school game

Gamification in the EFL Classroom

In the field of language learning, the research of gamification is still in its infancy, with large gaps to be filled by future ventures. However, several language teachers have employed gamification in their teaching process.

Reinhardt and Sykes (2014) proposed a system for classifying game-related phenomena in language teaching. They created three categories to serve as a basis of further research, these being game-enhanced, game-based and game-informed learning. Game-enhanced learning denotes utilising ready-made or commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) games in language teaching, whereas game-based learning refers to employing games designed for educational purposes, in other words, educational serious games. Designated as synonymous with the gamification of language learning and gameful language learning, game-informed learning is limited to the application of game and play principles in language teaching. Reinhardt and Sykes’ category of game-informed learning is, however, broader than the gamification of language learning, as it also includes playfulness. Moreover, all the previous research ventures the authors list investigated the benefits of language play (as in Cook, 2000), and none of them dealt with the use of game elements in the language classroom.

Nevertheless, there exist several highly successful gamified systems which aim to assist second language learning, such as Duolingo (Werbach & Hunter, 2015; Richter, Raban, & Rafaeli, 2015), Khan Academy (Pirker & Gütl, 2015) or EnglishAttack (Muntean, 2011).

In 2011, Mawer & Stanley recommended gamifying the ESL classroom with the help of online gamification platforms, such as Chore Wars, Epic Win and Plus One Me. They classified the platforms as incentive games and argued that with them ESL teachers could turn tests, exams, exercises and homework into adventures, adding an element of fun.

Based on Sheldon’s (2011) The Multiplayer Classroom, York (2012) gamified his ESL classroom and started his first lesson by telling students they all had an F, adding that they were on a quest to receive an A. In order to get a pass mark, York’s students had to gain XP and reach level 13. XP could be gained for in-class activities, tests and quests, the latter focusing on all four language skills. During the lessons, students could take group quests in their guilds by reading newspaper articles, reviewing a textbook, giving a presentation and writing short stories. Solo quests, such as reading graded readers, listening to news podcasts, talking to the teacher via Skype and 5-minute writing tasks could be taken at home. Quest descriptions were made available on a class wiki page (“Dendai English”, 2012). York’s system also included in-class textbook-based competitions resembling battles in role-playing-games (RPG). At the battles, guilds could take turn to choose a page and ask a question from the other group, who lost a life if they did not know the answer. Students could also purchase weapons, potions and food to bring them more success in battles. York reported a vast increase in class participation but also a collapse of the point system due to the decreasing interest in after-class quests.

Who Wants to Be CEO (2013), a gamified system for English for Specific Purposes (ESP) instruction, however, had a substantial impact on the time spent with self-study activities.

Brown (2012) designed a system to gamify speaking activities like role-playing-game (RPG) quests, which he called TaleCrafters. In TaleCrafters, ESL students are presented with a game scene with a non-player character (NPC), who starts a conversation with them. Students in response record a 30-second role-play and send the recording to their teacher. These are recurring activities for which students gain XP and skills or level up.

Stanley (2014) investigated the ways the interactive whiteboard (IWB) is able to serve gamification, which he introduced with an aim to enhance motivation and writing fluency. He concluded that the IWB was an invaluable tool for supporting gamification and that the different player types in Bartle’s (1996) model, i.e. achievers, explorers, socialisers and killers, responded differently to the gamification project.

Monterrat, Lavoué and George’s (2013, p. 123) following suggestion is also highly relevant from the perspective of ELT: “Adaptive gamification should be used with non-intrinsically motivating activities, like memorizing vocabulary or mathematical rules”. This is in line with Abrams and Walsh’s (2014) findings concerning the beneficial effect of gamified vocabulary tools on test scores. Particularly, Dreyer (2014) and Imrie (2014) observed a similar positive effect on vocabulary test scores produced by Quizlet (2005), a gamified vocabulary learning platform.


