Digital Play for Serious Learning


Jordan Shapiro, author of The New Childhood, on the roles of parents and schools in teaching children to use technology through play.By Matthew FarberFebruary 8, 2019

Jordan Shapiro sitting with an elementary student who is using a tablet and wearing headphones

Courtesy of Jordan Shapiro

For the past several years, Jordan Shapiro has been busy writing and speaking about games and digital play. He’s a senior fellow for the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop, a think tank dedicated to researching how children interact with media, and a nonresident fellow at the Center for Universal Education, which is part of the Brookings Institution. He teaches at Temple University, in Philadelphia, where he lives.

The cover of "The New Childhood: Raising Kids to Thrive in a Connected World" by Jordan Shapiro. It pictures a pixel art yellow crayon on a light blue background.

Courtesy of Jordan Shapiro

I caught up with Shapiro recently to discuss his new book, The New Childhood: Raising Kids to Thrive in a Connected World, which examines the importance of digital play, as well as ideas for teaching and parenting kids.

FARBER: In your book, you often use the phrase digital play to describe ways children can learn today. How do you define digital play?

SHAPIRO: I switched my language from being games-specific to digital play a few years ago. Part of the reason was that I saw a lot of resistance [from schools] to games. But there isn’t as much resistance to digital play. I also changed my language because of what I observed watching kids use Scratch—or a lot of what I see in Minecraft. These are not really what you would call games. Scratch and Minecraft don’t have the same kind of rules as games, but kids are still playing, and they are still doing something digital. In my mind, digital play became a broad catchall that added playful learning and creativity to gaming.

FARBER: Where do you see digital play fitting in today’s classrooms?

SHAPIRO: Kids need the chance to play with each other and to play by themselves in digital playgrounds. The only way kids are going to learn to have the necessary social-emotional skills in a way that makes sense and that is applicable to that tool set is to play with that tool set.

When you look at the benefits of digital play, the resistance schools have doesn’t really make any sense. While schools have very little resistance to coding, there is resistance to game-based learning. There is also very little resistance to 3D printing or maker labs, which are digital play. That doesn’t make sense to me—if you think it’s great for kids to develop skills in a digital world, then that is true for games and for digital creation.

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FARBER: How can teachers encourage students to perceive these technologies as tools for self-expression?

SHAPIRO: All self-expression is technological. All self-expression is done with tools, whether that is written words or spoken words or numbers or blocks or gears. Most of our human creations allow us to express a vision of the world, the things we care about.

Ask how students can use the tools to make other things. For instance, students can build a game that tells a story that makes a point. If you look at the games on the Games for Change website, many of them are basically essays that use games to make an argument: Papers, Please is an essay on how to think about bureaucracy. Why not encourage kids to make those types of games as well as writing essays?

FARBER: I grew up with Sesame Street, and PBS has championed the notion of co-viewing, which encouraged parents to help kids make connections from TV to the real world. Where do you see co-viewing today?

SHAPIRO: Yes, the co-viewing language came out of Sesame Workshop. Now the phrase is joint media engagement, which also includes interactive media. [Co-viewing] is key. The more that you sit with your kids and help them make sense of the media they’re exposed to, the more that becomes a meaningful engagement with media. When parents and children sit together and discuss what they see, there is learning happening. Kids are learning about how we think about the world.

So when people ask me if my kids play violent video games, I tell them that they can play whatever they want. I’m OK with that because for the first 10 years of their lives, I had a constant conversation going on about real violence and screen violence. When they first played Fortnite, we had a long conversation about it at the dinner table. Because they had that conversation, I know they can make sense of it, and how to integrate that into an ethical view of the world. That’s what parenting is, but for some reason we don’t seem to know what we are doing when it comes to the screen.

FARBER: Why do you think there’s so much talk lately about screen time?

SHAPIRO: My kids get their homework on Google Classroom, but then they also get a lot of anti-screen rhetoric. Kids get confused messages at school and at home. Parents say it’s a terrible thing to use your device, and then we are all using our devices just as often.

Teachers should think about how we can redesign schools so we can have a healthy relationship with these devices—teach students to think and build the world using these devices, and how to interact with the world in intelligent, responsible, ethical ways.

That’s what schools do, that’s what we teach students to do with books, and with words and numbers. We teach how to live in a life with other people. If schools were doing that, we might see less vilifying of devices at home. If schools got more serious about integrating devices into the routine of the school day, then you’d start to see kids integrate them better into their own social routines.

Classroom Management With Game-Based Learning


A group of students are working on their lego work.

Playing games in the classroom often gives students a unique opportunity to learn, practice, and demonstrate their understanding of ideas in engaging ways. But for a teacher managing a classroom, gameplay can sometimes seem like a recipe for chaos, and a sure way to lose control.

