Using Games to teach Literacy and Foundational Learning

Cheryl Lovstrom, Community Learning Network

1 1 21 February 2018

Recently, I had a request for an e-copy of the Groovy Games for Adults booklet that was included in one of the Symposium door prizes last September. The request came when I was racking my brain, trying to decide what to blog about. And there it was, my next assignment!

Have you ever played games with your adult learners? If you have, you may have seen an incredible change in your participants. Learners who are normally shy and perhaps a bit withdrawn may show a competitive side you’ve never seen before. The folks who may rule the group in conversation suddenly step back and let others take the reins. You will most certainly have heard laughter and increased conversation in the room.

But wait a minute, games are for kids, right? Learning is a serious business and we need to buckle down and work. But why should kids have all the fun? Games are a wonderful way to build confidence and comradery between learners. They provide opportunity for movement breaks and a change of pace. Most importantly, games can be used to introduce and reinforce foundational learning skills.

Research has shown games to be very effective as an adult learning strategy. Games are fun, and even adults show improved learning when they are having fun. A 2009 study by (1) Penman and Ellis showed “love of learning had an element of fun/curiosity, which is not forced. They concluded that incorporating humour and laughter and an informal atmosphere can help ensure study environments are fear free, minimising anxiety and encouraging deep learning.”

Learners who took part in the study reported that games prevented them from becoming bored, so they were more engaged in the learning. They also found games helped them concentrate, and made remembering easier. Learners were more likely to try something new if the activity was fun.

Just like children at school, our inner child needs to come out and play once in a while. When we are at play, our stress levels are reduced, we are more relaxed, and we are receptive to learning. And learning is a very risky business. Games create the safe space learners need to take those risks. Within the confines of a game, mistakes are not only ok, they are expected. The group can laugh and learn together without fear of failure or ridicule.

(2) Games also help to :

  • Warm up adult learners
  • Create better class dynamics
  • Aid memorization
  • Provide satisfaction and motivation
  • Add variety
  • Allow for freer practice
  • Work the brain
  • Energize
  • Encourage interaction

Games for adults are a very effective learning strategy, especially when you follow these adult learning principles:

Adults are relevancy oriented – be very clear about why you’re playing the game. What skills are you introducing? How is playing teaching a concept? This is especially important for newcomers who may not have experience with games, especially in a learning environment.

Adults are goal oriented – again, what is the goal of the game you are playing? Be very clear about the end result you expect from the game, and re-state it after you are finished.

For example:

Today we are going to play a game called “Telephone”. I will whisper a message to the first person, and they will whisper it to the person beside them. When the last person hears the message, they will tell the group what they heard. This may sound silly, but we’re going to have a lot of fun. While we play, we will be practising listening skills and pronunciation. Let’s see if the final message is the same as the original one.

By spelling out exactly what you will be doing and why you will be doing it, learners have a clear understanding of the purpose of the game. It moves from a frivolous time waster to a valuable learning experience.

Adults are internally motivated and self-directed – adults will only play if they want to. Make your games appealing to the group. Get to know them by introducing icebreakers that encourage conversation and build comradery. Add more complex games as the group becomes comfortable with each other.

Adults bring life experiences and knowledge to learning experiences – in time, learners may feel confident to share one of their favourite games with the group. Present opportunities for sharing and encourage learners to lead activities. One of the most effective ways to learn is to teach.

Adult learners need to be respected – above all else, make sure learners feel respected. The classroom is a safe space where there are no foolish questions and no one is ridiculed. Ground rules for games must include space for laughter with each other and never at anyone’s expense.

Whether you work one-on-one or with a group, games can add learning and laughter to your classroom. Click here to access the “Groovy Games for Adults” booklet and get started today.

You can find more information about the benefits of learning through games on these websites:

Tesol international association 

Science Education Resource Centre at Carlton College 

GameLearn – Why are Learning Games for Adults more Effective than Traditional Learning? 

GameLearn – Serious Games for Learning: 8 Benefits that will Surprise You 

OpenEducationEuropa – The Benefits of Game-Based Learning 

Northwest Centre for Public Health Practice – Effective Adult Learning: A Toolkit for Teaching Adults 

Cheryl Lovstrom
CLN Central Regional Support Staff


(1) ScienceDirect – The Impact of Fun and Enjoyment on Adult’s Learning 

(2)  Busy Teacher - 9 Reasons Why Games with Adult Learners are a Must



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