TESOL Connections

4 More Games Inspired by The 6 Principles

by Rita F. Naughton

These board games inspired by TESOL's 6 Principles create active learning, social stimulation, and playful language learning experiences. This second part of the two-part series includes games to help English learners work on their grammar, share about their culture, improve their vocabulary, and explore complex humanities questions. 

Now that the school year has begun and students and teachers alike are falling into a comfortable routine, it is a good time to reinforce game-based learning through board games inspired by The 6 Principles for Exemplary Teaching of English Learners®.

This article is a continuance of “5 Games Inspired by the 6 Principles.” It presents four more skill-focused board games that provide the advantageous outcomes of well-designed board games, which

serve to organize information in a conceptual framework and to make it concrete. They provide analogies and metaphors to link new information. When played in teams, members learn together; no one ever feels singled out for not knowing an answer. (Treher, 2011, p. 4).

Not only do these four new board games target the aforementioned learning experiences, they also were designed and administered to fully address TESOL’s 6 Principles: “a core set of principles that should undergird any program of English language instruction” that are “universal and establish the foundation for exemplary teaching of English learners” (TESOL, 2018, p. 2).

TESOL’s 6 Principles

Principle 1. Know your learners

Principle 2. Create conditions for language learning

Principle 3. Design high-quality lessons for language development

Principle 4. Adapt lesson delivery as needed

Principle 5. Monitor and assess student language development

Principle 6. Engage and collaborate within a community of practice

The following four “wheel” games facilitate exposure and practice in grammar, culture, vocabulary, and question skills. Each one of them is inspired by The 6 Principles and promotes game-based education, which “provides learners with an experience, as well as a chance to reflect on that experience and draw knowledge, build new attitudes, skills or ways of thinking based on it” (Boghian et al., 2019, p. 55).

1. Grammar Wheel

This game is an information gap activity in which the students need to provide the missing grammatical element to a set of sentences.


  1. Prepare five numbered sets of cards placed in five different piles in the shape of a circle. In each pile, there will be a command card indicting the task to complete:

    1. Add the missing verb in the sentence (Example: The rain _____ continue until this evening. Do you _____ an umbrella?)

    2. Add the missing noun in the sentence (Example: I have been to Japan five ________.)

    3. Correct the verb error in the sentence (Example: Maria must takes her vitamins every day.)

    4. Correct the noun in the sentence (Example: Don’t forget to do all your homeworks.)

    5. Transform the statement into a question (Example: Josh is working in the office today.)

  1. Students work in groups of two to four. Each team will receive a grammar wheel “number” spinner and the five sets of cards. Provide paper and pencil for cards that require writing down the answer for clarification.

  2. Each team decides which player goes first. The first player spins the wheel and waits for the arrow to land on a number. The number the arrow lands on indicates the card group.

  3. The student player selects the top card from that pile, reads the card, and provides the missing information. The team checks the answer and you verify.

  4. If the answer is correct, the student keeps the card. If the answer is incorrect, the card goes on a separate “finished” pile. The game continues until all the cards are read.

  5. The team with the most cards is the winner.

How Does Grammar Wheel Address The 6 Principles?

  • Principle 1: This game allows for the gathering of linguistic, educational, and personal information to better know your learners.
  • Principle 2: It creates a welcoming environment for language learning and acclimates the learners in a new learning environment. This game is an ideal icebreaker.

  • Principle 3: This grammar bingo game communicates learning objectives and integrates language learning and content to further language development.

  • Principle 4: This game is versatile; it can be adapted to fit many grammatical structures and learners’ proficiency levels.

  • Principle 5: This game facilitates the monitoring and assessing of the language progress. The teacher can note errors and provide appropriate feedback.

2. Culture Wheel Game

This game targets cultural awareness and sensitivity while at the same time presenting the opportunity to practice listening, speaking, reading, and writing. The wheel is accessed online (wheeldecide.com) and is dependent upon each player having a cultural item to share and explain.


  1. This online game involves forming groups of three to six students. The categories on the wheel are as follows, but feel free to add more categories if you think they will help you get to know your students:

Description (5 min.)
History (5 min.)
Personal meaning (5 min.)
Cultural Significance (5 min.)

  1. Spin the online wheel (see Figure 1), which is projected on a monitor/screen for all students to see; then have a student read the category it lands on.

Figure 1. Online wheel spinner. (From wheeldecide.com.)

  1. One at a time, in their small groups, students relate the category on the wheel to their cultural item, explaining their item clearly and descriptively to their group members. Each turn should take about a minute, but give students up to 5 minutes if they need more time.

  2. The game continues until all the group members have had a chance to share their cultural items.

  3. A possible follow-up activity is to have the students write a descriptive essay about the sharing of the cultural item.

How Does the Culture Wheel Game Address The 6 Principles?

  • Principle 1: This game allows the teacher to learn about students’ cultures and cultural practices.

  • Principle 2: This game allows for cultural learning and creating an environment of trust and rapport for language learning.

  • Principle 3: The culture wheel can be used with other terms and as an ice breaker, review, or a culminating activity for a unit.

3. Vocabulary Game Wheel

This game targets five different ways to learn vocabulary words.


  1. Form groups of two to three students. Each group receives a vocabulary wheel (see Figure 2) and a list of their vocabulary words. You can make a vocabulary wheel by using the SmartArt “cycle” graphic on Microsoft Word. Following are the vocabulary commands:

    • Name the part of speech of the word.
    • Use the word in a complete sentence.
    • Explain when and where you would use this word.
    • Ask a question using this word.
    • Describe the word using synonyms.

Figure 2. Vocabulary wheel.

