Online games are great extensions to your online or classroom-based English lessons. Now that The Thinking Train picture books series has four new titles at Cambridge A2 Flyers / Trinity: 3 / 4 levels (Level F in the series), we would like to focus on the benefits of using the games included in the pack and give you some tips on making the most of them with your young learners.
When digital games become part of your regular teaching practice, your students will feel more engaged in a rich learning environment. Of course it doesn’t mean that traditional language exercises, games and pairwork activities will be substituted by these games. Digital and print-based content contribute to a holistic learning experience, and the basic reading literacy skills need to be developed through reading in multiple environments (both print-based and screen-based). Digital games together with reading projects can be the bridge between your students’ classroom-based, formal language learning and informal learning. In the long term it is important that students become aware of the language learning opportunities in various learning environments so that they can engage with English even after the school term or language course has finished.
What are these games?
Each reader in The Thinking Train series comes with a set of interactive online games. The games can be played alone or in groups of 2, 3 or 4. Each reader has five dedicated games which are based on the language and vocabulary raised in each story.
How can you access these games?
The scratch code to access the games is under the silver splash on the inside back cover of each book. Go to the Helbling Code page then insert the 12-digit code, remember to include the hyphens: helbling.com/code
You can read more about the games in this blog post:
How can you use these games?
Whether you are teaching online or in the classroom, show your students how they can access the games. Then, go through the game selection step by step. It is important that students are confident enough to play alone as well as in pairs of groups.
If you are teaching online, you can show this process with a shared screen so that your students can follow and copy what you are doing.
If you are teaching in the classroom, show them how to access the games. You can use an interactive whiteboard or a projector to share your screen, then put the students in pairs or groups so that they can play together. Being part of a team helps them with confidence and self-assurance, as well as developing important communication skills and playing against others adds an element of fun competition and excitement.
What are the benefits of using these games?
These online games serve multiple purposes.
- They help students practise language areas in a playful way both in the classroom and at home.
- They help develop your students’ digital skills. Although most children are good at using digital devices, it is important that they learn how to navigate a website, access the games, make selections and follow their own progress - these non-linear, digital reading skills are equally important to traditional, paper-based reading development.
- The digital game environments are dynamic, interactive, and multimodal. They activate complex literacy skills in your students, who will have to follow instructions (listening), read the exercises (reading), make sense of illustrations (viewing). There are moving images and sounds effects which create a more entertaining environment.
- There is an element of speed, but since the students can repeat the exercises if they make mistakes, speed does add unwanted pressure.
- Students never feel that they have failed because they can go back and play each game again. When they carry out paper-based practice, their results might feel final. This is not the case with these games.
- Students get used to the idea that language practice doesn’t have to be a monotonous, solitary task.
- The games are based on continuous interaction even if the students are playing them alone.
- Students still get clear instructions and immediate feedback even if the teacher is not present.
- When students are playing in pairs or groups, there is a sense of competition, an element most children will enjoy and find motivating.
- Collaboration with other students when playing in pairs and groups!
What does second language research say about games?
Digital games have been in the spotlight of second language research for a long time, with a growing number of studies highlighting the benefits of digital games.
Here are some of the findings of recent research.
- Computer games contribute to perceptual, cognitive, behavioral, affective and motivational outcomes (Connolly et al., 2011)
- Computer games have a positive effect on motivation and willingness to communicate. (Reinders, 2017)
- Children demonstrate a preference for games which are cognitively demanding, evoke one’s curiosity, offer greater player control, and have multiple players. (Butler, Someya & Fukuhara, 2014)
- Computer games have a positive effect on vocabulary building in young learners. (Jensen, 2017)
These research studies give us a glimpse into the vast impact digital games have on students’ language learning experiences.
What are The Thinking Train games like?
Here are some examples of the available games for the four new level F stories in the series. The last two slides show you where you can choose the number of players and some typical activity types.
Read more about series here:
- The Thinking Train series
- Five stories about fantasy in The Thinking Train series
- The Thinking Train: Reading and Learning with Stories
- Interactive reading: learn, think and play with The Thinking Train series
- Looking together: visual storytelling in The Thinking Train stories
- Butler, Y. G., Someya, Y., & Fukuhara, E. (2014). Online games for young learners’ foreign language learning. ELT Journal, 68(3), 265–275. https://doi.org/10.1093/elt/ccu008
- Connolly, T. M., Boyle, E. A., MacArthur, E., Hainey, T., & Boyle, J. M. (2012). A systematic literature review of empirical evidence on computer games and serious games. Computers & Education, 59(2), 661–686. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.compedu.2012.03.004
- Jensen, S.G. (2017). Gaming as an English Language Learning Resource among Young Children in Denmark. CALICO Journal. (n.d.). https://journals.equinoxpub.com/CALICO/article/view/29519
- Reinders, H. (2017). Digital Games and Second Language Learning. In S. L. Thorne & S. May (Eds.), Language, Education and Technology (pp. 329–343). Springer International Publishing. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-02237-6_26