Here’s the good news — it doesn’t really matter what kind of classroom management style you have. Games in the classroom can still work for you. Whether you prefer a quiet and controlled classroom environment or are comfortable with “controlled chaos,” there are several things to keep in mind that can help your students unlock the power of gameplay without derailing the rest of your period or day.

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Here are some strategies that we’ve seen teachers use for classroom management during gameplay.

Regular Rules Still Apply

Teachers will often be tempted to treat gameplay like a special time because of the energy that a game can bring to the classroom environment. And then, after the game is over, it’s time for students to go back to “regular learning.” One of the main problems with this strategy is that you’ve inadvertently told your students that the “regular rules” for “regular learning” don’t apply right now.

We encourage teachers to see gameplay not as a special time in the classroom, but rather as part of the critical learning that happens every day. If you, as the teacher, can shift your focus, you can help students apply what they know about your classroom behavior expectations to the game space. Be clear that you expect them to uphold classroom norms, even while they are at play.

Assign Student Roles

Great classroom games require everyone to participate. In the beginning of the tutorial video above, you may have noticed Alicia briefly step in and ask the students who the “game master” is while she is observing them at play. By giving the students roles, she has minimized the potential for any disagreement due to lack of clarity, or any misbehavior due to boredom or nothing to do.

As the teacher, if you can create an atmosphere where all students feel like they are participating and being held accountable for their participation, you’ll decrease the potential for management problems to occur.

To see more of Alicia’s classroom playing the board game Caterpillar, check out her post and video Challenge Is Constant: The Caterpillar Game and Real-World Math.

Facilitate, Don’t Firefight

The role of a teacher during gameplay can’t be underestimated but — and this is important — it shouldn’t look that way! We’ve seen two common pitfalls when it comes to the teacher’s role managing classroom gameplay:

1. When the teacher tells students how to play at the beginning of class and then sits back and lets gameplay happen without any intervention

2. When the teacher refers constantly to the “rules” of the game and talks a lot about “right and wrong” and “yes and no.”

Try to think about facilitating gameplay in the classroom the same way you would facilitate a great conversation. The goal is to have the students discover, make connections, and build new and improved understanding. Don’t be afraid of stopping gameplay to share something great that a group of students has done, or inviting one or two students to help a group that is struggling. Your job is to maintain a bird’s-eye view of what is happening so that you can share best practices, dispel common misconceptions, and help students build on each other’s understanding.

Wrap It Up

We’ve all been there: the students are engaged, the game is still going, and the period is almost over. What do you do? Sometimes our instincts tell us to just let them play, right?

In our experience, by letting the game run to the end of the period without any wrap up or discussion, you have stolen some of the most valuable learning time from your students. Remember, you can always go back to a game. It’s much harder to go back to real-time student reflections. Always wrap up with time to discuss and gather feedback. Talk to students about what they liked and disliked. Ask them about their learning. Give them time to share the experience that they just had. By allowing them to discuss, you are allowing them to transfer the learning from play to practice.

Game-based learning is more than just picking the right game for your classroom. It’s about designing a meaningful learning experience for your students. For more about this approach, check out “Rolling Out” a Game and Using Games for Assessment.

How do you manage gameplay in your classroom? Watch the video above for our tips, then share your own in the comments!

Bring Your ‘A’ Game: Leveling Up Class Discussion by Incorporating a Sense of Play


I have been using a Jeopardy-style review game for midterms almost as long as I’ve been teaching. Those review days always go well. Students invest in the competitive aspect, and the categories of Jeopardy allow me to review key concepts and our stated learning objectives. Jeopardy’s format (in which others can steal an answer) keeps all members of class actively engaged in every question. Since students seem more invested on days that involve a game, I have started to incorporate more elements of play into class research, discussions, and engagement triggers. I describe some of these below.


Rules of the Game. When covering a subject that has a lot of terms and/or history, I play Bingo. I make five different Bingo sheets with the same terms scrambled in different places. Students draw several terms from a box and then have time to research those items. When we are ready to play the game, I collect the slips of paper with the terms on them and then draw those items at random. Whoever had that term during the research time then explains that concept to the class. I follow up with any other important key points, and then I draw out the B-I-N-G or O and instruct anyone with that term in the selected column to cross it off.

How Everyone Wins. The game aspect of this activity keeps everyone engaged and following the information. The research aspect makes students take charge of their learning and figure out where to look for answers. It also encourages them to see that if they have a question while reading, they can seek out more information. By sharing that information when their term is called, they are also furthering their learning by rephrasing it and trying to teach others the new knowledge they’re acquiring. Since it’s an activity that incorporates the whole class, I also have the chance to listen and assess how their independent research went and make sure to fill in any gaps that their explanation left out so the students don’t have incomplete or incorrect information.

