You may be wondering, why bring games and play into learning? Is it really a good idea? We often think of play as something children should do outside the classroom, just for fun. But games are used in the classroom too. Teachers use games for a fun start to the lesson, to practise vocabulary and grammar, or to practise language in ‘real-world’ situations through role-play.

Games are really valuable and our team at Cambridge Assessment English now seriously explores the benefits of video games for learning and assessment. Our research shows that with the use of games, children of all ages have better engagement, participation, achievement and recall of their learning.

Play is serious stuff for kids

Games are fantastic for learning at any age, but they are particularly important for young learners. Research has shown that games are essential for healthy development in early childhood and beyond.

Play lets children practise what they know, and also what they don’t. It allows them to experiment through trial and error, find solutions to problems, work out the best strategies, and build new confidence and skills. In our busy lives, it can be easy to forget the value of play. We often think play is not a good use of time and children should be doing some ‘proper’ learning instead.

But doctors and educators believe that we should see play as serious learning. Through play, children develop thinking skills and abilities that help them to succeed in their future, including in language learning. The balance of enjoyment and challenge makes games such amazing tools for learning.

Chocolate-covered broccoli

There are many different types of games and some are better for learning than others.

‘Chocolate-covered broccoli’ is used to describe something that looks like a fun game on the outside, but really isn’t rewarding to play. Kids can usually see these types of games straight away! As one child said, “I like games, but not the boring ones.”

A good educational game needs to be ‘authentic’. At Cambridge English, we talk a lot about authenticity when we design our exam tasks. A task should be closely connected to what learners need to do in real-life situations and to solve real problems.

In a similar way, game tasks need to be meaningful. Our goal is to create a meaningful whole experience, as the evidence shows that learning in this way is the most memorable, enjoyable and effective.