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The Role of Online Games in Teaching Vobabulary
Apr 27th, 2009

Obviously vocabulary flash cards are the traditional way to add and reinforce vocabulary words. Online vocabulary games have an important new role in teaching vocabulary as wells as spelling, idioms and usage. Here are two good examples: Vocabulary flash cards. Hang Man. But there are many, many others that you can easily find.

Online games have certain advantages and disadvantages to ESL learning. But rather than list these pros and cons, let's consider the role of online vocabulary games in teaching English:

1. ENGAGEMENT. Computers have a way of engaging people, both children and adults. An engaged student is a good student. A bored or distracted student is a poor student.

2. CLASSROOM MANAGEMENT. Many children--and some of us adults--have learning challenges because we have a hard time sitting still. This is potential disruptive to an entire class as well as obviously the affected student. I have seen many hyper disruptive children get very productively absorbed in online computer games. Thus, if you only have one computer in a classroom, you can still help the entire class by putting little Johnny Squirmski in front of a game of hangman or wordsearch. (or Jaques Voimoi, etc., etc.)

3. INDIVIDUALIZED ATTENTION. This is a two-for-one phenomenon. Students working on computer games feel they are getting individual attention. And they are, in some reasonable sense. The bonus is that the one-on-one between computer and student gives you a chance to tune in for a human one-on-one with another student.

4. INDIVIDUALIZED TEACHING LEVEL. Any classroom teacher has--at least for part of his/her career--dealt with the horrors of mixed classes where teaching to the middle level loses the interest of the top level and the confidence of the bottom level. Computer games are a way of getting around this, again in a two-for-one phenomenon. The computer games can be individualized to the right challenge level. They allow you to conduct simultaneous exercises with students of a specific level.

5. HOMEWORK Even if you choose not to--or cannot--use online vocabulary games in your classroom, you can assign games as homework. In many cases, it is much easier for the student to have or be provide with a internet-connected computer as an individual that to have or provide a classroom full of computers. Perhaps more important, online fun vocabulary flash card games are more likely to get done by the student than many other types of homework!
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