Why & How: Computer Games & Writing?

I have been using games in my classroom for nearly two years now and have been constantly surprised at the excitement, success and achievements of my students in this time. My students’ writing has especially been of interest to me and I have thought long and hard about how and why using games elicits such wonderful responses.

I first used PS2 game back stories as models (in 2006) for my students to write their own stories with surprising results. I then moved on to the very different and beautiful Samorost and Samorost 2 games as stimulus (2007) with again, wonderful results.

Using historical stories to build their own games, and write the back stories (also 2007) encouraged the students to come up with interesting and well thought out ideas.

Most recently I used Mario and Sonic at the Olympics as stimulus for writing poetry, which also yielded positive results.

Lots of different games, from internet based to COTS, yet all had great impact on the quality of the writing produced by my students. Why? How?

Well, in a coming together of ideas and professional learning over this time, I’ve read “Out of Our Minds. Learning to be Creative” by Sir Ken Robinson. So much of what he said made sense to me and led me to this post of thoughts as to why using games with my Primary aged students helps their writing.

The use of the games allows for and promotes creativity!

Robinson refers to creativity as

  • doing something
  • an action
  • applied imagination
  • valuable
  • public
  • original
  • a process rather than an event

most of these aspects can be linked to the use of computer games within my class. Perhaps my students are creatively learning – is that it?

I would love to know what you think 🙂

Collaborative nature of using games with the whole class on the big screen enables all to participate at whatever level they are comfortable with: amateurs, newbies, competents all have some stake in the game; all have important comments and views to share.

Newbies are seeing things for the first time – they can often share new perspectives that competents and amateurs hadn’t thought about.

Newbies ask questions that competents and amateurs can try to answer – by articulating what they know and teaching others the whys and hows of the game, strategies, language and information within the game can be shared.

Sharing of knowledge, ideas, vocabulary and the “piggy backing” of thoughts helps to grow new ideas and thoughts. Robinson says that we make sense of the world by trying on ideas for size. Shared vocab, shared imagery – this belongs to all of us. Sharing of the language involved provides models and scaffolds that support all learners – ESL, language disordered, struggling and advanced users of English. 

Sometimes the class starts with a common sentence, and everyone builds that sentence into something new. New vocab has meaning; new ways of saying something are shared and modelled. The language belongs to all of us, it gets better and more descriptive the more we use it and mould it to what we want to say.

Striving for more – students push themselves to get better/ be better. They work and think hard together, as a class, to achieve, to make the work stronger, the images clearer and the language richer. Students enjoy the notice, the acknowledgement of their classmates when they come up with a great idea, word, image or phrase.

During the game and the learning sessions, students are working for the common exploration of the game, the theme, the topic; they are working together to explore and imagine. There are no grades, no external reinforcement, just a sense of accomplishment and pride in what they can do. Pushing past what they thought was their best, to speaking, writing or thinking something that is new, improved and satisfying.

A community. My students are not isolated it’s not them and a blank page – everyone starts together through talking and suggesting. The game provides a shared beginning with lots of “jumping off” points to get them started and on their way.

The oral aspect is vitally important for all students. Trying out ideas, and how they sound in English, and how they might best be written is hard for my ESL students- many of whom don’t yet have a strong idea of exactly how English should sound.

Acceptance of their ideas, providing alternative ways of saying the same thing, playing around with the language in a supportive way builds up the sense of community – everyone has something to offer.

Drama is a fantastic way to tease out new ideas and concepts especially when students are struggling with finding the English words for what they are seeing. Even advanced English speakers are able to develop their vocabulary through dramatic representation of what they are seeing and doing on the screen, in the game.

Students are motivated to try new ideas, new imagery, new ways of approaching writing in a supportive, yet exciting environment. My students are in a familiar domain (computer games) and can relax into the rigorous school domain where they are expected to write (in English) about unfamiliar topics, events and experiences. Their motivation seems to run deeper than simply playing computer games in school. They are being asked to do more than just play the game – they are being asked to think, to respond, to create, to move past the actual game in front of them, to record and deliver their ideas in new and interesting language.