  1. Students take turns spinning the vocabulary wheel.

  2. Using the vocabulary list, students will take a vocabulary word and complete the command indicated on the wheel once the arrow stops spinning. If the arrow falls in the middle of a command, the students are to follow the command on the right.

  3. Students are to record their answers. Check the answers at the end of the game. The student with the most correct and appropriate responses wins

  4. The game will continue until there are no more vocabulary words on the list.

How Does the Vocabulary Wheel Address The 6 Principles?

  • Principle 2: The vocabulary wheel gives student the opportunity to have fun exploring multiple facets of vocabulary words.

  • Principle 3: This game lends itself to writing and reading activities in which the students use the vocabulary words to further their language development.

  • Principle 5: The vocabulary wheel game allows both students and teacher to monitor and assess vocabulary knowledge.

4. Question Wheel

This wheel game is created to fit the content of a humanities course. Its purpose is to explore complex questions. The wheel used in this example (Figure 3) featured questions on war and peace:

  • Does war have any positive consequences for mankind?
  • Do you think women should be soldiers?
  • Should military service be mandatory?
  • Should all citizens be required to vote?

Figure 3. War and peace debate topics questions wheel. 


  1. Give each group of three to four students a question wheel featuring four debatable questions, as well as a sheet of paper with six columns:

    1. Question
    2. Yes
    3. No
    4. Reason 1
    5. Reason 2
    6. Reason 3
  1. Students take turns spinning the wheel. When the arrow on the wheel stops at a question, the student reads the question aloud and then finds the question on the question sheet.

  2. The students in the group then each determine whether they agree with the question (Yes) or disagree with the question (No), write the reasons on their sheet of paper, and share aloud with their group members. They each discuss their reasons, and answers can be changed depending on the discussion information.

  3. Game continues until all the questions have been answered.

How Does Question Wheel Address The 6 Principles?

  • Principle 1: Through this game, the teacher learns about their students’ personal beliefs and opinions regarding important topics.

  • Principle 2: This game gives students a chance to play a game that deals with critical thinking questions in an engaging way.

  • Principle 3: This game is an appropriate prewriting activity for a writing assignment, and students show how they can justify their opinions with support and conviction, sourcing their prior knowledge and beliefs.


These 6 Principle–inspired wheel games foster language learning and development. They follow the model of a well-designed board game, which according to Cassie (2018) can be “particularly effective at keeping reluctant learners engaged because they keep the learner close to but not over their threshold of capacity” (para. 13). Additionally, they are true to The 6 Principles in promoting exemplary teaching through knowledge, innovation, design, adaptation, monitoring, and engagement.


Boghian I., Cojocariu, V.-M., Popescu, C. V., & Mâţӑ, L. (2019). Game-based learning. Using board games in adult education. Journal of Educational Sciences & Psychology, 9(1), 51–57.http://jesp.upg-ploiesti.ro/index.php?option=com_phocadownload&view=file&id=516:gamebased-learning-using-board-games-in-adult-education&Itemid=16

Cassie, J. (2018, February). Playing games with formative assessment.Educational Leadership, 75(5), 58–63.

TESOL International Association (TESOL). (2018). The 6 principles for exemplary teaching of English learners: Grades K–12.

Treher, E. N. (2011).Learning with board games: Tools for learning and retention. The Learning Key.

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Rita Naughton teaches as an associate professor in the Intensive English, Undergraduate Bridge and Master TESOL Program at Southern New Hampshire University. Her scholarly interests include academic research writing, metacognitive learning strategies, ESL writing workshop programs, and assessment and evaluation practices, as well as incorporating learning games for motivation and success in the English language classroom.


Advocate for Adult Literacy and Celebrate Books in September

by Deborah Kennedy

In September, celebrate books, reading, and literacy by taking part in International Literacy Day and National Adult Education and Family Literacy Week, two important observances in the United States. Learn about opportunities for learner-centered activities and projects for your adult language learners. 

Literacy is a key lever of change and a practical tool of empowerment on each of the three main pillars of sustainable development: economic development, social development and environmental protection.…As the foundation of learning throughout life, literacy is at the heart of sustainable development.

Kofi Annan, then Secretary-General of the United Nations, included those words in his 2005 Message for International Literacy Day (United Nations), and they still ring true in 2021. September is an important month for adult literacy advocacy because it features both International Literacy Day (ILD) and National Adult Education and Family Literacy (AEFL) Week.

International Literacy Day

International Literacy Day is observed on 8 September each year as a way of raising and maintaining support for the foundational skills that underlie full participation in community life. The theme for ILD 2021 is “Literacy for a human-centered recovery: Narrowing the digital divide.” In choosing this theme, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) writes:

The COVID-19 crisis has disrupted the learning of children, young people and adults at an unprecedented scale. It has also magnified the pre-existing inequalities in access to meaningful literacy learning opportunities, disproportionally affecting 773 million non-literate young people and adults. Youth and adult literacy were absent in many initial national response plans, while numerous literacy programs have been forced to halt their usual modes of operation.

Even in the times of global crisis, efforts have been made to find alternative ways to ensure the continuity of learning, including distance learning, often in combination with in-person learning. Access to literacy learning opportunities, however, has not been evenly distributed. The rapid shift to distance learning also highlighted the persistent digital divide in terms of connectivity, infrastructure, and the ability to engage with technology, as well as disparities in other services such as access to electricity, which has limited learning options.

The pandemic, however, was a reminder of the critical importance of literacy. Beyond its intrinsic importance as part of the right to education, literacy empowers individuals and improves their lives by expanding their capabilities to choose a kind of life they can value. It is also a driver for sustainable development. Literacy is an integral part of education and lifelong learning premised on humanism as defined by the Sustainable Development Goal 4. Literacy, therefore, is central to a human-centered recovery from the COVID-19 crisis.

