We are excited to welcome Erin to the blog today! Erin has written a really inspiring post about ways to add academics to video games, which is something I’m sure many teachers would shy away from. Read on to learn more about Erin’s ideas and suggestions!
At the end of the school year last May, a parent asked to speak to me after class. She was anxious about the summer months ahead and how to keep her child’s days filled with challenge and creativity.
“Well, what is he into? What are his hobbies?” I asked.
“He’s not into anything right now, that’s the problem. All he does is play video games.”
Video games get a bad reputation. Sure, sometimes kids (and adults!) get caught up in playing them for hours on end, but isn’t that the sign of really enjoying a hobby? I have certainly caught myself reading a book all night long, knowing I would regret it in the morning.
The main problem parents and teachers seem to have with video games is that they don’t offer any “educational value.” Here I will argue again. Many video games come with imaginative settings and developed characters – some even have plot lines that twist and turn through the different levels. As teachers, our job is to facilitate the creative options that video games provide. Below are five activities to engage any video game enthusiast.
- Character Biography
- Subjects covered – Reading, Informational Writing, Art
- The student chooses a character from a video game and creates an encyclopedia entry detailing the character’s strengths, weaknesses, and any side stories. I love this because it can be as quick or as detailed as you’d like. It can be a simple fact list or an illustrated encyclopedia entry. This could also be done in the form of a trading card, with stats like height and weight. Is some of that information lacking? Even better! Have the student make it up. By using their knowledge of what the character can do to help fill in gaps, students are practicing how to use multiple sources to make inferences.
- Setting Map
- Subjects covered – Geography, Art
- Video games are based on the idea of levels, which makes the setting one of their most important aspects. Many of today’s video games have detailed and imaginative worlds. Invite your student to create a map showcasing one of the locations or levels from the game. Include features found on maps (a key, symbols, labels, etc). If your students enjoy this activity, then you might consider turning it into a large-scale project, like my “Create Your Own Planet” project.
- What Would Happen If…
- Subjects Covered – Argumentative Writing/Thinking, Problem-Solving
- This is a fun prompt that can be brought to the next level by being turned into a writing activity. However, if you are a parent looking to engage with your child, then it still works wonders as a conversation topic. To begin with, have the student choose two video games (example: Mario Brothers and Skyrim). Then, they select one character from one of the games (example: Luigi). Lastly, present this question: “What do you think Luigi would do if he found himself in Skyrim?” Your creative thinkers will imagine new story lines and creative problems for the character to face. Your analytical thinkers might retort with, “But that could never happen.” To which you respond, “Why not?” The process of explaining how the worlds could never collide invokes higher-level thinking skills. Try taking it a step further by imagining a video game character in OUR world!
- The Origin Story
- Subjects Covered – Reading, Creative Writing
- The best video games have multi-dimensional characters. These characters have strengths and weaknesses, and it’s the gamer’s task to maximize the strengths in order to beat the game. What if you step back and asked, “Well, HOW did the character learn to do this?” or “Why CAN’T the character do this?” For example, how did a plumber like Mario end up as the chosen guy to save a princess? This activity has students engage their creativity to develop an “origin story” that explains how that character came to be.
- Why Video Games Are ________
- Subjects Covered – Research, Argumentative Writing
- This is a take on the familiar research project. Have students fill in the blank with something they believe, such as “Video Games are educational, important, fun, etc.” Then, set them with the task to prove it. Whenever I told my students they were allowed to research video games, they were caught off guard. But when they began the research process and found articles upon articles related to gaming, they were shocked. I actually had a student ask if he could use more than the amount of sources listed!
The key to making the most of kids’ gaming hobby is to help them see all of the intricacies that their games have. After all, the simple act of looking at video games as tools for other projects reinforces multiple perspectives and critical thinking. Instead of discrediting video games as a hobby, encourage your students to use their passion for one of these creative projects.
Erin Vanek is a teacher of gifted and talented students in grades 2, 3, and 4. She loves thinking of new projects that will engage her students. She writes a blog, Creative Teacher’s Classroom, where she posts lesson ideas, resource reviews, and personal essays that encourage out-of-the-box teaching. You can also follow her Teachers Pay Teachers store to stay up-to-date with her projects and activities for sale.