Safe risks where students are encouraged to take risks and realize that to fail (some ideas they have will be better than others) is an important part of learning. Sometimes the flow of ideas and talking is so fast that it’s hard to get what you want down, but in this environment my students can see that their writing is not permanent – they can change it, add to it, re-arrange it, and if they really don’t like it cross it out or leave it and move on. Robinson beleives that creativity involves a dynamic interplay between generating ideas and making judgements about them. We get more ideas, and better ideas through taking these safe risks in a supportive atmosphere.

How different this is from the prolonged agony of no ideas, an empty white page and 20 minutes to write something, anything, at all. When all there was time for was to write down the first thing that came into your head, and it stayed there on the page mocking you (but it really didn’t matter because you didn’t need to read it again anyway. The teacher was the only one who read your work!).

The excitement and noise of ideas bursting forth, of being re-written and re-worked, of being tried out and accepted or laughed at and rejected, only to be picked up again later and turned into something useful. Or the quiet of pencils scratching workbooks, students mumbling sentences under their breath and a sigh of success as their writing works out and they finish off with a flourish and a grin J


I don’t know ………, I’m scratching for answers or insights into why gaming offers such impetus to my students. Is it the creative aspects of the tasks that appeal and resonate with the students? I do know that using computer games has impacted strongly and positively on my classroom over the last two years. Hopefully I’ll find out more (answers or questions – I’m not sure) when in Scotland and England early next year!

Image: ‘The Questions Crap

Tesol Seminar


Thank you to a wonderful group of ESL (English as a Second Language) educators who I worked with today. Your interest, questions and positive outlook as you worked towards understanding blogs and how they can be used to enhance learning in classrooms was appreciated and motivating. There was so much I hoped to share with you – many different tools and applications that all have outstanding possibilities for use by you and your students in your classrooms.


Technology as a tool – as a process

Liam mentioned that in deciding on using various technology applications in a classroom, decisions must be made about the quality and the effectiveness of the tool.

As educators, it is our job to decide which tool or application will add the value to a learning activity. Using technology with classes is not a competition to use as many applications as possible, or to use an application just so you can say that you are using it.

We have to keep the learning outcomes in mind, and if a technological tool can add to a students’ understanding, or help them create understandings then there is a place for it in our classrooms.

Starting out

The web can be an overwhelming place for “newbies” (or newcomers). But if you start slowly and spend some RFF time looking at what others are doing, you will be able to quickly gather an idea of the huge amount of wonderful things that other teachers are doing in their classrooms and with their students.

Checking out the blogrolls on blogs is a great way to open up the “blogosphere” and expand your horizons. Each class links out to other classes at the same school, at schools in other parts of the country, and often across the globe.

You will find links to educational sites that you can use, museums to “visit”, on-line news, resources that can be shared, on-line conferences to listen to, and even professional development opportunities through videos and discussions.

Don’t forget to read the comments after each post to see what others are thinking. You might feel comfortable commenting and adding your thoughts to discussions.

Even if you can’t see yourself setting up a blog just yet, I am sure that you will find the time spent “lurking” on blogs will add to your classroom repertoire of teaching/learning activities and strategies.




I promised to come back to Ning, didn’t I?!?

A Ning is a social networking application where a group of people who share a common interest in a topic can set up a group on the internet. If you want to be part of that group you can join the Ning and you will be given a home page and access to all sorts of discussions, forums and opportunities to share ideas or ask for help.

Each person in the Ning has their own home page and you contact people through their page. You can leave messages, share photos, watch videos and participate in shared activities or meetings. How much you participate is up to you.

The two large badges on the right of this post are both Ning groups that I belong to. Click on either and have a look. Make sure you find you way to the Main Page to see what is happening within the group.



Another way to get started is by becoming part of an online project. The beauty of many projects is that someone else is doing the organising and will be able to answer your questions and concerns. You will find that there are people with differing degrees of expertise participating, and that you will be supported and encouraged along the way.

If you find for some reason that the support is not there – you can unengage and move on to something different and better suited to you and your class.

The Department (in NSW) runs Book Raps for all stages over the year, and these raps are beginning to use blogs and wikis to share student work and discussions. A great way to get involved!

Check out the “TESOL SEMINAR PAGE” at the top of this blog for links to other project places.