ILD 2021 will explore how literacy can contribute to building a solid foundation for a human-centered recovery, with a special focus on the interplay of literacy and digital skills required by non-literate youth and adults. It will also explore what makes technology-enabled literacy learning inclusive and meaningful to leave no one behind. By doing so, ILD2021 will be an opportunity to reimagine future literacy teaching and learning, within and beyond the context of the pandemic.

Adult Education and Family Literacy Week

In the United States, the major event centered on adult literacy advocacy is National Adult Education and Family Literacy Week, observed this year from 19–25 September. The National Coalition for Literacy (NCL) and its member organizations encourage students, teachers, and administrators in adult basic education and English language programs nationwide to contact decision makers at local, state, and national levels during AEFL Week to raise awareness of the transformational power of adult education and to advocate for policies that support it.

AEFL Week originated in 2009 when the NCL worked with then-Congressman Jared Polis (D-CO), then-Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN), and Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) to create a Congressionally-recognized designation that would draw attention to the importance of adult education and family literacy. Since then, NCL has sponsored National AEFL Week in September each year on behalf of its members and the adult education field as a whole, and has worked with members of Congress to have the week recognized through resolutions in the Senate and the House of Representatives.

Ways to Observe and Participate

Both ILD and AEFL Week provide great opportunities for learner-centered activities and projects. Here are some ideas:

  • Illustrate the importance of literacy. Have learners read or listen to level-appropriate materials about the importance of literacy and reading. Then have them work individually or in small groups to develop posters and presentations illustrating ways that literacy has been important in their own lives. Use Padlet or Lino for generating and sharing ideas or Piktochart for creating posters, or develop a class page on Instagram.

  • Explore literacy data. Use the U.S. Skills Map to explore literacy and numeracy data on your state or county with your learners.

  • Teach advocacy. Plan a visit to a local or state decision maker’s office to generate support for your adult education program. This could be the office of an area business as well as the mayor, city council, or state representative. Give adult learners plenty of support in developing their ideas, and allow time in class for practice, including strategies for what to do if you forget what you were going to say or don’t know the answer to a question. As an alternative, invite decision makers to visit your program and talk with your learners. Adult learners can be powerful advocates because of the personal perspectives on the value of adult education that they provide.

Use the resources in the TESOL Advocacy Action Center to learn about the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) and download the WIOA Resource Kit.

You can find more information and resources for ILD on the UNESCO website and on the World Literacy Foundation website.

You can find information on AEFL Week, including literacy quotes, links to maps and information about adult literacy in the United States, and links to resources from NCL member organizations on the NCL website.

National Book Festival

While you and your adult learners are engaged in advocacy in September, you can also celebrate books and reading with the Library of Congress National Book Festival, taking place on 17–26 September. The festival will be fully virtual and will feature a PBS special hosted by LeVar Burton and discussions with many of the nation’s best authors, poets, and illustrators. Visit the festival information site to learn how to participate in the festival experience.

As the Library of Congress says, “Open a book, open the world!”


United Nations. (2005). ‘Literacy is at the heart of sustainable development’, secretary-general says in Literacy Day message. Press release. https://www.un.org/press/en/2005/sgsm10065.doc.htm

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Deborah Kennedy is the executive director of the National Coalition for Literacy. To learn more about her work, visit key-words.us.


Embracing Multimodal Writing Tasks in ESOL Classes

by Qiandi Liu and Cyndriel Meimban
Understand the nature, benefits, required skills, and challenges in incorporating pedagogical multimodal writing tasks for ELs, and try these three tasks today. 

The past decade witnessed a rapid transition from print to digital communication. In print texts, meaning is conveyed through linguistic and visual means. In digital texts, meaning-making takes advantage of a hybridization of two or more of the five modes of representation: linguistic, visual, audio, gestural, and spatial (The New London Group, 1996). Multimodal texts are more engaging and effective, yet they present challenges to interpret and produce. With multimodal digital communication gaining increasing popularity, teachers are faced with the task of helping students develop multiliteracy for academic, professional, and social writing purposes.

Nonetheless, due to different educational backgrounds and familiarities with new communication technologies, not all teachers feel confident and comfortable in implementing multimodal writing tasks in their classes. Our goal in this article is to help teachers gain a deeper understanding of the nature, benefits, required skills, and challenges in incorporating pedagogical multimodal writing tasks in English language classrooms. We also demonstrate, through three examples, how to transform traditional text-based writing prompts into multimodal writing tasks.

Defining Pedagogical Multimodal Writing Tasks

Pedagogical multimodal writing is commonly defined as tasks requiring learners to create multimedia digital products that integrate a variety of semiotic resources (Balaman, 2018). We argue that this definition is limited because it focuses exclusively on the productive end and overlooks the receptive dimension of such tasks. When students are asked to produce multimodal texts, they are typically provided with multimodal prompts. Interpreting and synthesizing materials from multiple modes and sources constitutes a crucial step toward the completion of a multimodal writing assignment. We, therefore, propose an expanded definition that includes both the receptive (input) and productive (output) ends of pedagogical multimodal writing tasks.

Multimodal writing prompts can be a combination of

  • linguistic (written texts),

  • audio (e.g., songs, podcasts, audiobooks),

  • visual (e.g., photographs, comics, diagrams, figures), or

  • audiovisual (e.g., videos, videorecorded lectures, movies) input.

Multimodal output can take a variety of forms. It can be

  • visual (e.g., posters, brochures, storyboards, infographics, blogs, newsletters, graphic novels),

  • audio (e.g., voice recordings, podcasts, oral presentations), or

  • audiovisual (e.g., animation, book trailers, music videos, interactive stories, vlogs, and short films).

