Larry Ferlazzo’s Websites of the Day…

…For Teaching ELL, ESL, & EFL

The Best Online Learning Games — 2008


This is the first of several year-end “The Best…” lists I’m writing. I know it’s a bit early for a year-end list, but I since I’m experimenting with a reader’s poll at bottom of this post, I wanted to see how (and if) it worked before I tried it with my other year-end rankings.

Assuming this works well, I’ll be posting several more 2008 “The Best…” lists during the rest of the year that will have a poll so readers can vote. These will include The Best Internet Sites For English Language Learners — 2008; The Best Ways To Create Online Content Easily & Quickly — 2008; and The Best Web 2.0 Applications For Education — 2008.

And, since Time Magazine came out with their own 2008 Best Website list well over a month ago, I figured publishing one of mine in July isn’t too early. I’ll just come out with a “Part Two” if a bunch of new and great games come-out in the fall.

I’m going to be listing my choices for The Best Online Learning Games — 2008 within this post, starting from the twentieth-ranked one and ending with my number-one choice. You’ll find a poll at the end, though the games are listed in the opposite order in the poll.

Voting will end on November 1st. I thought it would be interesting to see how reader’s choices compare to my own. And, in fact, I’m going to be having my students vote on them as well, and would encourage you to do the same if you think it would be a productive educational activity.

People will be blocked (or, at least, are supposed to be blocked) from voting more than once. I’m asking that people vote for ten games or less.

You can find links to these games, and thousands more on my website.

In order to make it on this list, games had to:

* be accessible to English Language Learners.

* provide exceptionally engaging content.

* not provide access to other non-educational games on their site.

* be seen by me during 2008. So they might have been around prior to this time, but I’m still counting them in this year’s list.

It’s quite a diverse collection. So if you have your student participate in the voting they might, or might not, want to try out all of them. Less than a handful require registration, but those that do make it very easy.

On a different matter, some regular readers of this blog who use Google Reader and Bloglines to get updated RSS feeds, and who subscribed prior to January, might have recently stopped receiving new posts. If that has happened to you, please re-subscribe using this newer Feedburner feed. This issue only relates to people who subscribed prior to January — anyone who has subscribed since then is already using the Feedburner feed and shouldn’t be having any problems. Other RSS Readers haven’t been having any issues, so this only relates to “older” Google and Bloglines subscribers. Sorry for the inconvenience, but the problem appears to be out of my control.

Here are my choices for The Best Online Learning Games — 2008:

Number twenty is the Stock News Game . In it, you’re given a very short piece of information about a company, and then have to predict if its stock goes down, stays the same, or goes up by the end of the day that news came out. It’s probably only accessible to high Intermediate or Advanced English Language Learners, but it would certainly be a useful way for students at those levels (or native English speakers) to get a little more of a sense of how the stock market works. It would certainly be better than the convoluted and dry explanations I’ve seen in our high school economics textbooks!

Number nineteen is an online game on environmental issues called Planet Green Game. It’s basically a role-playing game where players have to minimize their carbon emissions. And it’s combined with learning environmental facts. I was especially impressed that there’s audio support for a fair amount of the text.

Number eighteen is What 2 Learn . It has a variety of templates, and a fairly easy process, that teachers and students can use to create and play learning games.

Number seventeen is Word Connect. It’s a great Tetris-like game with various difficulty levels accessible to English Language Learners. Players get to pick the categories of words for their particular game, and the words themselves are shown on the side. It’s an excellent vocabulary-reinforcing activity.

Number sixteen is ROAR: The Game! from the BBC. Players have to create their own zoo, including picking habitats, the animals, their food, and their feeding routines. There is audio support for some text, and the English is simple. It’s a fun way to to learn about animals and practice language skills. One feature that I particularly like is that you can email a link of your creation to a teacher or friend for posting on a website or blog. Then, as an extension activity, students could write a little describing their zoo, as well as use it as an opportunity for oral practice. Players do have to register for the game, but it’s free and easy to do so.

Number fifteen is Spywatch, another neat game from the BBC. In it, the player has to discover who is the spy working in Great Britain during World War II. There’s a fair amount of reading involved, though it’s simple language and laid-out well.

Number fourteen is Electrocity, an award-winning game where players can create their own cities and see the environmental consequences of their design decisions.

Number thirteen is the Sea Monster Game, again from the BBC. It takes you to ancient seas to meet predators from the past. It’s a little complicated, but Intermediate English Language Learners should be able to have some fun and learn while playing it.

Number twelve is Sim Sweatshop, where the player simulates being a worker in an overseas sweatshop producing sneakers for the American consumer. This game, as some others I’ve posted about, fall into the category of “simulations.” These are basically role-playing games. It’s a good language-development activity and also an excellent tool to help teach about economics and justice.

Number eleven is Questionaut, an online video game from the BBC where players have to answer questions related to English, Science and Math. As you answer the questions correctly, a little “questionaut” in a balloon gets to continue on his journey.

Number ten is Time Pirates, an extraordinarily ambitious interactive game-site designed to help students learn about the history of London from 2,000 years ago to now.

Number nine is iCue. It’s a collaboration between NBC and MIT. There’s a lot to the site. It’s basically an extremely interactive way to learn about the news (and has a new U.S. History component), but that’s an understatement. It’s designed for students thirteen years-old and above. You can play games, watch videos (which all have very easy and simultaneous access to its transcript at the same time — great for English Language Learners and, in my experience, unusual on the web), save student work, and a ton of other activities. You have to register, but it’s free and easy to do so.

