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The Best Online Video Games For Learning Language & Content Knowledge

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This new list, the latest in my series of “The Best…” posts, highlights online video games.  This is different from one of my previous lists,  The Best Online Learning Games — 2007.  That list shared excellent word games and others that tended to be more overt and explicit in their academic purpose of learning and teaching, or they were sort of “one horse shows” — they just had one key “gimmick” they used. 

When I use the term “online video games,” I think in terms of games that have a clear narrative or story; in the context of that story a problem or problems need to be solved; and that there are twists and turns in the unfolding of this story — it’s an adventure.    The bottom line definition of a video game for me, though, is probably more like U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stewart’s definition of pornography — “I know it when I see it.”

In addition to meeting the above criteria, in order to make my list a game needed to be accessible to English Language Learners of all levels.

I think games, both in the classroom and in the computer lab, can be very effective learning tools for language and for content knowledge.  You might find an article I recently wrote in TechLearning about using online video games helpful.  It’s called Free Online Games Develop ESL Students’ Language Skills.  Language Magazine also published another article on how I use non-tech games in the classroom entitled Games Students Can Play.

I’ve divided this list a bit differently from how I’ve handled the previous ones.  In those, I pretty clearly ranked the sites.  Here, I’ve separated them into several sections. 

The first part deals with games that I believe are great for providing reading, speaking and, in some instances, listening opportunities for English Language Learners.

The second focuses on online video games that provide a lot of content knowledge helpful to all students and are also accessible to English Language Learners.

The final part of my list shares three games that I don’t necessarily think are the best ones for either of the first two sections, but which I just think are particularly neat sites.

All these online video games, along with links to hundreds of others, can be found on my website under Word and Video Games.

And here are my picks for The Best Online Video Games For Learning Language and Content Knowledge:

I’m starting-off here with games I use primarily as a language-development activity with my students.  As I describe in my article I provide students with copies of “Walkthroughs” for these games — the step-by-step instructions that show them how to “win” the game.  Students are then divided into groups working on one computer and have to work together to complete the game.

Games created by Bart Bonte are favorites of mine and my students.   They include Bonte Room 2 (here’s the Walkthrough) and Loose The Moose (Walkthrough).

Pinhead Games has several good games as well.  One of their advantages is that these games provide audio support to text.  Their games include A Case Of The Crabs (Walkthrough) and The Goat In The Grey Fedora (Walkthrough).

The best game, though, that has great fun  and language-learning opportunities is Phantasy Quest (Walkthrough).  You get to follow (and help) a man who appears to be marooned on an island in his adventures.

Again, you can find links to over two hundred similar free online video games that you can use for English language-development exercises at my website.

The next section highlights online video games that are designed to teach content knowledge and are also accessible to English Language Learners.  It’s difficult distinguishing between them about which ones are better than others — they’re all good.  However, I can say that the last four I list offer a lot of audio support to their text, so I need to say that these are certainly better for English Language Learners.  I’ll save them for last.

In the BBC’s Space Doctor users play the role of a doctor monitoring the life signs of astronauts on a mission to Mars and having to make decisions about how to respond to their health issues.

Players help villagers in Nicaragua deal with various disasters in the well-done game Disaster Watch.

Help Lewis and Clark on their expedition in the older but still excellent National Geographic Go West Across America With Lewis and Clark game.

Thorkel and The Trading Ship is another BBC game.  This one focuses on the Vikings’ history.

Here are the four games I like a lot because they also provide audio support to their text:

One is another game from National Geographic called On The Trail of John Smith.  This one is about the founding of Jamestown.

The BBC is another repeater.  This one is called the Indus Valley Mission and players help an archaeologist traveling to the…Indus Valley.

UNICEF has a good game called Water Alert! about water issues in the developing world.

And the War Museum of Canada has an excellent World War I adventure called Over The Top.

Finally, I’d like to share three online video games which, though they are accessible to English Language Learners, don’t quite make it to be listed as one of the best.  However, I think they just happen to be pretty neat ones worth sharing in this post.

One is called Student Survivor.  Users play the role of a student, and have to help maintain a healthy lifestyle in order to be successful.

Another is Sancho’s Island (Walkthrough), a game based on Cervantes’ Don Quixote.  Who would have ever imagined that would be the basis for a video game?

And, even more improbable, someone made a game based on Franz Kafka’s life and writings. It’s called Kafkamesto (Walkthrough).

As always, I’m open to feedback, including suggestions and critique.

And if you have found this post useful, you might want to consider subscribing to this blog for free, as well as looking at my other “The Best..” lists.

Author: Larry Ferlazzo

I'm a high school teacher in Sacramento, CA.

One Comment

  1. Another great free interactive learning English game is Trace Effects. Copies are free from any U.S. embassy and do not have a copyrite, so it can be shared and uploaded to any number of computers. It can also be played on line at

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