Benefits of Multimodal Writing Tasks

Compared with traditional writing assignments, multimodal writing tasks have several advantages. First, they are more authentic because they reflect the recent shift toward digital, multimodal communication in the world. Second, they accommodate the needs of different learner types (e.g., visual, aural, verbal, and kinesthetic). Third, they encourage deeper task engagement as learners must interact closely with multimodal information to gain a thorough understanding of an issue before they can discover new ideas or propose innovative solutions (Sadik, 2008). Finally, digital multimodal texts can be easily shared, reviewed by teachers and peers, and published online to reach a larger audience, which motivates learners to produce higher quality work (Yoon, 2012). Second language learners also develop linguistic competence (Balaman, 2018) and critical problem-solving skills (Yang & Wu, 2012) in the process.

Knowledge and Skills Required for Multimodal Writing Tasks

The design and development of multimodal texts are complex and demand an orchestration of multimodal literacy knowledge and skills, including the following:

  1. Rhetorical competence: Students should have rhetorical competence in analyzing a writing prompt so they can identify the intended audience and the purpose of writing.

  2. Multiliteracy skills: Students should understand how meaning is constructed through individual communication modes and how the hybridization of multiple modes synergistically conveys the intended information (Jewitt, 2009). Lacking such knowledge can lead to a superficial mixture of multiple modes that is detrimental rather than facilitative in reaching communicative goals.

  3. Technical skills: Students should know how to use word processing software (e.g., Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, and Publisher) to create printable posters, brochures, and newsletters. They should also be skillful in using online writing platforms (e.g., Google Docs, Edublogs, Wix, WordPress, and Google Sites) to create digital texts. Moreover, they should be able to create images and record audio and videos using smartphones or professional devices and software (e.g., Photobooth, Voice Recorder Pro). Additionally, basic skills in editing and formatting multimodal files are necessary for enhancing the overall effectiveness of communication.

Challenges in Multimodal Writing Tasks

Although the younger generations are known for being tech-savvy, they use electronic devices mainly for social purposes, including texting, social media, gaming, dating, and news (Kalogeropoulos, 2019). They generally lack the digital literacy skills required for academic tasks. Moreover, even though students are exposed to multimodal texts daily, they may not have acquired the essential knowledge and skills in creating them. It is teachers’ responsibility to help them develop such competence to successfully interpret and construct multimodal meaning. Through situated practice, students become “active designers” of social futures (The New London Group, 1996, p. 64).

Teachers play a vital role in multimodal writing projects. They must be familiar with how different communication modes create meaning, separately and in tandem with each other. In addition, they should be able to help students make informed decisions on choosing the most effective combination of modes in a specific communicative context. This necessitates proper training to help teachers gain expertise in these areas before they can impart such knowledge and skills to students.

In the following section, we demonstrate, through three examples, how teachers can easily transform traditional writing prompts into multimodal tasks.

Three Multimodal ESOL Writing Tasks

1. Silent Film

In this task, a short silent film (e.g., Disney Pixar’s Mouse for Sale) is used as the visual writing prompt. The video challenges students to utilize their imaginations and stretch their vocabulary reservoirs to write a story. Teachers may choose to highlight a specific grammar point (e.g., “write using simple present tense”) or writing skill (e.g., “use sensory descriptions”).

This prompt can be used for both young and adult English language learners. Young learners can be asked to script the film followed by a postwriting acting-it-out task. Adults can be required to complete a hybrid narrative-descriptive-summary writing that combines narrating the story with personal reflections on its meaning. Because the stimulus itself is wordless, the plot and characterization are open to numerous interpretations. There is no right or wrong answer as long as the student writer can use visual evidence from the film to support their writing. It is fascinating to see what themes different students take away from the silent film and explore in their writing.

2. Beyond-the-Essay Task

Traditional writing tasks offer a limited platform that fails to show students the impacts of writing beyond the immediate context of classrooms. Pedagogical writing tasks must not take place in a vacuum; instead, they should reflect multifaceted reality and make substantive connections to the larger stage in the real world. This Beyond-the-Essay task offers such an opportunity.

In this task, students are asked to produce a podcast or YouTube video that accompanies an essay assignment. In addition to submitting an argumentative essay in support of abolishing grades at school, students can be asked to create a YouTube video showing them interviewing students and teachers who agree and disagree with the essay’s argument.

The audiovisual production serves as the reinforcement of a student’s ideas in an essay and a synthesis of other perspectives. It can be easily uploaded on a student’s or the whole class’s YouTube channel to share with a larger audience. The fact that their videos can be viewed by anyone on the internet and commented on by critics and supporters alike is likely to incentivize students to be more engaged in the task and produce higher quality work.

3. Revising-Reflecting-Recording (3Rs)

Traditional process-oriented writing requires students to reflect on their writing, revise for content, and edit for accuracy. Occasionally, students are asked to write a companion piece to explain how they get from Point A (prewriting) to Z (printing/publishing). This metawriting activity comes in several forms (Ferris & Hedgcock, 2014), two of which are as follows:

  1. Explanative Letter: A short reflective memo or cover letter is attached to the final draft, explaining how the student writer chose to apply (or not) instructor and/or peer feedback.

  2. Editing Log: This log serves as an inventory of errors and corresponding corrections, further helping students notice patterns and avoid fossilization.

These tasks require students to write again about writing. With the writings alone, teachers can rarely tap into the thinking processes which prompt students to make certain decisions in revising.

An alternative is a 3Rs task, which requires students to record an audio reflection after completing a multidraft essay assignment. The recording serves the dual purpose of a “palate cleanser” (activating a different language domain—speaking) and a new angle to illuminate the nuances of individual writing processes. A single audio recording can be 1–2 minutes long. Students can be given a brainstorming worksheet to frame and deepen their reflection. The recordings can be used by instructors to analyze students’ revising processes, decisions, and strategies to give them better revision advice and guidance.

