Hidden object games and ELL learning

ELL students and others who struggle with reading issues feature an uphill battle for skill mastery that’s compounded by the social stigma and real-world functional problem that language deficits present. While they’re trying to learn from textbooks they’re also missing out on social interactions that a) could otherwise bootstrap their skills and b) put them at higher risk for bullying behavior.

Enter the hidden object game.

In hidden object games, players have two concomitant tasks. The overarching point of the game is to solve a specific mystery: rescue a companion, retrieve a MacGuffin, solve a missing persons case. And in order to solve the mystery, they search the game-world for useful items, mostly by drilling down into magnified portions of scenes and clicking or tapping on the visual representation of items from a list of words.

While you as the player can’t change which words are presented, in quite a few games you can change how frequently the game will give you hints or whether there are no hints at all.

Assessing a player’s skill improvement with any given hidden object game could be achieved via pre- and post-testing with a simple vocabulary matching sheet. Depending on the age and skill-level of the player, it could be: having to write the name of each object next to its picture; drawing lines from picture to vocabulary item; or asking the learner to write out a definition for each term.

The storytelling qualities of hidden object games lend themselves to content-based quizzes and written reports, where teachers could ask the students to summarize the story so far, or answer questions based on the locations they’ve already visited.

Additionally, because the player’s goal is to move through a landscape in a journey-like fashion, another assessment possibility would be to have the player create a map of where they’ve been, describing the landscape and a few sentences about each location.

Both the written reports and the map creation could be done formatively, so the teacher obtains an idea of how well the student is progressing as they play.

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