Wednesday, November 22, 2017

BreakoutEdu + ELLs = Language Growth

I'm always on the lookout for innovative new ways to engage students, support language growth, and develop students into learners and thinkers. I was recently introduced to BreakoutEdu and the use of breakout and escape games in the classroom, and I think this can be a hugely beneficial tool for instructing our ELLs.

Back in October, I attended the Google Innovator Academy in Stockholm, Sweden (you can read about that here). Before I left for Stockholm, I received a BreakoutEdu Kit from the Innovator Program. We were supposed to create a short breakout game about our experience as educators for our fellow innovators to play when we all arrived at the academy.

Breakout games are great in the classroom for many reasons, but chiefly they develop several important skills (more on this later):

  • Collaboration
  • Communication
  • Problem Solving
  • Perseverence
  • Growth Mindset

I immediately began wondering how I could apply this to what I do, and how we can leverage it for our ELLs. As a coach, I do a lot of professional development, so that was a natural place to start. Before I even went to Stockholm, I ran my first game for teachers during one of my workshops. I've since used it quite a bit in professional development.

Next, I began to think about how we can use it to support language growth for our students. I think this tool has enormous potential for use with ELLs to develop important social AND academic language skills, on top of the key life lessons that are learned through participation. 

Before we dive into WHY this method is great for use with ELLs, let's explore the benefits in general. This awesome graphic from Sylvia Duckworth details 10 reasons for using Breakout with students.

So how does it benefit ELLs?
Well, first off which of the skills above wouldn't we want to develop in our ELLs? But most critically, this is a very effective way to combine the use of content skills/knowledge with authentic reasons for using the very academic and social language we want them to acquire. Additionally, it's highly engaging, easy to differentiate, and gets all students participating and practicing the focus skills. 

Communication and Collaboration
Breakout and escape games require students to work together with their peers, which helps to develop key collaboration and communication skills that will benefit students throughout life. More importantly, it provides an authentic avenue for our ELLs to practice both social language skills and academic language skills such as agreeing, disagreeing, explaining ideas/procedures/methods, and discussing their thinking with a group of peers. 

Academic Language Development
Since breakout games are typically centered around a content concept or skill, it also requires students to use key academic vocabulary and language structures. Again, the awesome part about breakout games is that they provide authentic situations and reasons for using that language as students explore information, look for clues, and solve puzzles. 

Perseverance and "Failing Forward"
One of the things I like best about breakout and escape games is that you don't always win- AND THAT'S OK. This is an important life lesson in general, but it also applies in a very important way to language learning. Language learning benefits from making errors and learning from them. When students encounter difficulties with communication, they have to reassess and find a new way to communicate their thoughts. This is reflected in breakout games. For example, when students try the wrong combo, they have to go back, reassess and try again. If they don't breakout, then the experience is a learning experience and can help future endeavors. Learning that failure is ok, and using it as a learning tool is such an important lesson for everyone, but especially for our ELLs. 

Don't miss my next post- I'll be discussing how you can scaffold language and differentiate games for ELLs at various proficiency levels. 

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