These tasks can be adapted for different learner groups or instructional contexts. We hope that this paper inspires English language teachers to transform conventional writing assignments into multimodal projects to better help students develop multimodal literacy skills.


Balaman, S. (2018). Digital storytelling: A multimodal narrative writing genre. Journal of Language and Linguistics Studies,14(3), 202–212.

Ferris, D. R., & Hedgcock, J. S. (2014). Teaching ESL composition. Purpose, process, and practice. Routledge.

Jewitt, C. (Ed.). (2009). The Routledge handbook of multimodal analysis. Routledge.

Kalogeropoulos, A. (2019). How younger generations consume news differently and the implications for mainstream media. Flamingo. https://reutersinstitute.politics.ox.ac.uk/sites/default/files/2021-02/FlamingoxREUTERS-Report-Full-KG-V28.pdf

The New London Group. (1996). A pedagogy of multiliteracies: Designing social features.Harvard Educational Review, 66(1), 60–93.

Sadik, A. (2008). Digital storytelling: A meaningful technology-integrated approach for engaged student learning. Educational Technology Research and Development, 56(4), 487–506.

Yang, Y. T. C., & Wu, W. C. I. (2012). Digital storytelling for enhancing student academic achievement, critical thinking, and learning motivation: A year-long experimental study. Computers & Education, 59, 339–352.

Yoon, T. (2012). Are you digitized? Ways to provide motivation for ELLs using digital storytelling.International Journal of Research Studies in Educational Technology, 2, 25–34.

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Qiandi Liu is currently an assistant professor of the Linguistics Program and the Department of English Language and Literature at the University of South Carolina. Her research expertise lies in second language writing, written corrective feedback in particular. Her teaching has focused on MA-TESOL certification courses and pedagogical grammar for secondary English language arts teachers.

Cyndriel Meimban is currently an academic specialist in the Academic Support Unit of the nonprofit organization Harlem Children’s Zone. Her work in the past 10 years has been centered on classroom instruction (in-person and online), curriculum design, and teacher training in the contexts of ESL/EFL in higher education and ELA in K–12.

Translanguaging in Bilingual and ESL Classrooms

by Ann Ebe, Mary Soto, Yvonne Freeman, and David Freeman
Learn about the current understandings and applications of translanguaging and how you can use it to benefit your learners. 

There is evidence of translanguaging all around us in every part of the world. Delicatessens advertise delicacies on signs in several languages, governments post announcements in languages most often spoken by citizens, and advertisers draw on the languages of their potential customers. Translanguaging is the typical way bilinguals use language as they communicate in their communities. García (2009) defines translanguaging as the “multiple discursive practices in which bilinguals engage in order to make sense of their bilingual worlds” (p. 45).

What Is Translanguaging?


Although bilinguals naturally use all the languages they have acquired outside school, in many schools they are limited to using just one language. Even in bilingual programs, bilinguals often are required to use only the target language when studying different subjects. Cummins (2007) argues that this strict separation of languages, which he terms “the two solitudes,” stems from a misconception that hinders both language acquisition and academic content development.

As García (2017) and others have explained, bilinguals have one complex linguistic system that has features of two or more languages that they refer to as a linguistic repertoire (García, Ibarra Johnson, & Seltzer, 2017). Students in bilingual and English as a second language (ESL) classrooms draw on their linguistic repertoires to communicate and to make sense of instruction. Teachers who incorporate translanguaging using all their students’ language resources support the acquisition of both language and content.

Concurrent Translation

Strategic use of translanguaging supports learning, but translanguaging is not concurrent translation. In concurrent translation, the teacher translates instruction into students’ home languages, an ineffective approach to teaching language. If teachers constantly translate, students only attend to the language that is easiest for them to understand. In contrast, translanguaging is the strategic use of the students’ home languages to help them understand instruction and acquire a new language.


Code-switching is a term that has been used to describe the use of two or more languages. This term is based on the idea that bilinguals have separate languages (or codes) and switch from one to another. In contrast, translanguaging views bilinguals as having one complex language system, and bilinguals draw on the features (phonemes, morphemes, syntactic structures, etc.) of all their languages as they communicate. Baker and Wright (2017) point out that “children [and adults] pragmatically use both their languages in order to maximize understanding and performance in any lesson” (p. 280). This use extends to adulthood as well.

Purposes of Translanguaging

When teachers use translanguaging strategically in ESL contexts, they allow their students to draw on the full range of their language resources to acquire English and develop academic content. In bilingual contexts, teachers affirm students’ bilingual identities, build metalinguistic understanding by comparing languages, and scaffold instruction by strategically drawing on students’ home languages while still systematically allocating a major portion of instructional time for each of the languages of instruction. In the following sections, we provide specific examples of using translanguaging strategies.

Translanguaging Examples

Using Translanguaging in the Classroom or Remotely

In an ESL or bilingual classroom, a teacher reads a story aloud to the class in English. Throughout the reading, the teacher has selected parts of the text for students to talk about with a partner. When the time comes for students to “turn and talk,” they are invited to share their thoughts in their home language or English with their paired same-home-language partner. Depending on the classroom context, students can then share back with the whole group in English or bilingually.

During remote learning, students could be invited to respond to the whole group in either their home language or in English, be put into virtual rooms to talk about the story with same-language partners, or write a response in the home language or English. Teachers who do not speak their students’ home languages can use Google Translate or other students to get the gist.