I will post further information that might add to some of the discussions we had today in another post soon. If you need greater elaboration on anything, please leave a comment here (just click on comments, fill in the required boxes, and hit submit) and I will endeavour to help you out where I can.


Thanks for an exciting morning,


Image: ‘Bill Gates
Image: ‘Steve Jobs

Commenting Confidence

Further to a previous post on my student’s commenting skills, I decided to explore the issue in a teaching unit recently. The series of lessons fit into our English syllabus as they involve Talking & Listening, Reading and Writing. 

I wanted to improve the commenting being undertaken by my students. 

We started our discussions by looking at lots of comments on many styles and types of blogs. Students classified them into 3 star, 2 star, and 1 star comments. 

We cut and pasted some comments onto one page and discussed these comments further, trying to find examples of what good comments were. 

Next, students tried to articulate the aspects of comments that made them worthwhile and meaningful to them as recipients. What did they, themselves, feel was useful in a comment? 

We looked at some sentence starters we had up in the room, and why they were good.We looked at open-ended question starters that we use in our Reading Circles and discussed how they were useful. 

We had a chart in our room that we had made earlier in the year that had our class requirements for commenting (full sentences, grammar, punctuation, positive, constructive). 

 We discussed this and realized that we had to add other criteria as well. We came up with a number of areas that were missing from our original chart: 

  • Links – to our own life and experiences         
  • Responding –  to what the blogger is saying/ thinking/ asking           
  • Conversation – between the blogger and you, asking questions for clarification, for more info 

We found it really hard work:  

  • to respond thoughtfully to what the blogger was saying, and to respond to their message.           
  • to articulate what was required in a great comment 

But we all have a clear definition of what is required now 🙂

PS: we practiced our commenting on our blogging friends blogs, and this is what Mr Pearce from Geelong in
Victoria had to say recently 


Thinking about Samorost

Sorry, but this is a long one ……. 

I thought I would use De Bono’s Thinking Hats to organise my thinking and reflecting on using Samorost as an aid to teaching Narrative with my Year 4, 5 and 6 students.

6 Hats


Sparkly white     White hat:    Just the facts…..

  • Curriculum Link: narrative writing in English
  • Class had already discussed
    • structure
    • purpose
    • problem/complication
    • characters
    • language of narratives
  • First experience with game = played the game together as a class and wrote down our first impressions of the game.
  • Talked about Intro scene  (45 minute session) –
    • Discussed purpose of this scene and linked it to a narrative
    • Students shared words and phrases that could describe the little planet. Tried to set the atmosphere of the story – calm, peaceful, mysterious
    • Played around with interesting language, shared vocab, wrote sentences using shared vocab (kids scribbled in notebooks), and rearranged these sentences to see what would happen (were they better, worse, more/less effective?)
  • Played Samorost 2
  • Collaboratively brainstormed (in three’s) words to make a “Feelings” matrix of words and phrases to use that would show rather than tell  how a character is feeling or the mood in a scene.
  • Discussed similes, metaphors and imagery as ways of adding to descriptions. Found examples in literature that used similes, metaphors and imagery. (We collect great sentences or phrases, type them up and put them on the wall for language/literature activities)
  • Explored the Anteater scene (1 hour session) –
    • Imagined what it would look, feel, sound like in the metal ball that descended into the anteater scene of Samorost 1. Closed our eyes and imagined.
    • Thought of ways that Sammi would move that would indicate how he was feeling. Actually acted out ways he might exit the ball and how they would show how he was feeling.
    • Tried to “step back” from the scene and look at the environment to identify any images that we could use.
    • The kids were writing down any interesting ideas, phrases, words, sentences that they came up with as we went along
    • Time for writing throughout the session – jotting as well as constructing
    • Sharing each student’s “best bits”

Sparkly Red       Red Hat:  Feelings and emotions …..

  • Successful because it was embedded into the curriculum – it was an integral part of what we were doing – not added on because it was a game.
  • High engagement with the game transferred to the writing about the various scenes. It was almost as if the kids felt they were part of the game/world and so it was motivating and just an extension of the game to write down what happened.
  • Group situation supported all students in taking risks in using unfamiliar language, looking for and using imagery, and experimenting with sentence structure and order.

 Sparkly Black     Black hat: Negatives and cautions ….