Celebrity Heads

Rules of the Game. This classic parlor game adapts well to humanities classes. Rather than assign each participant a celebrity, I assign students characters from a novel/story or one of the writers we have discussed in the class. (I do this with Post-it notes on their backs.) Students can’t ask leading questions, and every question must have more than one correct answer. They are also limited to two “yes or no” questions from one person, and then they must move on and ask others.

How Everyone Wins. The rules for asking multiple classmates questions allows for some good one-on-one time for peers to interact and create community in class, but it’s also a great activity for critical thinking. Students must think about what characters or writers have in common or what sets them apart so they can ask good questions that will help them narrow down who the character or writer might be. After some discussion time, they make a guess about their identity and are asked to find a passage from the text that best represents them. Since I assign more than one person the same identity, I then have them find their match and discuss their questions, quotes, and thoughts about that character/author before we review and discuss as a class.

Musical Chairs 

Rules of the Game. This one is an adaptation from my time in ACUE! I’m a teacher who struggles with silence. I do a fair bit to make sure my students are prepared to discuss, such as think-pair-share and a short writing time so students have time to process their answers to questions. However, when one of ACUE’s learning modules prompted instructors to sit in the silence until students were prepared to answer, I turned that into a game of musical chairs. Every question I asked was an opinion statement, so as to not put the students in a right/wrong situation where they would fear to answer. In each round, three chairs were taken away so that when the music stopped playing, those three people would share their answers and briefly discuss with each other. They were then allowed to sit down, three more chairs would be removed, and I would ask a subjective question and play more music as students circled and considered their responses.

How Everyone Wins. The music gives students a chance to process their thoughts and also lets me make a connection with them. I often choose a certain song and say why I love it. It could also easily be connected to course content. This activity makes students get up and move around, which has been something my morning class requested that we do more of.

Cards Against the Humanities

Rules of the Game. I split up the class into groups and give each group a critical thinking question. These function as the black cards in a traditional Cards Against Humanity game. A group asks the question and the other groups discuss and write their answers on index cards that remain anonymous. The index cards are then submitted to the group who asked the question, and they determine the best critical thinking response.

How Everyone Wins. This activity keeps everyone engaged in crafting critical thinking responses and evaluating critical thought for strength of argument and/or uniqueness of approach.

Many of these techniques are just the game versions of lesson plans I already do—critical thinking questions, subjective engagement triggers, midterm review—but by adding in the element of play, students seem to invest more, and it keeps a more uniform sense of engagement across the class.

Traci Brimhall is the author of three collections of poetry. She’s an associate professor at Kansas State University and teaches creative writing, literature, and medical humanities.

Top 10 Classroom Games


Academic studies naturally coincide with rote teaching styles and textbook work. However, it is important to make learning exciting for students with interactive activities. Incorporating fun classroom games into your lesson plan offers a simple way to motivate your students, and encourage them to draw on their creativity and imagination.

These top 10 classroom games provide fun ways to engage your students in academic learning, without them even realising!

1. Charades

This simple but classic game is a great way to encourage your student to get out of their seats and participate in the lesson.

Resources: a list of people, actions or concepts related to the subject you are teaching.

Game: Select a student to stand at the front of the room and act out a word from your list (no speaking allowed). The rest of the class must then guess what the student is attempting to portray. Other students can shout out their guesses or put their hands up – depending on your teaching preference! Whoever guesses correctly can act out the next word.

Alternative: A more challenging version involves the student describing a subject-specific word but restricted by a list of forbidden words, e.g. describing ‘habitat’ without using the words ‘home’ or ‘animals’.

2. Hangman

A traditional but interactive game which improves students’ spelling and subject knowledge, but is also enjoyable.

Resources: whiteboard and pen or interactive whiteboard, plus a list of subject-specific words to inspire your students.

Game: Divide your class into two teams then select a student to stand at the front of the class and think of a word related to the lesson (or you could give them a suitable word). The student must then draw spaces on the whiteboard to represent each letter in their word. The rest of the class then guesses the word, one letter at a time (allow one student from each team to guess alternately). Incorrect guesses result in a hangman being drawn (one line at a time). The first team to guess the word wins, unless the hangman is completed. The game then repeats with another student thinking of a relevant word.

Alternative: If you feel a hangman would not be appropriate then use a different image – either subject-specific or think creatively e.g. a spaceman or snowman.

3. Scatter-gories

This fun game will encourage your students to think ‘outside-the-box’ and draw on a range of subject knowledge.

Resources: pieces of paper, pens/pencils and a list of subject-specific categories e.g. Earth and Space (topic): rocks, landforms, weather, and solar system (categories).

Game: Split students into small groups and ask them to note down the categories on their pieces of paper. Choose a letter (A-Z) at random and give students 1-2 minutes (depending on how many categories) to think of a word for each category, beginning with that letter. Once the time is up, allocate points for unique answers, i.e. if two teams write down the same word for a category then neither get any points. Repeat the game with different letters.

