Tap into students' love of video games and show them how they can apply their skils to school. (It's true! Here's what their favorite games can teach.)


The game: The Sims is a classic in which players create and manage their own human characters, families, and towns.
What it can teach: While playing The Sims, gamers can visit an online site called “The Exchange” in order to enrich their gameplay. Why not apply those principles to peer conferencing?
Your gameplan: Before having students hand in a first draft of an assignment, have them practice peer conferencing with the help of a video game. Allow students a half hour to familiarize themselves with a video game in the computer lab (ask an administrator about media literacy funding if your school does not own any of its own video games). The next day, spend another half hour in the computer lab, but this time, have them participate in related online discussion forums. They can read and respond to other players’ questions and stories, or post questions of their own. Discuss these interactions back in the classroom. When students bring in their drafts for peer conferencing, review with them how they collaborated in the video game forums, and show them how the same principles of response can apply when responding to each other’s written work.

The game: In Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, players act as lawyers and work to solve a crime.
What it can teach: Your students’ journey through the courtroom builds in complexity. The strategies required to move to higher levels are perfect foils for reading comprehension strategies.
Your gameplan: Use what Jennifer Rowsell, co-author of Literacy and Education: Understanding the New Literacy Studies in the Classroom, calls a “strategy sheet.” As students play a game that you select, invite them to make notes, tracking moves that have worked as they navigate the game. Understanding and thinking about their actions will help players get to the next level of the game. Back in the classroom, have students keep a strategy sheet when they are reading an assigned text. Having previously noted how to navigate a game successfully, students should better be able to navigate text. Another bonus: being aware of specific strategies will also help highlight problems the student may encounter, making it easier to pinpoint what areas need clarification.


The game: In Rune, players must solve the mysteries of a Viking village.
What it can teach: By juxtaposing print text with freeze-frames from the beautiful settings of Rune, students can begin to see the dimensions of a story.
Your gameplan: Take another cue from Rowsell and analyze a scene in a book juxtaposed with a freeze-frame of a popular videogame. Ask students to look in detail at the freeze-frame—the visual depiction of characters, the use of setting, gestures, and movements by characters within the game. Then, look at a passage in the book you are reading in class. Using the analysis of the freeze frame as a model, ask students to visualize, on paper, what the passage would look like in a freeze frame. Discuss what they visualized, and how they did it. This is good for looking at literature from a visual perspective.

The game: Players must dominate 6,000 years of history in Rise of Nations.
What it can teach: If your students will be ruling civilization for thousands of years, strategy and reflection are musts!
Your gameplan: As students play the game, they keep a journal that documents their thought processes. James Paul Gee, author of What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Literacy and Learning, says that in Rise of Nations, players need to think about how each step will affect future actions as they advance their civilization. After the game is completed, students will have a record of their thinking for the duration of the game. Later, when you want to move beyond the facts in your social studies units, reference their journals to help show them that just as video games move from simple to complex ideas, so does the Industrial Revolution.

Want to learn more about how video games can actually help kids? Try these books.

  • What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Literacy and Learning, by James Paul Gee. Gee's the leading thinker behind the positive benefits of video games.
  • Don't Bother Me, Mom, I'm Learning, by Marc Prensky. A fascinating look at why gaming is critical for kids' success. 
  • Everything Bad Is Good For You, by Steven Johnson. Not just for teachers, this argument against the dumbing down of pop culture will make you rethink games.