  • Students may not have the language experiences to adequately describe what they see or feel.
  • Scaffolding that is needed by the teacher could shift the focus from the student back to the teacher (who takes over).
  • Issues with the pipe smoking

Sparkly Yellow  Yellow Hat: Positives and optimism …..

  • Enabled the students to become part of the story they were writing
  • They had acted out the story by playing the game, they had been in the setting and knew ( or even were) the main character
  • Going through various scenes again enabled the students to talk about what they could see, put words to their emotions and to use these words to build pictures about the scenes
  • Shown how to write with emotion – closed their eyes and felt what it would be like
  • Used their senses to get a deeper feeling for the setting and for their character
  • Using the game meant that all the students had a common experience to work from. The virtual experience meant that everyone was able to share thoughts on a variety of surreal environments.
  • Students who find it too difficult to write (special needs) drew beautiful and very detailed drawings of the environments we were looking at. Able to add the action that thought would happen.
  • Early ESL learner wrote one sentence (with difficulty) on the first day, three sentences on the second day and half a page in the third session.

 Sparkly Green  Green Hat: Creative ideas and alternatives …..

  • Students could collage new scenes or environments that might be a part of Samorost 3
  • Use the camera to take photos around the school of interesting nooks and crannies that could then be photo-shopped to create digital collages of new scenes/environments.
  • Students could write about what happens to Sammi and his dog at the end of Samorost 2
  • Map the planets
  • Tell the story from the point of view of another character (Samorost 2)
  • Write procedure for making pear juice (Samorost 2)
  • Write up “walk throughs” for other groups
  • Use Mission Maker to make their own game
  • Colin Thompson books set in tiny worlds

Sparkly Blue  Blue Hat: Thinking about the thinking ….

  • Whole class group sessions were vitally important as the more able students were able to model and share confidently, and the other students used this modeling to join in and contribute
  • The idea of being in the game/story was the big difference. The structures were already there, in the game/story – the students were free to describe what they saw and felt without having to control all the other aspects of a narrative (the complication and resolution, the climax and ending).
  • Because the game was purely visual, this allowed the students the freedom to add any text they liked:
    • Conversational spoken texts as they played the game
    • Logical procedural spoken texts as they problem solved whilst playing
    • Basic field building vocab in first impressions writing
    • Leading to figurative language building in consequent written texts
  • The students grabbed hold of this opportunity to experiment with language in a non-threatening environment, where they were scaffolded by the story to play around with ideas for using language. It put the students at the centre of control of the language being used.


PE? No, it’s PWii!

My class has just started to work out how we will use our brand new Wii in the classroom this term. The first thing decided upon was to change our regular PE (physical education) lessons to PWii (physical Wii) lessons, as the kids decided that PE was obviously the curriculum area that would be ideal to start with.

We held discussions about which games to play and how to organise sessions and a number of ideas were put forward:

  • Each group of students would tackle a different game and teach the others to play
  • Combining inside games on the Wii with outside games
  • Integrating skills based lessons outside with Wii sessions inside.

After much discussion (using our De Bono’s Thinking Hats) we decided on looking at Tennis first up. This was primarily due to the fact that the skills in tennis fit most closely with NSW Curriculum requirements.

The class group will do some initial research on tennis – history, equipment, terminology and rules – and then smaller groups will research individual skills. Each small group ( of 2 or 3 students) will then take the lead in outdoor skills sessions in our regular PE times.

After some initial reading and sharing, we were able to come up with enough specific tennis skills, and more general movement skills, so that every group would have an area in which they could teach the rest of the class.

Each group is responsible for:

  • Identifying and defining their skill
  • Demonstrating the skill – including correct body placement
  • Prepare basic activities for teaching the skill including:
    • Warm up
    • Activity
    • Cool down

The class also thought it would be interesting to investigate various body systems – skeletal system, muscular system, respiratory system, digestive system, circulatory system – in science to help understand how the body works. We will also be drawing on Maths skills in graphing and data collection on pulse levels as well as skill levels.

The Wii will fit into these plans by being the “real-life” application of the new skills being taught in PE lessons. Students do not have access to tennis courts (either within  or out of school) so the Wii will be set up in the room, with groups in a rotating timetable to use it whenever we have the time, as well as at set times during the week. Not sure how much work will get done by those not on the Wii 🙁  – we will have to see how this goes 🙂  .