Whether learning in the classroom or virtually, there are opportunities to use students’ language resources to involve families. Students can retell and discuss a story with a family member in the home language. Cynthia, a teacher in New York City, read the bilingual book My Diary from Here to There by Amada Irma Pérez (2002) about a girl keeping a diary as her family travels from Mexico to their new home in the United States. The teacher invited her immigrant students to write a diary entry about their own journey to their new country or interview relatives. The entry could be in English, the home language, or a combination.

Translanguaging as a Literary Device

Many authors use translanguaging as a literary device. Translanguaging in a text can make it more authentic and culturally relevant for students. Texts with translanguaging can be used as a model for student writing. For example, an eighth-grade English language arts teacher had her multilingual students write New Year’s poems following the model of the New Year’s poem in the novel Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhhà Lại (2013). In the story, the author describes New Year in Vietnam using English and Vietnamese. The students wrote poems describing their own country’s New Year’s traditions using their home languages and English as a literary device in their poems.

Translanguaging in Science

Translanguaging can be planned in all subject areas to meet standards. Typically, standards can be met in any language. For example, during science time in one first-grade class, students read about and discussed plant growth in home language groups. They measured the plants they were growing and then recorded their findings in their plant growth journal in their home languages. They then discussed the findings in English and in their home languages in same-language groups.

They met the science standards because the standards did not specify that students were to “gather information using simple equipment such as non-standard measurement tools” and “communicate findings about simple investigations” in English. Translanguaging opportunities can be made available to students to meet learning standards wherever there are multilingual students, regardless of whether teachers are bilingual or speak their students’ home languages.

Using Translanguaging to Meet Language Arts Standards

When teaching English language arts to emergent bilinguals, teachers must meet rigorous standards and are often asked to do this using mandated curriculum designed for native English speakers. In order to provide equitable access to their students, teachers can create units of study that incorporate engaging activities and translanguaging into their language arts curriculum (Soto, Freeman, & Freeman, 2020).

As a final example of using translanguaging strategies, we describe how teachers can meet the challenge of teaching grade-level content in a unit focused on a topic that is often covered in the upper elementary grades: natural disasters.

In order to make any unit topic more engaging, teachers can help to promote inquiry by coming up with big questions to explore throughout the unit. Big questions for investigation in a Natural Disasters unit might be “What are the causes of natural disasters? or “How do people respond to natural disasters?”

To scaffold the content of inquiry-based units, teachers provide access for ESL and bilingual students by using translanguaging with a preview/view/review design:

  • Preview: Students first engage in preview activities in the home language or English that help them build background and key vocabulary.

  • View: Students participate in carefully scaffolded lessons in the target language.

  • Review: Review activities are designed to show what students have learned throughout the unit and can be done bilingually.

In the Natural Disasters unit, students begin the preview by working in same-language groups, looking at photos of several different types of natural disasters. In their groups they discuss questions, such as “Which are the most dangerous?” and “Why are they so dangerous?”

Once students discuss in groups, the teacher can lead students in completing a KW chart: What do we know about natural disasters? What do we want to know? In addition, the teacher can work with the students to create a bilingual or multilingual wall chart with an image of a natural disaster in the first column, the word in English in the second column, and the word in the students’ home languages in the third column (see Figure 1).

Figure 1. Multilingual word wall for natural disasters. (Click here to enlarge.) From the companion website for Equitable Access for English Learners, Grades K-6: Strategies and Units for Differentiating Your Language Arts Curriculum, by M. Soto, D. E. Freeman, and Y. S. Freeman, 2020. Copyright 2020 by Corwin. https://resources.corwin.com/equitableaccessk6/student-resources/chapter-5

During the view portion of the unit, students read a variety of historical fiction and fiction stories, such as the I Survived series by Tarshis and Dawson, as well as texts from the language arts textbook. As they read, the teacher provides a graphic organizer where students can summarize main events and make predictions about whether the events and characters are fact or fiction. These graphic organizers can be completed in the student’s home language or in English. After reading, students can do research to find out if their predictions were correct.

At the end of the unit, as a review activity, students can pick a natural disaster that they find especially interesting and do research about the specifics of that event. They can use the information they gather to create their own historical fiction story. In order to incorporate translanguaging, students can be encouraged to do research and brainstorm ideas in their home language and in English. They can also work in same-language groups to write and edit their stories. Then, they can type up their stories and share them with classmates. Using the preview/engage/review approach enables teachers to make mandated English language arts content accessible to our emergent bilingual students.

Translanguaging in the Classroom

Translanguaging is a term to describe the language practices of emergent bilinguals. These students have a single linguistic repertoire with features of two or more named languages, such as English and Spanish or Mandarin. When teachers use translanguaging strategies, such as the ones we have described in this article, in a planned and strategic way, they draw on all the language resources their students bring to the classroom. The strategic use of translanguaging promotes students’ bilingual identities and helps them develop both academic language and academic content knowledge.


Baker, C., & Wright, W. (2017). Foundations of bilingual education and bilingualism (6th ed.). Multilingual Matters.

Cummins, J. (2007). Rethinking monolingual instructional strategies in multilingual classrooms. Canadian Journal of Applied Linguistics, 10(2), 221–240.

García, O. (2009). Bilingual education in the 21st century: A global perspective. Wiley-Blackwell.

García, O., Ibarra Johnson, S., & Seltzer, K. (2017). The translanguaging classroom: Leveraging student bilingualism for learning. Caslon.

Soto, M., Freeman, D. E., & Freeman, Y. S. (2020). Equitable access for English learners: Strategies and units for differentiating your language arts curriculum. Corwin.

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Ann Ebe is an associate professor and coordinator of the Childhood Education program at Hunter College in New York City. Previously, Dr. Ebe served as their director of bilingual education and has worked in schools as a bilingual teacher, reading specialist, and school administrator in the United States, Hong Kong, and Mexico. Her latest book, written with Drs. Freeman and Soto, is ESL Teaching: Principles for Success.

