two young people playing videogames

We have recently published an article in which we advocated for the use of digital games in the online and remote classroom. This article provides practical ideas on how to use a selection of digital games for language learning purposes.


This website is full of short games that have great potential as conversation prompts and other forms of language practice. 


  • Space elevator. This game lets you take an elevator up to space, with milestones on what you would find at each altitude. One way to use it is to explain the concept of the game and have learners make predictions before playing. Let them play and make notes of the facts that catch their attention the most. Have an open exchange about it. As a follow up, you could invite them to propose items to add for the character to encounter while taking the elevator up. 
  • The Password Game. This game introduces a new rule your password must comply with each step. It can be tricky and annoying - like real world password creation! This game is an opportunity to discuss what makes a good password (an important part of staying safe online). You can have learners work in groups to try to come up with passwords that comply with the rules and speculate how to achieve them. Careful, though, it gets really complicated after a few rules! You will have to stop the game after a while and socialise the challenges they encountered and how they overcame them. This game would work best with teenagers and adults as it is rather complex for younger audiences.
  • Absurd Trolley Problems. This game introduces many original variations to the ethical Trolley Problem, the basic one being whether it is ok to sacrifice one person to save many. It is a great game to practise conditionals and to prompt discussions on what constitutes ethical decisions, how our subjectivities affect decision-making and to come up with other variations of the game.
  • Earth reviews. This fun ironic game has users imagine they’re avatars in the game of life on Earth, who are invited to leave reviews of all planetary aspects such as deserts, high fives, sneezing, with very amusing entries such as babies, described as Tiny humans that are still loading, for which you can find witty reviews such as ‘Babies should NOT have been added to the game. They cry all night so my avatar can't regenerate health and they are a pain to clean. Remove ASAP’. This game can be used as reading practice, as prompt for writing fun creative reviews, as follow up to discussions such as whether we live on a simulation, among many other language-rich activities.

2. Exploding kittens

This draw and discard board game basically consists of trying to avoid exploding while getting others to explode instead. For this, a number of cards that help prevent you from drawing a bomb exist. The game has been turned into an app which is free to access if you’ve got a Netflix subscription or paid for at the Google store. 

You can use the video that explains the rules as a comprehension task for intermediate and above learners. Lower level learners would need graded rules. Understanding and explaining these rules to other players can be a meaningful communicative activity.

Cards in this game have clever word play that will be especially enjoyed by cat lovers (e.g. a card that defuses the bomb gives catnip sandwiches to the cat in order to distract them). You can take advantage of them by exploiting their illustrations and their word play as well as using them as prompts to discuss cat behaviour and ownership. 

You can also take the opportunity to teach relevant vocabulary related to game playing (draw a card, miss a turn, pass, cheat, skip, etc.).

The ideas above do not require actually playing the game, although it would certainly be memorable if played after exploiting it in those ways.  If it is not possible for learners to access the game, you can share your screen and learners can give you instructions to guide your game playing, justifying the reasons for their suggested moves. If some or all learners have access, you can divide them into groups and either have them play against each other or have learners engage in guided play but in smaller groups. 

3. Werewolf

Werewolf is a social deduction game that can be easily adapted to play using video conference technology. Basically, there are two groups that compete to win, with differentiated roles: the team of werewolves and the villagers. If werewolves manage to kill the majority of villagers before they are caught, they win. If villagers catch them first, they do. There are two phases each round, night and day. During the night werewolves attack and other roles implement actions as well (e.g. the healer saves someone). During the day, the village has a meeting to discuss who to accuse of being a werewolf, the chosen one is sent to jail. In remote lessons, you will have to enable private messaging so you can let learners know what their role is, have werewolves discuss who to attack, and have other roles letting you know what their actions are. For the details of the game rules and how to play them through video conference, check out this link.

Rules of the game are complex and make for an engaging reading comprehension task. Learners could be given cards with explanations of the different roles and turn it into an information gap activity to understand them all. 