Example: Letter M – Topic: Earth and Space
Rocks: Metamorphic
Landforms: Mountain
Weather: Mist
Solar System: Mars

Alternative: If you class only has a small number of students then they could fill in the categories individually, rather than working in teams.

4. Bingo

A quick and simple game which never fails to motivate students in their learning.

Resources: whiteboards and pen or paper and pen/pencils, plus a list of subject-specific terms or concepts e.g. numbers, phonics, key vocabulary, scientific formulae or historical figures.

Game:Ask students to draw a 6 x 6 grid on their whiteboards or pieces of paper then select 6 words or images from the given list to draw/write in their grid. You must then randomly select a word from the list to describe, and students must guess the word in order to cross it off on their grid (if present). Continue describing different words until one student successfully completes their grid and shouts ‘bingo!’ (you can also award a prize to the first student who gets 3 in a row).

Alternative: Students can insert their own subject-related answers into the bingo grid, but this makes it more challenging for you due to extensive word choice and ambiguity. Also, if you have more time, then you could create your own bingo boards with specific vocabulary or concepts you are covering in that lesson (reusable).

5. Puzzles

This creative group game encourages students to work together and visualize academic concepts in an abstract way.

Resources: images, words, calculations or concepts printed or stuck on card/paper and cut into random shapes (puzzle pieces) e.g. maths calculations, chemical equations, subject vocabulary, historical figures etc.

Game: Separate your class into groups (or simply use table groupings) then hand out a puzzle for each group to piece together.

Alternative: Students can create their own puzzles on the computer or drawn onto card/paper for their peers to complete.

6. Draw swords

This quick fire game tests students’ fine motor skills and promotes quick thinking, as well as generating some healthy competition.

Resources: Dictionary or textbook, plus list of key vocabulary.

Game: Split your class into small groups and choose a student from each group to start. The nominated student then places the dictionary or textbook under their arm. You then say a word or image which the students must then race to find in their book (like drawing a sword from under their arm!). The first student to find the word/image is the winner. The game continues with different words/images until every student has had a turn.

Alternative: If you have enough textbooks or dictionaries for every student then the whole class can compete against each other.

7. Hot potato

This fun classroom game encourages students to think on their feet and draw on a range of subject knowledge.

Resources: a soft toy, object or item for each group to pass round e.g. bear or ball, plus a list of subject-specific themes e.g. numbers – prime, composite, rational, fractions, decimals etc.

Game: Divide your class into small groups and hand out an object/soft toy to each group. The person with the object in each group will start. You name a title or theme, e.g. prime numbers, and it is then a race against time for the student to give 5 correct responses, e.g. 2, 3, 5, 7, 11, before the item/soft toy has been passed round everyone in their small group and returned to them.

Alternative: With small classes you could play in one large group, however shy students may find this intimidating because of the the pressure to give correct answers.

8. Pictionary

An old classic but also a great way for students to visualize their understanding in a fun team game.

Resources: whiteboards and pens or pieces of paper and pencils/pens, plus a list of subject-specific concepts.

Game: Students work in small groups. One student from each group is chosen to start and they must draw the subject-related concept you state, within a given time (30 seconds – 2 minutes). The rest of the group must then guess what he/she is drawing. The first group to correctly guess the word wins. The game repeats until every student has had a turn/there are no more words on your list.

Alternative: Students could model concepts using playdough for their peers to guess.

9. Quizalize

This fun and engaging quiz game allows you to test your students’ knowledge, in any subject, using a motivating classroom team activity.

Resources: interactive whiteboard, devices for your students or an IT suite and a Quizalize quiz (create your own or choose from thousands of quizzes created by teachers from around the world).

Game: Once you’ve created or found a quiz on Quizalize, simply assign it to your students and they can access it from any device – no apps to install! Students visit, enter their class code (shown on the ‘Launch Game View’ screen) followed by their name and then they can play the quiz. Students’ results appear in real-time, so they can track their score while they play (Click here to sign up and find out more).

Alternative: You can also set Quizalize quizzes as an interactive homework.

10. Thumbs Up, Thumbs Down

Although this game isn’t academic, it is an excellent behaviour management tool which endorses hard work amongst students.

Resources: n/a

Game: 3 – 4 students are chosen to stand at the front of the room. The rest of the class then put their heads on the table and hold their thumbs in the air. The 3 – 4 students at the front then carefully tip-toe around the classroom and gently pinch one thumb each, from the students with their heads down. The 3-4 students return to the front of the room, once they have pinched a thumb, and the class raise their heads. The students whose thumbs were pinched then stand and have to guess who pinched them. If they guess correctly then they swap with the student at the front, and the game continues.