Mary Soto, a veteran secondary teacher of emergent bilinguals and an associate professor in the Teacher Education Department at California State University East Bay, now prepares teacher candidates and master’s students to work with diverse learners. She is coauthor of ESL Teaching: Principles for Success (Heinemann, 2016) and Between Worlds: Second Language Acquisition in Changing Times (Heinemann, 2021), and first author of Equitable Access for English Learners (Corwin, 2020).

Yvonne Freeman and David Freeman are professors emeriti at The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. Both are interested in effective education for emergent bilinguals. They present regularly at international, national, and state conferences. They have worked extensively in schools in the United States and abroad. The Freemans have authored books, articles, and book chapters jointly and separately on the topics of second language teaching, biliteracy, bilingual education, linguistics, and second language acquisition.


Up Your Game: Engage Your Learners With Minecraft

by Vance Stevens
Minecraft offers a virtual word full of opportunities for educators to create fun, community-based, inquiry-based, communicative activities for English learners. 

Student engagement has become a serious challenge for teachers in online environments. One challenge in teaching any syllabus is where to depart from it and address the whole student—that is, identify activities that are intrinsically interesting, motivate students to want to stay on task, and apply critical thinking and problem-solving skills while practicing listening, speaking, reading, and writing communicatively, and link that back to a curriculum. The challenge becomes more acute when classes are being conducted virtually.

Teachers in such contexts are finding ways to connect synchronously with one another to share activities that will address this conundrum. To counter “Zoom fatigue,” teachers might introduce an element of virtual worlds for variety in how they teach in synchronous online environments. I have been working for the past 7 years with a group of teachers who have been learning about and developing their skills in Minecraft as one approach to the problem of finding compelling virtual spaces for materials and language development. Our focus has been on bringing each other up to speed with the game and in so doing extrapolate to how we can use it with students.

We started with exposure to how other teachers were building spaces in Minecraft for student language development, and seeing that this would be worthwhile for our students, we had to become familiar with the game itself in order to adapt it to our purposes.

Minecraft is couched in a participatory culture that elicits communication among participants. Success in developing language skills through Minecraft derives from incentives to unlock its depth and opportunities for creativity and sharing insights with others in the learning community. There are many communities of learners and teachers who utilize Minecraft as a substrate to their learning goals (Smolčec, Smolčec, & Stevens, 2014).

Our Minecraft professional community came together through association with the TESOL Computer-Assisted Language Learning Interest Section project Electronic Village Online (EVO). EVO has just celebrated its 20th anniversary as a viable and productive community of practice (CoP) where teachers learn from one another in online workshops covering a range of topics for 5 weeks preceding each annual TESOL convention. Teachers volunteer to organize sessions where anyone can participate for free, whether they are TESOL members or not. The EVO Minecraft MOOC sessions started in 2015 and have just completed their 7th iteration as an annual EVO session.

Why Use Minecraft for Language Learning?

Minecraft is a deeply structured, open-ended, and creative game. Developed in 2009, it was soon discovered by educators who found that the problem-solving and critical thinking features inherent in the game appealed to students and teachers alike and might be beneficial if ported into their learning contexts. Furthermore, the participatory culture surrounding the game was ripe with opportunities for creativity and developing skills in multimedia communication, frequently in second languages.

Kuhn and Stevens (2017) show how use of virtual worlds such as Minecraft can leverage players’ keen desire to communicate with each other what they are learning about their domain, their interest in Minecraft, and how this can further their language learning and teaching objectives. Whether the participants are students or teachers, they are learning new ways of self-directed and autonomous learning through playing a game that can be used in a wide range of pedagogical contexts.

Our CoP has identified many affordances of Minecraft for language learning. For example, Minecraft is

  • Fun: Minecraft is inherently gamified to attract play, increasing time-on-task for language learning.

  • Creative: Unlike games that limit what players can do in the game, each player in Minecraft is by default a builder, free to structure their world at will.

  • Game based: Minecraft can be modified by teachers to create customized learning environments directed at promoting concepts in the curriculum.

  • Community based: Minecraft has an extensive range of networks and resources in almost any medium, easily discoverable using Google or YouTube searches online.

  • Communicative: Minecraft encourages communication, including student narratives, multimedia productions, conversations with teachers and peers, and eTwinning (learning in partnership with students in other settings, often for the purpose of developing skills in each other’s languages).

  • Inquiry based: Minecraft encourages research using Google and YouTube, acting on such reading and listening, and communicating discoveries to others.

Learning to Use Minecraft With Students

The community aspect is critical for giving participants purpose for being in-game, for learning its intricacies, and for allowing a sense of success through rapid improvement in one’s target skills as practiced under the apprenticeship of others. Minecraft is not a game that can be fully appreciated while playing in isolation. However, educators needing to preserve kid-safe environments rarely encourage the participation of other adults. So, we brought the CoP approach to bear on a solution when we invited teaching peers facing this common hurdle to join us in EVO Minecraft MOOC.

As our CoP grew, we found we had a wide range of expertise. Many of our participants were already knowledgeable in the game and willing to help scaffold others. There were even people there who would set up a server for us and keep it running for the past 7 years. By now, EVO Minecraft MOOC has become a viable CoP couched in a complex ecosystem based in numerous social networks, including Facebook, Discord for voice and discussion, and the game itself (Stevens, 2019).