Number eight is the Life or Death Game , which comes from the Discovery Channel. In it, your helicopter has crashed into the jungle, and you experience lots of danger. At each crisis point, you have to choose between two or more options. It’s sort of a “Choose Your Own Adventure” game.

Number seven is Free Poverty, an online geography game. It’s similar to the popular Free Rice vocabulary game that donates money to purchase rice for distribution by the United Nations. In Free Poverty, though, money to distribute water is supposedly distributed to Third World countries for every correct answer. I say supposedly just because I haven’t seen any third party corroboration that monies are actually distributed. But I still like the game itself, which is similar to the very well-done and popular Travelpod geography games. Both Free Rice and Travelpod made some of my “The Best…” lists from last year.

Number six is Tutpup, a new site where students can compete in math or spelling games against other students from around the world anonymously — either with a made-up name or no name at all.There are a number of sites where users can compete in learning games like these. The problem I’ve had with them is that there is no way to “level the playing the field.” In other words, an English Language Learner might be playing against a native-English speaker. A situation like that does not create much encouragement for an ELLer if they are going to lose all the time. However, the key difference between Tutpup and these other sites is that Tutpup has multiple levels of play to choose from going from extremely easy to extremely hard. This ability to choose your level helps a lot.Plus, there’s some sort of teacher’s option that allows students to sign-up in a class.

Number five is a National Geographic interactive exercise where the “player” operates a robot to remotely Explore A Pyramid. My students, and grandchildren, love it.

Number four is a wonderful new learning game called Gut Instinct. It’s from the BBC. It has questions divided into three categories — English, Math and Science, and is accessible to Intermediate English Language Learners, and maybe even Early Intermediates. But the exciting feature of the game is that students can super-easily create their own virtual “rooms” for between two-and-thirty people where they can compete with their peers. All they have to do is all type in the name of their room (or “league”), choose their avatar and nickname, and the game begins.

Number three is Photo Munchr (their spelling, not mine). It’s a Pac-Man-type word game. It shows a word and a bunch of different photos. If you “munch” on the seven photos that correctly illustrate the word, you advance to the next level. It’s a fun way for English Language Learners to build and reinforce vocabulary.

Number two is an excellent new site called Spelling City . You can use sample lists on the site, or you can develop your own lists of words to learn. The site will convert the lists into different stages — learn, play, test. It provides audio support as well as text. One of the exceptional features of the site is that it teaches the words in the context of an audio sentence instead of in isolation. I’m continually amazed at technology — the site came up with appropriate sentences for all the words on the list I came up with.

And now, my choice as the number one online learning game in 2008 is….

Play The News . It’s a new, and continually updated, series of role-playing games about current events. Each game highlights a different news event — the Olympics, elections, etc. A short accessible video is shown with background information. Players then decide, of the different key roles involved in the event, which one they want to be. After they choose, they pick from various options which action they think should be taken. They then see how many other players chose that and the other options. They then you choose which action they think will actually take place, and see the overall results there, too (it’s not as complicated as it sounds). In order to play, you have to register (for free), and an overall leaderboard keeps track of what percentage of the time your predictions were correct. It’s an excellent, and accessible, way for students to engage in current events.

(NOTE: Play The News just relaunched the platform in conjunction with University of Missouri’s Reynolds Journalism Institute. You register and play it here.)

Below you’ll see the poll. Remember, people can only vote once.

If you found this post useful, you might want to consider subscribing to this blog for free.

Author: Larry Ferlazzo

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


  1. Larry,

    As usual your list is excellent, I’m going to explore all of the games before voting, I ‘ve seen a couple and they are very good but not suitable for my real beginner students from school. This is one of the problems I always find, the level of my students is so low that it is difficult to find engaging things for them.
    Thanks for sharing and you will hear from me soon,


  2. Gabriela,

    Spelling City, Tutpup, and PhotoMunchr would work for very early beginners, I think.


  3. Larry ,

    WOW! You’ve outdone yourself and thanks for promoting this great type of student centric learning.

    I have my qualms about some (many?) of these and will write a blog post about why I think they “suck” as language learning sites. That said, I appreciate anyone who has the guts to go and make something/do something that helps students and language learners…

    As usual, well done.


  4. Hi, David,

    I’ll look forward to your post.

    My upcoming list on The Best Websites For English Language Learners — 2008 will be focused on online activities and games that I think are the very best for language learning.

    This list, though the criteria included that they were accessible to ELL’s, is for a broader audience and for covering broader content areas.


  5. Larry, nice list and very well thought out! Lots of good educational games here.

    Best regards,

  6. I teach English. SpellingCity is the best and most useful.

  7. Good Afternoon Larry,

    I have a question concerning Virtual Reality Development Labs. I went to a seminar a few months ago, and they had a company that was giving demos of their Virtual Reality in a educational setting, and I found it amazing. It was like I was really in this place being able to turn in all different directions as it described what I was looking at. They offered really good priced kits for teachers so they could do their own teaching environments and curriculum.

    My questions for you is, how are we able to get our schools to look into this type of teaching? I have a daughter that loves computers and technology, and if she had the means to learn this way I think it would be amazing. If I could have learned this way years ago I think I would have applied myself much more throughout the years.

    My second question is what is the difference between online learning games and Virtual Reality Education besides of course the realism factor?

    Amazed Mom,


  8. What a wonderful list! I can’t wait to check some of these games out.

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  10. Thx. for the list. I just came across your blog and although I do not teach ESL, I do teach senior history. Good job Larry!

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