Alternative: To make this academic you could ask subject-related questions to select the students for each round.

Try out these exciting classroom games with your students and encourage them to apply their knowledge in new ways. These simple but effective group games are a great addition to any lesson plan.

What classroom games do you like to play? What do you and your students enjoy most about playing classroom games? Comment below – we’d love to hear from you.

Language Arts/Foreign Language


For a quick and easy assessment of vocabulary, grammar or spelling, try adding a slide with a mistake or two. See if your students can use the doodle tool to correct the mistake in their comment. This could work for students who are native speakers learning grammar rules or students who are learning a new language.

For this type of activity, you can simply:

  1. Create a slide with the rules of the game and record your instructions on that slide.
  2. Turn on comment moderation for this VoiceThread.
  3. Drag and drop this VoiceThread into your class group.
  4. A random times throughout the week, upload a slide like one of the images above into that VoiceThread.
  5. Record your question about the image right on that newly uploaded slide. For this language example, the question might simply be “Use the Doodle tool to circle any punctuation and spelling mistakes and record the sentence the way it should look.”
  6. As students reply with their answers, you will see the timestamps for each of their comments. Then award points to the first few students with the correct answer.

For any of these subjects, you can keep a running tally of the scores either as a text comment on each slide, or you can upload a leaderboard slide like the one below:

These types of games can be scaled up to any level of education. If you teach at a medical school, you may want to include images of an x-ray or visible symptoms of an illness and ask your students to diagnose the problem they see in the image. If you teach music, you may want to show a staff with notes and ask your students to identify notes that aren’t in the key of the song. You can even upload audio files of a particular song and ask students to identify the composer.

You are only limited by your imagination and your students might just thank you for making learning more fun by adding game elements like this to your course.

Game-Based Learning with VoiceThread Part 2: Visual Pop Quiz Games


In the days before technology empowered educators, the phrase “pop quiz” would instill fear in the hearts of students. Students didn’t like pop quizzes because they didn’t have time to prepare. They were simply assessments, that usually counted toward a student’s grade, and were all anxiety but no fun. This no longer needs to be the case. With VoiceThread, you can create pop quiz games using visuals that turn a boring assessment into a fun game.

The concept is simple: Create a VoiceThread explaining the rules of the game to your students. At random times throughout the week, add a slide related to something your students have learned and ask them about it. This simple format can lead to a wide range of assessments. Here are just a few ideas you can try:


We’ve all seen the different “brainteasers” on social networks that ask us to add apples, bananas and various other objects together. These brainteasers are actually just algebra problems, simple arithmetic or another branch of math disguised as a brainteaser.

For this type of activity, you can simply:

  1. Create a slide with the rules of the game and record your instructions on that slide.
  2. Turn on comment moderation for this VoiceThread.
  3. Drag and drop this VoiceThread into your class group.
  4. A random times throughout the week, upload a slide like one of the images above into that VoiceThread.
  5. Record your question about the image right on that newly uploaded slide. For this math example, the question might simply be “what is the answer in the final equation?”
  6. As students reply with their answers, you will see the timestamps for each of their comments. Then award points to the first few students with the correct answer.

Game-Based Learning with VoiceThread- Part 3: The Ultimatum Game


The Ultimatum Game is popular in Economics and Psychology courses but it can be applied to a variety of different course subjects like History, Math, and Literature. Below, you will see a few examples of how this game can be used in different educational contexts on VoiceThread.

How does the game work?

The ultimatum game can be played between two players or two teams of players. The mechanics of the game are simple: one side decides how to split a sum of money between both sides and the other side can either accept or reject the offer. Let’s say that side 1 is tasked with dividing a sum of \$10. They decide to keep \$7 and give side 2 the remaining \$3. If side 2 accepts the offer, each side receives their amount. If side 2 rejects the offer, neither side receives any money.

The Ultimatum game is fundamentally about fairness and equality. It helps quantify how much inequality side 2 is willing to accept and at what point they revolt. The game can be played as a one-off decision or an iterated (repeated) game with rounds. The game can be played in isolation or as part of a larger competition between the groups.

One-off version: In this version, side 1 decides how to split the money and side 2 accepts or rejects the offer. After both sides make their choice, the game ends.

Iterated version: In this version, side 1 and side 2 make their choices, the money is awarded, then the teams continue to round 2 and make choices again. This version allows for as many rounds as needed for both sides to start to recognize patterns in the game. After a series of rounds, both sides should begin to see the cut-off point where a specific dollar amount will be accepted or rejected.

Group version: In this version, the sides are not simply competing against each other but against other teams as well. After the specified number of rounds, you can tally up the totals for side 1 and side in each group and compare their totals to the total “winnings” for the other groups. This version promotes more equality and fairness in the decision making process because too many rejections will decrease the totals for both sides in the larger competition.