We will be doing some basic pre testing of the kids fitness levels before they start and at the end of the unit.

What do you think?

Have we left anything out?

Derek playing Wii tennis Derek playing Wii tennis at the LTS Consolarium
Gail playing a Wii game of tennis at the Consolarium  Gail playing Wii tennis

Social Networking

We did a whole lot of socialising today, and quite a bit of networking as well!

Caught up with John Connell, who we met at the Global Summit in Sydney last October, linked up with Futurlab and Dan Sutch, touched base again with Anne from Shooflypie, met Ian Warwick from London Gifted and Talented, and negotiated a deal with John Griffith from Immersive Education. Whew – and to think we were initially disappointed to have missed out on a few seminars we had wanted to attend!

Some of the really interesting concepts and “buzz” words to have come out of the Seminars visited over the last three days have included: 

  • Connecting
  • Linking
  • Building learning communities 
  • Personal networks

Describes quite well our experiences today!

Wanted: Creative Passionate People

Learning is changing – what sort of vision do we need to help navigate this change? I put forward that




are the answer! 

CPP take the old, the tried and the tested  content and use ICT to interact with  it in new, exciting and creative ways. Students and teachers (all learners) get to take the content and work together to manipulate it, modify it and have a personal stake in it.

At BETT (British Educational Technology Trade Show @ Olympia, London) today, I came across two stand out CPP – a large organization and an individual who love what they do, want to make a difference and have stepped up to creatively lead the way.

Promethean, with their Promethean Planet  teacher website, their online Training and Develoment opportunities and their new AcivPrimary 3 software, are promoting a range of products, tried and tested that encourage both teachers and students to creatively approach their learning.

Students and teachers are supported through new learning experiences, but not directed in an over-bearing way. Users can interact with each other and the programs to create new and exciting learning experiences that combine different bases of knowledge to raise questions and solve problems together.

Shooflypie promotes big books in digital form. Students interact with these texts, with each other, and with technology to explore, develop and articulate ideas and concepts. Students use the texts on the interactive whitebord as a springboard to develop traditional storytelling skills and enrich language through other cross-curricula areas ( such as music, drama, art, design and citizenship).

Anne – the author and developer – drew upon her strengths and skills as a passionate teacher, a gifted story teller and an educator to develop creative and inspiring materials.

For students to become passionate and creative about their learning they need to be exposed to, and make use of , creative teaching practices and creative ICT applications – which they can interact with and have control over. I found two examples at BETT today!




Old Dog? New Tricks?

                                               Old Dog New Tricks

You bet! This “old dog” has learnt many new tricks in the last couple of months, and it’s all because of blogging. John Johnson recommended this as an interesting exercise and so, even though I have only been blogging with my class for a few months I thought I’d give it a go! 

August – set up our class blog, what a learning curve, big thanks to Al and his miniLegends for help and enthusiasm. Spent time with my class looking at class and student blogs, what they wrote about, what made them good/interesting/relevant. Decided on individual blogs for each student, negotiated rules and expectations and began blogging.

September – learnt how to upload photos from our class files to the blog, had our first international comments, and the AllStars were off! Found out about Google Earth and the teaching/learning resources available to use with it – thanks Tom.

October – attended the Global Summit and was blown away by the presentations, the presenters and the discussions that were part of this event. Set up a Flikr account to store photos, but Flikr is unreliable at school (sometimes blocked, then unblocked, then reblocked). 

November – began work on our class wiki as part of the Game2Learn Project we are part of. Quite a few frustrations as wikispaces was blocked, unblocked and blocked again at school. Tried to determine how best to set up the commenting and editing rights, ended up leaving it open as I didn’t expect much “traffic” to the site. 

December – Worked around the blocking of our wiki – its not blocked when teacher logs on, so the kids rotated through my computer adding comments, thoughts and opinions about the Game2Learn project. Learnt about game design using Game Maker and Game2Learn project.  

There, it doesn’t look much, I admit, and it won’t be of interest to anyone but me – very low tech, but it’s a record of my earliest attempts at harnessing a tiny portion of the mighty power of Web 2.0.