While it’s probably advisable for the teacher to be the moderator for the first couple of rounds, this role can then be assigned to a learner. Demonstrate how to moderate the game in order to exploit its narrative: give detailed accounts of what happened during the day and night, which will create opportunities to practise engaging storytelling, narrative tenses, sequencing, among others. 

Probably one of the most interesting moments for teaching purposes is the village discussion on who to accuse. Depending on your learners’ level, you may want to pre teach the necessary vocabulary for the discussion.  

For more advanced learners, you may want to play once, write down the language needs that have arisen, introduce that language and play again with the task of enriching and expanding the language used. 

4. Among us

While the fad has now largely faded, Among us is still an app game many players enjoy. For those who aren’t familiar with it, players (4-15) share a spaceship and are allocated a role: they are either a crew member or an imposter who has to sabotage them. Crew members need to complete tasks to ensure the correct functioning of the ship while imposters pretend to help but sabotage them and kill crew members. Any player can call a meeting if they find a dead body, in which they accuse someone of being the imposter. During the meeting, there is a discussion in the chat box and the most voted one is expelled from the game. If crew members find all imposters, they win. If imposters kill enough crew members to be an equal number to them, they win. In this sense, it's similar to Werewolf.

The game is played in a short period of time and it became quite popular during the pandemic, which will mean that probably many learners are familiar with it.

There are many ways to exploit this game in an online classroom. You can talk about it, ask learners whether they have played it, who they played with, what role they prefer.

For more advanced learners, spaceship and tasks vocabulary can be a fun lexis expansion activity. Less advanced learners will need to be pre taught spaceship places and actions.

Depending on the level, you might have to introduce the concept of imposter, sabotage and its relation with the game. 

Similarly to Werewolf above, the most interesting part for language learning is probably the discussion on who to vote for as imposter. While the app has a chat box intended for this discussion, in online classes, learners can play on their own devices but be instructed to have this discussion orally in open class. You can pre teach vocabulary to scaffold this discussion with elementary learners (I think it is… because…) while encouraging the use of complex language such as advanced conditionals with higher level learners (e.g. If I were the imposter, I would never kill my best friend). 

Game follow up such as imposters explaining their strategy and crew members their train of thought or how they felt when they were sabotaged or attacked (I was about to accuse you when you killed me!) is another meaningful activity. Another option is writing a description of what happened (spaceship tasks that were completed, crew members that were killed and by whom, how they speculated on who it might be and why or their imposter strategy).

Note: if it’s not possible for learners to access the game themselves (they would have to have downloaded it prior to the class and have more than one device to connect so they can be in the videoconference and the game at the same time), you can alternative connect yourself to play with players from around the globe and follow your learners’ instructions to decide on your actions or exploit any of the popular Youtube videos streamers have uploaded with interesting games.

5. Newsgames: September 12th

Within the so-called ‘serious games’, there is a type of game called Newsgame, which incorporates journalistic principles into the game play. September 12th is an example of this.

As the rules say ‘you can not win’, you have to try to kill terrorists without killing any innocents or homes. If you do, a civilian becomes a terrorist and so there’s more for you to kill. It’s a clear statement on the futility of the war on terrorism. 

This game can start conversations about opinions that are embedded in games, whether they are neutral, the subject of war on terrorism from a critical perspective, how videogames can be used to make statements, among others. This would all help develop critical digital literacy. Furthermore, you could invite learners to select a piece of news they feel would benefit from the kind of critical analysis and discussion this sort of game would sprout and have them propose new ones.

Other examples of newsgames can be found in the associated wikipedia entry. Make sure addressing this sort of controversial subjects is in agreement with institutional policies before introducing them, but they are certainly an interesting source of conversation.


This is only a small selection of an endless number of opportunities for learning that games can provide. Have you tried any of these? Are there any games you have used in class that have worked particularly well? Tell us all about it through our social media channels!