Part 2 of Oscar Recio Coll’s Why Board Games? Oscar is a school teacher in Asturias (a region in northwest Spain) where he uses board games in his teaching of English as a foreign language.  

Why Board Games? – Part Two 

by Oscar Recio Coll

Note: If you haven’t read Oscar’s Part One of Why Board Games? you can find it by clicking here


Imagine a boy from Spain, a 12-year-old kid discovering the Gabriel Knight and Monkey Island video games, Dungeons & Dragons, The Call of Cthulhu, Space Hulk, Warhammer fantasy roleplay and many more… He needed a foreign language to play…what he did? Learn. That was the only way to experience what the others were “living.” His older brother played those games and they were exciting, he was there when his brother played with his friends, listened to the people playing when using the vocabulary of the games and read the rulebooks when his brother was not at home…oh yes, …he learned…because he wanted to play…and yes, that kid was me. And changed my experience when foreign language was a subject at school…

So now picture a classroom and bringing a game they have never seen before…if you can make your group interested to play THAT game, you’ll see how much the dynamics of learning vocabulary or anything the game is asking for will be appearing. They´ll become more and more engaged and also you can present more formal contents and make them aware of how their playing sessions are having an impact on the way they are improving on the “traditional” FL learning sessions. The transference of knowledge and the way their communicative skills are getting better could make them feel motivated to face new “challenges” both formal and informal. Feedback becomes the source of information as the sessions are used as teaching tools and it’s the way to make the adaptations or redesigning the approach used to make the game a path for learning a certain content. The context and background are telling you what to do. The way the group reacts to how you presented the game, the content you are trying to work through playing and how fast they are able to “play” without your guidance is evidence of the individual and group capability to absorb the required information to actually play that game. Social interaction plays a vital role too, the previous experiences and knowledge are used to take profit of the new situation.

As I mentioned before: as you play the amount of vocabulary and communicative structures are growing and growing, reinforcing the previously learned and setting the foundations of a better and more efficient way to address communication. From time to time a session of “serious” feedback is needed because is easy, really easy, to lose control of a game-based-session if you are not careful.

Games, at least the way I use them to teach, are always presented with the content to be learned…well, maybe not at the time I’m presenting the game, but for sure at the time I’ll be presenting the “formal” content hidden within the using of that game. Awareness of the “layers” a game has is something essential for me.

Kids, when exposed to those “layers”, could understand how games are powerful…c’mon…just remember Season 1 of Stranger Things and remember how they used strategy learned when they played D&D and how they transferred a fictional background and decisions made to real life situation…Ok…I know…it’s fiction…but you know what I’m talking about, right? Companies, the Army, banks, and scientists use the same process when planning how to address a probably future problem or stress situation: is called simulation.

Oh, wait a minute…so…they are “playing” but without a board game…. They suddenly have a challenge to face, within a safe context, using a mistake-friendly environment as a way to improve, using a background they know, with skills they are practicing and with the goal to better face a future real situation…aha…Can you see what I’m talking about?
I need to make my students aware of how a game is an excellent opportunity and tool to learn…my students “lived” the adventures of Guybrush Threepwood and became masters of “Insult Swordfighting” defeating Carla and LeChuck, barely survived the Horror on the Orient Express campaign for The Call of Cthulhu roleplaying games while visiting Europe and learning how the world changed from 1923 to the present age, sailed the seas of Thea playing the 7th Sea RPG and explored the Pirate way of living, escaped from Atlantis island and learned geography, learned European political geography with The Fury of Dracula, became detectives with Awkward Guests, explored the Third Horizon with Coriolis and thought about what means to start a living far from home, will deal with the evil plans of the Nemesis Society on the Rise of Moloch, the dungeons of Dark Souls: The Board Game, survive the exploring of Forbidden Island, built cities and learnt about politics with Carcassone and Catan; feeling what means to be a part of a pack through Werewolf: the Apocalypse RPG and being aware of how our planet is suffering and how having a “tribe” or family is important, changing the History of middle ages becoming a vampire in the Dark Ages…and many more projects I have adapted or I’m adapting for Primary and Secondary stage…

One of the last challenges was using a fantastic game I found thanks to Kickstarter and that made me “fell in love” with the potential it had to be used at school and especially in my foreign language class.

The game was Haunt the House.

I could use it to teach vocabulary: my 1st graders: colors, shapes, the difference between Big and Small, emotions (scared, terrified, happy…), 2nd and 3rd grade for items, clothes, jobs…OMG, it was full of contents to work at school… 4th and 5th grades for rooms, describing people, using of grammar structures, verbs…and obviously, with 6th graders all that was mentioned before…and working on cultural aspects of a foreign language as traditions, its origins and impact because Halloween is present within the game in a way that playing the game could be part of the school calendar and the teaching activities prior to Halloween week, on Halloween and after it to make a review and even a reading-writing test…oh yes…my EVIL GRIN MODE was ON.

And even more: all those contents could be moved from one grade to another one with just one material such as a board game…well, yes…the only “bad thing” was I only bought one…and I really needed 3 of them…sniff, sniff…
2 weeks or so before Halloween I showed to my 4th-5th and 6th graders the box, told a few details, presented the different components and explained how to play…the “Booing” part of the game was their favorite!!!

I prepared a little handout as a “Speaking Reference Chart” to make them able to read a brief summary of the Set Up and how the Game Turn was scheduled…included a few structures they needed to use as the speaking requirements to interact with the game and that was all…

Excitement grew stronger as the days passed…the box was in class some days…when I “forgot” the game at home my students asked where it was…and that was how I made the atmosphere for using the game an ingredient to the teaching-learning experience…yuk, yuk, yuk…

The Halloween week arrived and we actually played the game: my students dressed as monsters playing a game in which they impersonate Ghosts…just imagine how fun it was!!! The game was played slowly in the beginning. The practicing of the vocabulary and the required grammar structures to interact with the games and players showed which gaps I needed to work on after the session. I was able to evaluate the Reading and Speaking skills, how Listening played an important role on the reactions of players to the dynamics the game is using and checking at the same time- how vocabulary and previous knowledge were used. All with only a board game.

Why use games? The answer is simple: Why not.


You can find a PDF download of the resources Oscar uses in his classroom for Haunt This House, by clicking here. Readers can also find Oscar on Twitter @OscarRecioColl.