inanimate Alice.

Here’s a handout for Advanced students to support the game in class (If you prefer, you can download a printable version here) is an online game that hopes to raise awareness about what it’s like to be extremely poor in the USA.

Before playing the game, let’s look at the premise of the game.

A) Before playing

1) What do you think will be the most difficult problems of your month of poverty? How will you solve them?

2) Find expressions in the text above that mean the same as these:

  • the condition of being extremely poor
  • a building protecting you from danger or bad weather
  • less than the minimum level of income necessary for an adequate standard of living
  • not having enough money or food
  • own very little or have little money

B) While playing

Now let’s play the game. While playing, tick any of the following words and phrases that are used during the game. If you don’t last a month, try playing again and changing your choices.

fast-paced     warehouse worker     take-home pay     opt-in     monthly premium     yard sale     throw a curveball

lottery pool      fitness regime      field trip      keep you afloat      root canal     road-legal    pulled over     pitching in

landlord     loan     numbing gel     paid by the piece     expired registration     impounded     a physical     speeding

dent     bumper    taillight     harangue     take the edge off     venting     IOU     paycheck     telltale      lets you go

C) After playing

1) How do you feel about your answer to question A 1) – were your predictions right?

2) Which of the words and phrases did you come across while playing? Do you remember how they were used and what they mean? Try to explain the meaning to your partner using other words


A) Before playing

2) Expressions

  • the condition of being extremely poor = poverty
  • a building protecting you from danger or bad weather = shelter
  • minimum level of income necessary for an adequate standard of living = on the poverty line
  • not having enough money or food = in need
  • own very little or have little money = have $1,000 to your name
  • Game Tester Job

    Learners watch a short video on game testers and then write a job application to be a game tester.

    Level: Upper intermediate

    Location: Connected classroom/ Home

    Language focus:  Vocabulary of games / Formal language in an application letter

    Skills Practice: Listening / Reading / Writing

    Maybe you have looked at formal language for writing a job application letter and you would like to set a writing task but the post in the coursebook doesn’t sound very interesting or stimulating.  Being a Game Tester might appeal to your learners and also give you some insight into how involved they are with gaming.


    • Make some Bingo cards by using tables (3 by 3) in a word document.  Print enough copies for each learner in your class.  Alternatively get them to draw one in their notebooks.
    • Print off a copy of the Kygra Game Tester job advert.

    Pre-watching task

    1. Write ‘Game Tester’ on the board and ask your learners what this job might involve.  Answer – Playing video games.
    2. Tell them they are going to watch a short News report on Game Testers and you want them to predict what words they will hear.
    3. Hand out the Bingo cards and tell your learners to write their word predictions down (I told my class nouns only to prevent them writing a, and as well as other high frequency words).
    4. The rules are that if a learner finishes their card they raise their hand and you collect their card (try not to let the activity interupt the video watching).
    5. Play the video

    Reading task

    Games Tester Job

    1. Tell your learners they are going to read a job advert to be a Games Tester.  In pairs they brainstorm qualities they think would be good for a Game Tester to have.
    2. They read the advert to see if any of the qualities they mentioned are mentioned in the advert.
    3. Check learners understand all the language in the job advert before asking them to highlight interesting language elements (game vocabulary, areas they have abilities or experience in, etc).

    Writing task

    1. Learners make notes on what language they will use (including formal letter language from the coursebook).
    2. Learners then write their job application letter out either in class or for homework.

    Post Activity

    Learners read a selection of job application letters and decide which three would be asked to come to a job interview.  Ask them to explain their reasons.

    All About Alice – Chapter 1

    We are pleased and honoured that a colleague of ours, Chris Roland, has written our second guest post, all about Inanimate Alice, an engaging digital fiction project for learners.

    What is Inanimate Alice?

    The best thing to do, in all honesty, is to go to the Inanimate Alice website yourself, load up one of the episodes and have a look. If you ask me for a description in words I’d say something like: the Inanimate Alice stories are digital readers, combining text, images, sound and interaction to take you with Alice on a number of her adventures as she moves round the world with her parents. But it’s more than that. The overall effect of IA certainly adds up to more than the sum of its parts. The screen’s all black, the text flickers with static audio or dark drum n’ bass style rhythms that exacerbate the tension, very real photo images and the hard edges of architecturally precise building plans contrast with childish doodles and musings. As you can see, talking about IA is quite fun, especially as it blurs the line between various medium types, between the reader/viewer paradigm and when used in a language classroom, between text as vehicle for language and text as vehicle for story for its own sake.

    Who wrote it?

    Inanimate Alice is the brainchild of Ian Harper. He enlisted crack digital artist Chris Joseph to give the story the powerful screen presence you see and novelist Kate Pullinger to put words into Alice’s mouth. Ian’s vision for Alice is really something and goes far beyond the four episodes you can currently find on the site. There are 10 planned instalments and a number of possible projects that may branch off those too. One nice touch is that in each of the episodes, Alice is a little older, so we’re actually watching her grow up as the episodes progress. She begins as an eight year old girl with an interest in gadgets, imaginary characters and stories. As far as I know she will become a successful fashion designer, but we’ll have to see what surprises Ian has in store for us there.

