With the recent surge of interest in the phenomenon known as ‘gamification’, our school decided to experiment with a summer assignment using Minecraft. The announcement did raise a few eyebrows, ‘What do video games have to do with literacy skills?’ the skeptics asked. ‘They’re already too hooked to tech’, some said and since then I have also been asked occasionally to explain what gaming in an English lesson would look like. Get ready to read just that!
Can I just say that I personally love video games? I grew up playing the milder and less hostile games like Tetris, Duck Hunt, Mortal Kombat and Super Mario and cold conquer a reasonably good top score when I happened to be in the zone. Nowadays I still catch myself trying desperately to beat my brother’s top score in Temple Run. I fail miserably but the love for video games still lingers.
People today are too quick to dismiss the multiple benefits that gaming can have. Let me explain, a lot of learning can happen while students are playing games: strategic thinking, experimentation with ideas and methods, reasoning, and so many more. But that’s really not going to help students write better, is it? Actually, it might! Games like Minecraft are important to developing literacy and writing skills. Here’s how.
Minecraft essentially allows students to create almost anything their minds can conceive. The creative mode allows them the artistic license to build massive structures and designs – virtual leggo if you like! At first they might choose to build fortresses to protect themselves from monsters but as they progress their creativity kicks in and you’ll see they can create wonderful, imaginative things. In Minecraft, the students have to first envision and then create the world. Nothing happens without their planning, their imagination and their decisions — surroundings, characters, buildings and what-have-you. Using games avoids the sometimes unnecessary focus on grammar and punctuation that many kids struggle with. As a teacher, I don’t just want my students to simply read, write and punctuate, I want them to be able to imagine fantastical worlds or experience new adventures and sometimes, building a fortress, jumping into valleys and teaming up with partners in a video game can help achieve all of that too.
Once I’ve watched their Minecraft videos, I often find myself asking questions such as;
- Describe this particular setting
- What made you design this scene in this way?
- How did you envision a particular situation playing out?
The answers I receive make it increasingly clear that the students’ creativity is stretched when they create or re-create worlds in Minecraft. My philosophy is simple really, if they can envisage and picture it in their minds and can create it with their hands, chances are that they’re going to be able to write it better too the next time they sit down to complete a piece of prose.
So there you have it – that’s how and why I designed our first experiment with Minecraft to scaffold reading, writing, image building and problem solving. We’ve got a long way to go with mastering gamification but I think this was a pretty awesome start!
Here are two Minecraft Videos from this summer and the students reflection thereafter.