This game can be created easily on VoiceThread. You can create a VoiceThread with the instructions and enough slides for each group to play their game. Simply upload your slides and record your comments, then drag and drop your VoiceThread into your group!

Using VoiceThread for Music Classes


VoiceThread is an amazing resource for the music classroom at any level. I frequently use VoiceThread in instrument instruction in my general/vocal music classroom. It allows me to have various groups at different levels learning and testing on different pieces at the same time. For beginners, I post a video of myself giving instruction on how to play the piece, a copy of the sheet music, and any accompaniment tracks that they can use. For more advanced students, I post just the sheet music, accompaniments, and comment anything they need to know about the piece. I can also move my mouse and write on the score to show students how to follow along with the score in more complex pieces. Students can then post their playing test when they feel they are ready to be evaluated or need feedback.

The ability to have students record playing tests has made my classroom management easier. Students tend to be better prepared for a playing test when they have had the opportunity to watch a video of their performance, evaluate it, and possibly re-do it before I see it. Also, an entire class can play at the same time, rather than having to wait for me to be available. They can then move on to another piece using the instructional video I posted. I can grade the playing tests later and leave a text comment to give feedback. I can also post a video comment further instruction if needed. I am then free during class to manage behaviors and work with a small group, or individuals who need help.
Recorded playing tests, instead of live performance playing tests, allow me to create a digital portfolio for each student by downloading their video comment from the thread. It also gives me a performance to share with students, parents, and other stakeholders if there is any confusion about my grading. Students can also mentor each other and learn how to make appropriate comments and critiques of performances by replying to each other’s comments.

I also use VoiceThread for clubs and activities after school to check in with students between rehearsals. I have used it with All-County Chorus to provide students with materials to use a home and if they have a webcam and access to the internet, they can check in with me, and get feedback on their preparation. For the musical, I can post choreography for students to practice in between rehearsals. I have not yet used VoiceThread for a lesson with a substitute teacher but will definitely use it in the future to keep valuable instruction continuing even when I am not present.

VoiceThread is an invaluable resource in my classroom. I wish I had had access to it when I was conducting large ensembles in middle and high school to structure sectionals and for singing tests, part tests/checks, and to allow students to practice singing against another part, using the video. I cannot suggest enough that other music teachers use this resource in their classroom and am excited to find even more ways to utilize the application.

10 ESL Vocabulary Games to Get Your Students Seriously Engaged


Trying to teach a group of intermediate students ain’t easy.

At this level, rehashing the basics is a bore and introducing more advanced topics can result in frustration.

Tired of seeing only two or three students actually paying attention in your class?

It’s amazing what a difference a few fun games can make! 

Things like building vocabulary are an essential part of learning English, but they can be dull. Spice up the classroom with some of these ESL vocabulary games to enhance the learning experience.

Download: This blog post is available as a convenient and portable PDF that you can take anywhere. Click here to get a copy. (Download)

10 ESL Vocabulary Games That Will Get Your Students Engaged

Learn a foreign language with videos

1. Last Man Standing

This game is fast-paced, but allows students some time to think. It also encourages peer learning, as students will pick up on words they hear others speaking. To play the game, grab a ball and have all the students form a circle. Name a category or theme, such as things found in a kitchen, food, professions, and so on.

Begin by tossing the ball at a student. That student will shout a word related to the theme and throw the ball to another student. As each person catches the ball, they need to come up with another word that fits the theme. If they repeat a word that has already been said or can’t think of a new one within a few seconds, they are out and must sit on the sidelines. Don’t worry, they’ll still be learning!

Take things up a notch with a different version of “Last Man Standing.” Instead of naming a theme, each student gives the next student another theme. For example, you might start off with “something red.” The first student to catch the ball could say “strawberry” and then choose another topic and throw the ball to the next student. This makes the game much more difficult, since students cannot think of a word until they know what their theme is.

2. Pictionary


Most English speakers are familiar with Pictionary, the drawing game. You can use the cards from the actual board game to create a classroom activity that will thrill your students. This is a good, high action game that students really get into.

Chalkboard Pictionary. To play in a classroom with many students, it’s not very practical to use the game board. This means you’ll be using the chalkboard or whiteboard at the front of the room.

Divide the class into two teams and create a small column for each team on one side of the board. You’ll record their points here. Have one person from Team A come up to the front. Have the student draw a card (try using Pictionary Junior cards if the adult ones are too advanced for your class). Alternatively, you can write words on slips of paper for students to choose.

The student must convey the word to his or her team using only drawings. Students cannot use words, symbols or hand gestures. Limit the time to three minutes maximum. Each correct word is a point and the first team to get 10 points is the winning team.