    So who are you?

    Good question. I’m an English teacher, teacher trainer and materials writer. I got involved in the project a couple of years ago and have written the blueprint for an adapted ELT version of the first episode ‘China’ consisting of 3 separate graded versions, for Pre-Intermediate (A2), Intermediate (B1) and Upper Intermediate (B2) which include graded language, specific exam practice, language games and extra features like scoring and dictionary functions – all designed to increase the effectiveness of IA in the CALL room. As I say, this is a blueprint and there are no fully working versions of ELT Inanimate Alice at the moment. I’m also one of the moderators on the Inanimate Alice Facebook page, set up by Laura Flemming.

    Does IA have a place in the traditional English classroom?

    I think so. Have a look at this:

    You may look at this photo and wonder what it has to do with a state of the art digital literacy programme like Inanimate Alice. Well, featured in the picture is a group of 20 Spanish secondary state school teachers on an intensive teacher training course that I gave at the British Council in July of last year. The course was provided by the Council for the Ministry of Educational of Catalonia and I called it ‘Getting the most out of your materials.’ In the photo we are busy preparing paper based visuals for conversation activities, cutting and pasting from magazines in the old fashioned way.

    The point I’d like to make with this is that blended learning packages and digital resources can co-exist quite comfortably with more traditional teaching methodologies, paradigms and mindsets. On this course we did this cutting and pasting images from weird pseudo-scientific magazines one day and the next my teachers were cutting and pasting from Google Images to simulate student made picture dictionaries on a screen. I would go further and say that given the limited access to computer rooms that many state school teachers experience, and the variety of contexts teachers find themselves in, then more than a question of being able to co-exist, it’s a question of needing to. The day before this picture was taken, the very same teachers you can see here were up in the computer room following Alice’s exploits across China, Italy, Russia and the UK

    How can I make sure lessons with Inanimate Alice work?

    Many teenage students will seize the opportunity to do something new like go to the computer room and work on Alice with appetite and enthusiasm but a few will seize the same opportunity to test the teacher’s classroom management skills by ‘playing up’. A third category, and perhaps the majority, will be neither overly enthusiastic nor disruptive and their participation will really depend on how tight the teacher’s lesson plan and task design has been. For this reason, when setting up an Inanimate Alice, or any other, activity – be it digital, paper based, spoken groupwork or out of class assignments – my motto is ‘Structure. Structure. Structure’.

    Now the first things your average teenager will ask themselves (often on a subconscious level), when given a language learning task in school, are: “What do I have to do? What’s the easiest way to get it done? What will happen if I don’t do the task? Will the teacher know and what will be the consequences? Is there a system of evaluation in place with actual marks (grades) awarded? Are all my friends getting down to work? Are we ‘having’ this as a group?” So what we need is a tangible task for the students with obvious checking points with regards their participation. This is what I call structure for the student.

    We also need structure for the teacher. By this I mean that however ‘wow’ an activity, it has to provide the teacher with information such as grades or evidence of task completion or learner production, that they can add to their term grades, records of work or class portfolio.

    Next week I’ll tell you about a specific activity you can do with IA.

    Chris is based at the British Council Barcelona. He teaches young learners, adults and business classes and gives as many conference sessions as he can on top of his regular contract hours. When he isn’t doing something teaching-related he’s probably training for marathons, walking up hills or shooting billiards. His own site: has powerPoint stories for very young learners, including Reg and Lellow themselves and also Humphrey Bogin. Please take a look!

    All About Alice – Chapter 2

    Last week I told you about Inanimate Alice.  This week I’d like to tell you about how I’ve used IA in my classes.

    Can you give me an example of a specific activity you do with IA?

    Sure. So a clearly defined task, teacher monitoring and evaluation are paramount. With this in mind I divide the class into pairs. I feel that three at a single computer is too many. Many schools do not have a terminal for each student however. When students are sharing, I insist that they swap the person controlling the mouse every 5 minutes. Less dominant students will say they don’t mind and cede the mouse to their fellows. They do mind. They want a go on Alice really – and it’s the teacher’s job to see that they get it. So, each pair watches an episode of Alice. The existing episodes of Alice are of unequal length, so I tend to work with either China and Italy together (which are shorter) or Russia and the UK.. The episode each pair watch is specified on their worksheet, which I’m not including in this article because it really is better if each teacher thinks through the exact micro-mechanics of the activity for themselves and produces their own handout accordingly, which will be best suited to their own specific context.

    Full instructions are provided on the worksheets to supplement my initial explanation of the task. Students will often ask the teacher rather than refer to their worksheets but some students will read the instructions so I always say it’s worth putting them on. As they watch their episode, each pair write down 10 difficult vocabulary items appearing in the story and afterwards write the definitions of these words on the same worksheet (I allow them to use an online dictionary but the moment I see their own Facebook accounts opened, that’s it, the stack of paper based volumes I have as standby comes into play).