Examples of Use With Language Learners

Choosing an Edition Compatible With Your Platform

Before using Minecraft, teachers need to choose an edition compatible with the platform students will be using. The classic Java edition, which costs less than US$30, is the most flexible option because it provides unlimited play and download of software on a theoretically unlimited number of devices. Schools can purchase the Minecraft Education Edition for an annual license of US$5 per workstation, allowing multiplayer through the school’s network. There are also hosted solutions, for example Minecraft Realms, where for US$8 a month you can host up to 10 players at a time in either Java (for PC, Mac, or Linux) or Bedrock (not compatible with Java).

Example of an educational resource pack suitable for STEM; hence CLIL; hence language learning. (Posted June 29, 2021 at www.facebook.com/playcraftlearn. Available on the Minecraft Education Edition website.)

Directing the Process

Once your students are in Minecraft, there is the question of who directs the process. The students can show the teacher what they know as a focus of language communication. A presenter at an ISTE Conference in Philadelphia said she observed her students playing Minecraft during breaks between classes, and they suggested they play Minecraft during class time. She would agree only if it supported her curriculum, so the students worked with her to propose and document activities that she could use to justify to her administrators how that could be done, which launched a unique learning experience for both students and teacher.

Exploiting Opportunities for Learning

Teachers learning from students is a powerful motivator in support of authentic opportunities for meaningful communication, but the more teachers learn about Minecraft, the more they are able to set up environments where learning can be directed. For example, they can exploit the presence of hidden temples that occur in game, or construct their own builds to facilitate lessons on civilizations and archaeology. Moderators of EVO Minecraft MOOC have also shown us resource packs that relate to timely topics, such as a Mars lander introduced to coincide with the 2020 NASA Mars mission.

Post by Surajmukhi to the EVO Minecraft Discord channel in the Partyplanners-Text-Chat discussion.

The Virginia Society of Technology in Education (VSTE) is another robust CoP where teachers meet monthly to show each other how to tweak the game, often having students demonstrate how they use the game to meet learning objectives. Students have created phenomenal builds, such as mockups of NASA space rockets complete with finely detailed interiors, as well as a haunting mockup of a WWII concentration camp.

The two following screen shots were made on a tour hosted by VSTE at one of their regularly scheduled Minecraft Mondays, where they often meet with student East Coast Miners to showcase their projects. (Find these and other projects by East Coast Miners described in greater detail at learning2gether.net.)

This build shows the several rockets replicated in fine-scaled interior and exterior detail by one of the students.

This build overviews an interactive reproduction of a Nazi concentration camp rendered by a student to create a perspective of how one might have experienced life there.

The potential for communicating processes derives from the complexity of objects that occur in game; for example, the ocean biomes present challenges for players who can use in-game chemistry to create potions allowing them to breathe there. There is no end of videos and wiki pages students can research to learn more, and unlocking one process opens other discoveries that parallel real-life lessons on ecology and sustainability. VSTE students maintain turtle farms, and even the simple act of learning how to craft a fishing pole can open significant possibilities. One VSTE project had students record fish catches and enter the data into a database linked through Discord to reveal patterns—and just catching fish increases experience points, which increase power to create potions. Fish can also be used to tame cats, which will bring their owners useful and hard to find objects overnight (and taming dogs affords a level of protection as they will aggressively attack monsters to protect their owners).

Problem-solving in Minecraft includes cartography and orienteering. Maps can be obtained from villagers and followed to surprising locations, or maps can be found on shipwrecks strewn about Minecraft. It’s a difficult puzzle to extract them from underwater chests, but once found they point the way to treasure. Following a map requires trigonometric and orientation skills and yields fun opportunities for meaningful collaboration.

Screenshot showing triangulation on map location to find buried treasure.

Another important level of depth in Minecraft is in learning about redstone (a useful building material in the game, found deep underground) and how to use it to power your builds and create logic gates that make things happen algorithmically. VSTE provides workshops to explain the intricacies, and in EVO Minecraft MOOC, we have learned this skill from our young participants, who relish explaining it to us, as in this example on YouTube.

Screenshot of a VSTE Minecraft Monday workshop on redstone basics.


Our most recent need to move into online environments—teachers and students in classrooms and educators holding webinars and conferences—has changed our thinking, making us more amenable to adapting what is positive about those contexts into our inevitable reconception of education. One such change is a natural move of professional development into CoPs, which makes more likely a consideration of more engaging spaces for learning online than simply Zoom re-creations of traditional classroom practices. Virtual worlds are an increasingly frequent topic of webinars in CoPs, as are gamification and game-based learning. These features should figure more prominently in future development as we create materials and interfaces for meeting our language learners online.


Kuhn, J., & Stevens, V. (2017). Participatory culture as professional development: Preparing teachers to use Minecraft in the classroom.TESOL Journal 8(4), 753–767. https://doi.org/10.1002/tesj.359

Smolčec, M., Smolčec, F., & Stevens, V. (2014). Using Minecraft for learning English. TESL-EJ, 18(2), 1–15. http://www.tesl-ej.org/pdf/ej70/int.pdf.

Stevens, V. (2019). Gamifying teacher professional development through Minecraft MOOC. In D. Barr, E. Bañados, & A. Gimeno (Eds.), Proceedings of WorldCALL 2018, Concepción, 13-16 November, 2018: CALLing all the CALLers Worldwide (pp. 122–125). Universidad de Concepción. http://worldcall5.org/images/WorldCALL_2018_Proceedings_compressed.pdf

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Vance Stevens hosts the podcast series Learning2gether, which has more than 520 episodes. He founded the CoP Webheads in Action in 2002 and has coordinated the TESOL Computer-Assisted Language Learning (CALL) Interest Section Electronic Village Online since 2003. He has been lead moderator of EVO Minecraft MOOC since 2015. In 2019, he was awarded the CALL Research Conference Lifetime Achievement Award for that year.