Gaming Grammar: Games for Teaching Foreign Language Grammar

Shortage in language skills is estimated to lead to a £48 billion loss to the UK economy per year.  Fewer than half of pupils take a GCSE in a language; only one third of pupils achieves a good GCSE grade in a language. Beyond GCSE, modern languages are in crisis.

In September 2014, foreign languages became a compulsory component of the primary school National Curriculum, a core requirement of which is that pupils are able to “understand basic grammar”. However, there continues to be a severe shortage of research- and evidence-based resources for foreign language grammar teaching and learning at this level.

Gamification has the potential to make languages intrinsically interesting and challenging.  However current games for language learning focus only on vocabulary learning and/ or are only for English as a foreign language. Grammar packages are dry and are not based on evidence from trials or learning theory.

In collaboration with leading UK foreign language teachers, researchers at the Digital Creativity Labs are working on the development of a digital game to address these needs. Based on world-leading research from York’s Department of Education, the game uses form-function mapping, a research-based teaching approach, to teach the fundamental rules of grammar.

The game provides a highly effective and motivating teaching and learning tool, enabling pupils to engage in more autonomous learning in a linguistically rich environment, whilst simultaneously allowing teachers to efficiently track their learners’ progress through the aggregation of key gameplay data.

Between March and July 2017, the game was trialled in 7 schools in the York and Tadcaster area, working directly with 10 teachers and 200 children. This large-scale, classroom-based evaluation of the language game, has provided evidence which demonstrates the efficacy of the use of games for teaching. Furthermore, the data gathered through gameplay gives a much more detailed understanding of the learning of the children than has previously been gathered in such trials.

While the initial implementation of the game is French, it has been designed to be adapted to other languages, with scope for extension to English to assist mainstream teaching of English grammar (in support of the SPAG test) as well as for teaching of English as a Foreign Language (EFL).

Further development of Gaming Grammar will be picked up as part of the Department for Education's Centre for Excellence for Modern Foreign Language Pedagogy, which will fund the development of the prototype into a full product to be launched in primary and secondary schools within the Centre's network, potentially reaching hundreds of thousands of school pupils.