It’s not the case anymore that creating your own digital language-learning games online is an unattainable goal reserved only for the technologically-savvy or for those with a lot of time on their hands. There are many tools which allow language teachers to easily create and use their own digital games both within and beyond the language classroom. It’s true you do need to have some patience — and some time — but the rewards are worthwhile, not only because games make language-learning fun, motivating and effective, but also because the efforts you spend developing your own games now will yield content which you can use not only in the present teaching moment but also in your future language-learning lessons.
In this post, we highlight two digital tools which are easy to access, free, online, and which we have tested and successfully integrated with existing Middlebury digital learning resources such as Canvas and WordPress. Certainly there are more game-creation tools available beyond these two, but we’d like to introduce you to just this pair of apps to begin your foray into digital language game creation.
The tools we will discuss here are: Quizlet (an online application that allows students to study via learning tools such as digital flashcards, games and tests) and H5P (a tool that allows you to create, share and reuse interactive HTML5 content in your web browser). If you’re just starting out making quizzes or if you don’t consider yourself tech-savvy, Quizlet is a good place to begin.
Many language teachers already know about and use Quizlet. For that matter, so do teachers of various topics besides language learning. However, for the purposes of this post we will highlight specific uses of Quizlet for the digital language classroom.
To use Quizlet, you first need to create an account, which can be done for free at quizlet.com. The free account allows you to access, play, and create games. Once you have signed up, you can begin by searching for games and exercises created by others, to help you see examples or get ideas of what you would like to create yourself. In the search field, try typing the name of the language you teach, to see what others have created. You can filter the search results by choosing to view sets (which means collections of games that go together), study guides, users, and classes. Spend some time exploring what others have created if this helps you to envision what you might like to do.
The easiest activity-type to create in Quizlet is flashcards. Flashcards are exactly what they sound like — they are “cards” (meaning square boxes on the screen) which contain language and/or images on each side and which the user can “flip” (which is done by clicking) to see both sides of the card at will while learning the new word or words. You can choose whatever language and/or images you would like to have appear on either side of the card, so that students can practice in exactly the way you have in mind.
One nice feature of Flashcards is that you can choose to have language audio-supported, which as we know is essential for language learning. The free Quizlet account includes a computerized audio generation of words (think of the “robo voice” you hear narrating words on Google translate) rather than natural language — depending on the learning context and goals in your situation, the computer-generated audio may serve a close enough approximation of authentic speech to be helpful to learners. The paid Quizlet account permits you to record your own, authentic audio on flashcards, which, if you decide to progress with this tool, could be worth considering.
Once you have created a data set to be used in flashcards, Quizlet automatically uses that same data set to generate exercises and games to help students practice, learn, and push themselves through fun competitions. In addition to flashcards, the “study” game-types include: multiple choice, translation, spelling, writing and testing. The “playing” game-types include: match, gravity, and live. Gravity is one of our favorites — you’ll have to try it to see why!
Here is an example of a simple Portuguese language-learning game we created for novice-level learners of Portuguese here at Middlebury several years ago on Quizlet:
As you can see, this flashcard exercise embeds directly into a WordPress page, and works quite well! (Tip: click here to play Gravity with these expressions!)
H5P is a fun tool which has many more options available than Quizlet, but which requires a bit more patience and time to figure out. As an open source community-driven project, H5P is constantly being developed and perfected by users, but may not be able to provide you with technical support in the same way you might expect of Quizlet. Therefore, you should choose this tool only if you are willing to experiment a little and to get a bit messy in the digital trenches!
H5P does also allow for Flashcard creation, like Quizlet, and you can record your own audio as well as add images for free if you so choose. The user interface is not quite as “slick” as Quizlet and has a more stark visual feel, but the functionality works quite well and allows for a very creative use of games and exercises.
You don’t need to create an account to explore this tool, and exploring is probably the best first step. You can begin by viewing the extensive list of H5P examples and downloads. Our favorite tried and tested H5P activity types include: interactive videos (which allow you to superimpose exercises onto videos so that students can stop and learn as they watch), dialog cards, drag and drop, drag the words, fill in the blanks, flashcards, memory game, and multiple choice. We recommend that you spend some time trying out the examples of these games before creating them, to help you to determine which type of activity you wish to create.
Like Quizlet, H5P also embeds quite well into WordPress and Canvas. To view an abundance of examples, we invite you to visit the interactive learning website called French Grammar Games created by Middlebury French Professor Brigitte Humbert. Click “Jouer” (which means play in French) on the front page to view a sample of games created with not only H5P but also Quizlet. To view interactive videos, we invite you to check out Middlebury’s Russian Heritage Learning Website, which demonstrates effective use of the H5P interactive video.
As many of us by now know, when it comes to online language-learning, it is almost never the case that the work involved for teachers is less than (or easier than) creating activities and games for the in-person language classroom. However, if you have some time to spend, and motivation to generate your own learning content in creative ways, you will certainly benefit down the road since these digital games can be reused, embedded in multiple learning environments, and enjoyed by not only your present students but your future students as well. Above all else, patience and humor are your keys to successful digital language game creation!