Any party game can be used on the first day of class as an icebreaker and language warm-up. One of my favorite icebreakers is called Psychiatrist. You can use it with any level, even with beginners. A psychiatrist (one of the players) leaves the room to let other players decide, which common “disease" they will share. For example, the players decide that they are Napoleons. When the psychiatrist returns, she should observe players' behavior and ask them indirect questions to find out her patients’ condition. I remember once my students suggested we were nudists… I laughed for solid 15 minutes before I realized I misheard “Buddhist” for “nudist”.
2. international tandems
Last summer I tried classroom tandem language learning. My American-learning-Russian students were exchanging emails with Russian-learning-English students. It didn’t work very well and I spent hours contemplating for possible reasons. I think students perceived this project as a boring obligation and not as an exciting opportunity to exchange languages. What would bring more fun to classroom tandem learning is… a game to share. Surely enough, there is a game for a language exchange: welcome New Amigos! Created for speakers of different languages to play together, the game requires you to translate cards in both the mother tongue as well as the foreign language. If you succeed in translation you win the card. There are several language pairs available in addition to the online version of the game.
In 2010 Jane McGonigal, a world-renowned game designer and the Director of Games Research & Development at the Institute for the Future, wrote the New York Times bestseller Reality is Broken. She came up with a novel idea that we can use game psychology to maximize our potential and become happier in real life. “Games are providing rewards that reality is not. They are teaching and inspiring and engaging us in ways that reality is not. They are bringing us together in ways that reality is not,” she observes. McGonigal opens her book with a question: “What if we started to live our real lives like gamers?” She explains how game developers use the knowledge of human psychology to design highly engaging and immersive realities and what we can learn from games to make everyday lives more fulfilling and exciting.
As I was reading the book I grew interested in a more specific question: "How can we teach a foreign language like it’s a game?" As Mark Prensky noticed in another bestseller Teaching Digital Natives, “The ideal school doesn’t use games to teach students; the ideal school is a game.” So, how can we gamify language learning to motivate and engage our students? Here are a few ideas of how McGonigal’s philosophy can be applied to optimize learning experience and make a new language acquisition feel like another round of Angry Birds.