3. Charades


Charades is quite similar to Pictionary, but it uses actions to communicate the secret word in place of photos. This is a great game for those days when your class is dragging and people are falling asleep. Get them up and get them moving!

Write down words on slips of paper for students to choose. Verbs are likely to be the easiest, but you can also use more complicated words, provided you are sure most of the students know them.

Divide the class into two teams and have one person from each team choose a piece of paper and act out the word. The teams must guess the correct word before three minutes run out. For each correct word, that team receives a point. The team that hits ten points first is the winning team.

4. Taboo Words

Taboo Words helps students practice with synonyms and descriptions. Separate the class in half and have the two teams sit on opposite sides of the room, facing each other. Each team will choose a person to sit in front of their team, facing them in the “hot seat.” You will stand behind the students and hold up a piece of paper with a word on it. The students in the hot seats will not be able to see these papers.

Teams have three minutes (or any amount of time you want to set) to get their hot seat member to say the word on the paper. The catch is, they can’t say the word under any circumstances.

Tips for playing in a large class. If you have more than 12 students in a class, things can get a little chaotic with this game. In this case, it’s usually simpler to divide everyone into teams of 5-6 people and have only one team go at a time.

5. 20 Objects

Test your students’ memories and vocabulary at the same time with this fun game. All you need is a clear desk and 20 common items from around the classroom. You can even grab things from your backpack or purse.

Arrange the objects on the desk and let students gather around to look at them. Cover everything with a sheet (or something similar) after one minute and send everyone back to their seats. Each students should write out as many items as they can remember on a piece of paper, all in English.

When everyone is done, write a list of the items on the chalkboard and allow students to self-correct. Alternatively, you can call out the objects and give a point for each one that is correctly written.

6. Categories

Students will beg to play this game once they get the hang of it! It’s a great way to fill up the last few minutes of class, too.

Have students draw six columns on their paper and write a category at the top of each column. You can choose categories that fit what you’ve been studying in class or go with some basics. Popular categories include food, names, cities or countries, furniture, verbs and clothing.

Choose a random letter and write it on the board. Give students enough time to write down a word for each category that starts with that letter. You can repeat with new letters as many times as you like.

7. Letter Scramble


Take a list of words that your students have recently learned and write a scrambled version of each on the board. Allow students to unscramble the words on their paper. The first one to finish deciphering all the words wins.

8. Chalkboard Acronym

Write a word vertically on the board and then have students come up, one at a time, to write a word starting with each letter of the vertical word. For example:




Make this tougher by requiring the words to be related to the acronym.

9. What Am I Thinking Of?

If you’ve ever played 20 Questions, you already know how this game goes. To make it a little easier on your students, however, you’re going to include some visual clues.

Pair students up and have them think of an object. Each student should write 5-10 words describing the object on a piece of paper. When you call time, the students swap papers and try to figure out what the other person described. The first team to have both words guessed correctly wins.

10. Word Bingo


You’ll need to do a little preparation for this game, but it’s well worth it. Make bingo sheets with a 4×4 grid and add words to each square. Hand these out (each one should be unique) and have students mark the correct word when you call it out. The first person to finish marking their entire page wins.

There are some fun variations to Word Bingo!

Picture Bingo: Use pictures on the Bingo card and call out the words that relate.

Synonym Bingo: Get those brains working by giving students a word that means the same thing as a word on their card.

Antonym Bingo: This is just as it sounds. Call out the antonyms of words on their cards and see how many students get it.

ESL vocabulary games make class time a little more exciting. You can use them to review previously learned words, but keep in mind that games also make great rewards for when your students do well in class.

Download: This blog post is available as a convenient and portable PDF that you can take anywhere. Click here to get a copy. (Download)

Oh, and One More Thing…

If you liked these fun games, you’ll love using FluentU in your classroom. FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, cartoons, documentaries and more—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons for you and your students.

It’s got a huge collection of authentic English videos that people in the English-speaking world actually watch on the regular. There are tons of great choices there when you’re looking for songs for in-class activities.

You’ll find music videos, musical numbers from cinema and theater, kids’ singalongs, commercial jingles and much, much more.


On FluentU, all the videos are sorted by skill level and are carefully annotated for students. Words come with example sentences and definitions. Students will be able to add them to their own vocabulary lists, and even see how the words are used in other videos.


For example, if a student taps on the word “brought,” they’ll see this:


Plus, these great videos are all accompanied by interactive features and active learning tools for students, like multimedia flashcards and fun games like “fill in the blank.”


It’s perfect for in-class activities, group projects and solo homework assignments. Not to mention, it’s guaranteed to get your students excited about English!

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PC Strategy Games You Need To Own


PC Strategy Games You Need To Own

The PC is home to strategy games, a genre which works so well with a keyboard and mouse (and a desk for your favourite hot beverage). Whether we’re establishing trade routes with an alien civilisation, setting up control groups and harassing your opponent’s resources, or moving your massive army of undead across the map, we love strategy games. Here are the ones we think you should have in your games library.