    This is the first task. When each group have their vocabulary lists and definitions checked by the teacher they proceed to the second task which is to watch their respective episode again, this time writing down 10 comprehension questions about the episode. For example, those watching China might write: How old is Alice? What colour is the painting that her mum does? What’s the name of that machine she plays with? They also write the answers but this time on a separate sheet. The ‘worksheet’ for this one consists of a paragraph of instructions and the numbers 1-10 in the margin.

    Again, each group have their questions checked and receive a group grade. This gives the teacher chance to clear up any ambiguities in their questions. Each member of the pair needs to have their name on each sheet – no name no mark – and the questions need to be written in two different styles of handwriting to show there has been equal participation.

    After this each pair swap questions with another pair who have viewed a different episode. This involves having everyone finish as close together as possible and occasionally a quick photocopy of one set of questions may be necessary if there is an odd number of groups and thus more people doing one episode than another. Students then work through the new story, answering their colleagues’ questions using the vocabulary lists produced by the other pair to help them, so each pair is simultaneously teaching and testing, and being taught and tested by the other. Finally the answered questions are returned to their creators for correction and are handed in to the teacher for final marks collection. A lot of work for the teacher? In actual fact, the more individual marks a teacher takes in, the less work they have to do come the end of term evaluation.

    Sounds good – how well does it work?

    It works beautifully and I like the fact that students play these 4 roles of lexical investigators, analytical question makers, task achievers and solution finders. You can see that there’s a lot of structure here, but this is the type of structure that is needed and appreciated by front line teachers if we are to envisage using materials like Alice alongside regular materials and methodologies. It’s very difficult for any online programme to provide all of this structure by itself, so this is where teachers come in and why their role in an Inanimate Alice class is essential. As you can see, I’m a big fan of what I call ‘micro-mechanics’ – the nitty gritty of task design – and I think it’s on this that a class lives or dies.

    Is there anything else I can do to try to make sure things go well?

    Whenever we’re dealing with the CALL room, I would advise going in there before the class, turning on all the computers and making sure you have done everything you are going to ask the students to do. That way you will find out if all the terminals are working okay and if everything is loading up fine. It will also prime you for any procedural ‘hitches’ students might encounter. The second thing to do, if you have time, is actually load up each episode on each terminal, so students are ready to go. If not, write up where they go and which episode to watch very clearly on the board – so that they have instructions there and on the handout.

    So where’s the play?

    Recently I’ve been deconstructing my classroom activities and asking this very question, prompted by the realization that my students often find or introduce a game element into activities that was not what I had imagined they would find fun about it when I planned the things. At recent teaching conferences I’ve been bringing up my little play symbols (made with the help of the aqua ball font at to help make the point more visual.

    Another very useful thing to do during planning is to go through the episodes you are going to work with and script them, actually writing down all the language they contain yourself. This will give you a good idea of what level the language is and help you predict any difficulties your students will have lexically.

    My point is that if there isn’t an element of play, students will invent one. They need it to survive. If their ‘play agendas’ can run in parallel to the teacher’s lesson aims then great, they’ll normally be happy with that. But if there’s no other way, their own need for play will come at the teacher’s expense.

    In Inanimate Alice, the play starts with clicking. I maintain that IA isn’t something you should show your students – ever. It’s something they should do. Watching somebody else click their way through Alice’s screens in definitely not play. Alice doesn’t work as a class movie. That’s why, as I mentioned above, I make sure that everyone is regularly clicking. The most successful play element of the episodes themselves has to be the doll catching game in the Russia episode. Here, on regular screens, students have to find a hidden doll then catch it as it falls from the top pf the screen, using a little Brad character on a skateboard at the bottom. I always specify that they can play this episode with the game option on. There are also the flower photographing, clothes grabbing and derelict building maze activities in the other episodes but with the dolls, Chris J. has really captured a retro computer game feel which takes me back to the days of the Spectrum 48k or the Commodore 64.

    These are elements of play intrinsic to the episodes themselves. Then there is play that the guiding activity gives the opportunity for. Students making up their own questions can allow them the chance to try to catch out and confuse their classmates. If you have few students, then dividing them up and sending them off to work at different computer terminals in different physical locations, different rooms, can provide that element of ‘adventure’. There are also elements of play that involve the students’ imaginations in a positive way. A number of teachers, reporting on the Facebook page, have recently had their students write their own episodes of Alice, or to fill in the blank time periods of Alice’s life in between episodes and this can take a number of formats such as written work, PowerPoint presentations and class video clips of roleplays with students acting out Alice, Brad, Ming (her mum) and John (her dad).

    And then of course, there are the elements of play that you will never see coming but that you can observe if you watch carefully. What is it about an activity that seems to animate your students most? Some of these play elements may horrify you; others might provide the inspiration for future activities. Many, many thanks to Kyle and Graham for giving me space here and all the very best to all DP’s readers!

    Chris is based at the British Council Barcelona. He teaches young learners, adults and business classes and gives as many conference sessions as he can on top of his regular contract hours. When he isn’t doing something teaching-related he’s probably training for marathons, walking up hills or shooting billiards. His own site: has powerPoint stories for very young learners, including Reg and Lellow themselves and also Humphrey Bogin. Please take a look!