  • Abrams, S. S., & Walsh, S. (2014). Gamified Vocabulary: Online Resources and Enriched Language Learning. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, 58(1), 49-58.
  • Bartle, Richard A. (1996). Hearts, Clubs, Diamonds, Spades: Players who Suit MUDs. Journal of MUD Research, 1(1), 19. Retrieved March 3, 2015, from http://www.mud.co.uk/richard/hcds.htm
  • Brown, D. (2012). TaleCrafters – Creative Speaking. Retrieved March 25, 2015, from https://creativespeaking.wordpress.com/talecrafters
  • Cook, G. (2000). Language play, language learning. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
  • Dreyer, J. (2014). The Effect of Computer-Based Self-Access Learning on Weekly Vocabulary Test Scores. Studies in Self-Access Learning Journal, 5(3), 217-234. Retrieved, March 1, 2015, from http://sisaljournal.org/archives/sep14/dreyer/
  • Imrie, A. C. (2014). Using Quizlet Flashcards to Study Vocabulary. In M. McLaren, M. Al-Hamly, C. Coombe, P. Davidson, C. Gunn, & S. Troudi (Eds.), Proceedings of the 19th TESOL Arabia Conference: From KG to College to Career (pp. 26-35). Dubai: TESOL Arabia Publications.
  • Mawer, K. and Stanley, G. (2011). Digital Play. Computer games and language aims. Peaslake: Delta Publishing.
  • Monterrat, B., Lavoué, É., & George, S. (2013). Toward Personalised Gamification for Learning Environments. In 4th Workshop on Motivational and Affective Aspects in Technology Enhanced Learning (MATEL 2013) in conjonction with EC-TEL 2013. Paphos, Cyprus: LIRIS. Retrieved January 30, 2015, from http://liris.cnrs.fr/publis/?id=6315
  • Muntean, C. I. (2011). Raising Engagement in E-Learning Through Gamification. In Proc. 6th International Conference on Virtual Learning ICVL (pp. 323-329). Retrieved, March 1, 2015, from http://icvl.eu/2011/disc/icvl/documente/pdf/met/ICVL_ModelsAndMethodologies_paper42.pdf
  • Pirker, J., & Gütl, C. (2015). Educational Gamified Science Simulations. In T. Reiners, & L. Wood (Eds.), Gamification in Education and Business (pp. 277-290). Springer International Publishing.
  • Reinhardt, J., & Sykes, J.M. (2014). Special Issue Commentary: Digital Game Activity in L2 Teaching and Learning. Language Learning & Technology, 18(2), 2–8. Retrieved from http://llt.msu.edu/issues/june2014/commentary.pdf
  • Richter, G., Raban, D. R., & Rafaeli, S. (2015). Studying Gamification: The Effect of Rewards and Incentives on Motivation. In T. Reiners, & L. Wood (Eds.), Gamification in Education and Business (pp. 277-290). Springer International Publishing.
  • Sheldon, L. (2011). The Multiplayer Classroom: Designing Coursework as a Game. Course Technology PTR.
  • Stanley, G. (2014). Using the IWB to Support Gamification in Order to Enhance Writing Fluency in the Secondary Language Classroom. In E. C. Schmid & S. Whyte (Eds.), Teaching Languages with Technology: Communicative Approaches to Interactive Whiteboard Use (pp. 152-186). London: Bloomsbury Publishing.
  • Werbach, K., & Hunter, D. (2015). The Gamification Toolkit: Dynamics, Mechanics, and Components for the Win [calibre Reader version]. Retrieved from https://ganxy.com/i/101040/kevin-werbach-and-dan-hunter/the-gamification-ebook-bundle/the-gamification-toolkit-dynamics-mechanics-and-components-for-the-win
  • York, J. (2012). English Quest. Modern English Teacher, 21(4).

Other Media

Referencing this article (APA)

Németh, T. (2015). English Knight: Gamifying the EFL Classroom (Unpublished master’s thesis). Pázmány Péter Katolikus Egyetem Bölcsészet- és Társadalomtudományi Kar, Piliscsaba, Hungary. Retrieved from http://ludus.hu/gamification/