One of the most popular strategy series in existence, Civilisation is at the forefront of turn-based strategy games, in the specific genre of ‘4X’ (eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, and eXterminate). Its up to you to lead your chosen civilization – such as Greece, Aztec, USA, China – through the ages and to come out on top on your map. You can achieve victory through war, diplomacy, scientific achievement or bureaucracy. Every iteration of the game introduces new changes and mechanics that tweak the original 4X formula to make it better and better. There’s no game that’s more ‘one more turn’ than Civilization.


The most APM (actions-per-minute) intensive game on the list, Starcraft is the RTS that stands tall above all others. It simultaneously hosts the most balanced and exciting esport scene in RTS, and has plenty to offer for newer players and those not interested in living at a consistent 150 APM. The three separate campaigns are some of the best designed yet, their co-op mode allows you to take on vs AI missions with friends and level up your favourite commander, and then there’s all the normal skirmish, ranked and team games too.


Recently released, Steel Division gives you command of armies during the invasion of Normandy in 1944. Set up like a fully animated war game, players pick their units from a selection of cards, deploy them on the battlefield and push the front lines to envelop, crush and defeat their opponent. The game features many types of historical units, and different divisions contain different units based on their doctrines. Its tough, looks great, sounds great, and the battlegroup mechanic allows for some interesting experimentation and meta to form.


Arguably more of a tactics game than strategy, Invisible, Inc combines cyberpunk with noir, and gives you a team of agents that must infiltrate corporations and achieve objectives, using stealth and turn-based strategy. Each level is procedurally-generated, so every mission needs exploration. Taking out guards and avoiding cameras is tough, and hacking terminals gives rewards but means you take more time. The clock is always ticking, and sometimes you just have to run and get out fast. A great little game for that strategy fix, and it looks amazing.


The Total War series, much like Civilization, is a cornerstone of PC strategy. It mixes the grand strategy and city building of Civ, but adds in real-time battles with thousands of units. Total War: Warhammer is the first of the series that doesn’t take place in a historical setting, adding magic, flying units, monsters and excitingly asymmetrical races that play very differently. Each race has its own objective, whether it’s simply to fight like the Greenskins, or to cross off all the grudges in the grudgebook like the Dwarves. There’s a play style to fit everyone, and it’s another one of those ‘one more turn’ addictive campaign games that you just can’t leave.


Our second 4X game on this list, this one is set in SPAAACE. If you’re not interested in reliving history and researching the written word and trade unions, why not play Stellaris and research fusion reactors and destroyers? Stellaris has a big focus on the ‘eXplore’ part of the genre, as your space-faring race starts off in one star system amongst hundreds. You’ll develop your technology in various ways, discover resources and other civilizations dead and alive, and take part in big space battles with your ships you’ve designed yourself. You can also create your own race to play, choosing how they look and act. There’s absolutely no reason to play as the xenophile humans.

Second Opinions


One of the best best turn-based strategy games ever, XCOM-2 is a turn based, squad based game where you control a team of combat specialists on guerilla missions with the aim of taking back control of alien-occupied Earth. In between missions you’ll be upgrading your base, building facilities and training new soldiers – which can be customised to no end. As soldiers grow in XP, they develop specialisms and unlock powerful abilities for their class, which includes rangers, snipers, heavy weapons specialists, robotic combat units and even psychic-ability users.

Combat comes with all the ups and downs of turn-based squad combats, with clutch shots to save the day to devastating critical hits on your beloved squadmates. In X-COM, when your soldiers die, they proper die. There is nothing in the world quite like the attachment you will form to your soldiers and when you lose that squaddie, you might just be heartbroken. And without a world-class alien-killer.

It’s got a solid campaign and great variety of missions, really improving on the few areas from the previous instalment that needed some love. If you like a challenge, then this is definitely one to pick up.


Frozen Synapse is a simultaneous turn based real time squad based strategy game. OK that’s probably confusing, but here’s how it works: you’re in control of a squad with a top down view of where your squad is and where your enemies are. You plan out each member of your squad’s moves, from running to looking in a direction, to crouching to laying down covering fire. You can also plan out what you think the enemy will do, and then simulate that to test if your plans will work.

Then you hit execute, and watch as it plays out in real time. Every order you give takes a chunk of time, which then plays out in the execution phase. This allows you a level of control and a tactical depth that means you’re in utter control of your squad, and any failures and successes are yours alone.

For squad based strategy, Frozen Synapse can’t be beaten, it has a well written campaign and also comes with a multiplayer mode that lets you play multiple matches at once, if you’re so inclined.

It also has a banging soundtrack.
Thats our list of strategy games you should own. Did we miss out any?