“Game Terakoya” Catch up

The Game Terakoya is an extracurricular project that aims to help students interested in games and language transform those interests into public or professional participation. I have run a lot of projects with students (e.g., volunteer teaching, designing games, playtesting games for designers) but have found it hard to “measure” or contextualize the activity and development of my students.

The multiliteracies (New London Group) and learning by design (Cope and Kalantzis) frameworks were shared with me a few years ago, and I found them fascinating and something I wanted to put into practice. I wanted to “expand my repertoire” of teaching, and get students to do more conceptualizing and analysis around games.  I wanted a way to tie together game literacy, project based learning, 21st Century skills, participation in society activities. I’ve been working lately to write about the connections between multiliteracies/learning by design, media education, bridging and connected learning (Buckingham, Thorne, Reinhardt, Ito, Jenkins).

In this project, I am appropriating the term “Terakoya:
Terakoya (寺子屋 terako-ya?, literally temple schools, private elementary schools[1]) were private educational institutions that taught writing and reading to the children of Japanese commoners during the Edo period. (wikipedia).

I’m working under a broad definition of and multiple literacies: reading/understanding –> creation/participation (games/other media in addition to English languages)

The model that I am testing this year is represented in the following chart. It’s my general blueprint for moves up down left and right.

Part of the research I’m doing this year is to see how feasible all these moves are. Ultimately, I would like to make these pedagogical moves more explicit parts of other teaching that I do. I’m currently working with 2 highly motivated university undergraduate students (“M” and “N”) and am testing out various exercises and materials with them. They want to improve their English skills and learn more about games, and have fun. Sounds great to me!

We meet every Friday afternoon for 90 minutes. They are busy, but they can complete some homework each week. This is an extracurricular project, so I am trying not to overload them.

A very quick recap of the last 2 months:

  1. Students completed a variety of background English, knowledge, participation habits questionnaires
  2. We brainstormed participation options (to set a kind of roadmap for the project – something to aim for). They are interested in teaching using games, joining a gamejam, making a social impact game, teaching at our local kids center, writing online game reviews, making a game for a company and interviewing game designers… lots of great possibilities!
  3. We talked about games we all know and have played (the first step in multiliteracies work – “experience the known”). We decided to explore UNO. We examined the rules http://www.unorules.com/ and watched some actual plays https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nfwZ9cY6iTo  and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gf9lzuPxMQs
  4. We created a gmail account, website and twitter account as a group: https://sites.google.com/site/gameterakoyashizuoka/home and https://twitter.com/gameterakoya_16
  5. We played UNO and examined our own language. Our discussions brought us to discussing “house rules” and “cheating” and “licensing” and “the magic circle” concept in game studies. I plan to come back to them in a few weeks, depending on how future games and discussions go.
  6. Our discussions start with M and N’s notes, then move into my focusing them on things they didn’t point out.
  7. We then moved to looking at some online reviews of UNO, on Boardgamegeek.com – a hobbyist site, and Amazon.com – a consumer site: https://boardgamegeek.com/thread/1366371/game-deep-strategy https://boardgamegeek.com/thread/312340/game-kids-not-geeks https://www.amazon.com/Mattel-42003-Uno-Card-Game/dp/B00004TZY8 What was fascinating was that the students read the first review completely at face value. They didn’t realize that the review was written sarcastically, even though they pointed out the adjectives and dramatic writing. In fact, one member said she changed her views about UNO after reading the article (she began to think of UNO as a deep strategy game). I’ve given them some info about English sarcasm and we will re-analyze it next week. It’s very interesting to me that I had to explicitly tell them that it was sarcastic (they reported to me afterwards that they knew what sarcasm was and how it was used).
  8. This coming week, we will be looking at a variety of new games for us to repeat the exercises in #3,5,6,7 with, then move into more conceptualizing, analyzing, then participating (they are intrigued with the idea of writing a sarcastic review as a participation option).

It’s been an incredible process and project so far.

I will try to blog each week with shorter updates.

Let me know if you have any questions or comments!


A slide from the workshop announcing the start of the “experience” phase.

Last weekend Jonathan and I presented at JALTCALL, a conference held at Tamagawa University in Tokyo (well, closer to Yokohama, but still within the Tokyo prefecture). Here is the abstract to our presentation:

The popularity of board games has risen steadily over the last decade reaching annual sales in excess of $800 million in 2014 (ICV2, 2015). Board game funding figures have also overtaken those of video games on the popular crowdsourcing website: Kickstarter. Yet, despite their increasing popularity, there is little research on the use of board games as a teaching tool in educational, let alone language-learning contexts. There is a greater tendency for researchers to be concerned with the use of digital games such as MMOs and other online virtual spaces. MMOs offer a great opportunity for intermediate or advanced learners to communicate with native speakers of the target language, but for low-level learners (such as those found in Japanese high-schools or non-major university courses) such domains may be too cognitively complex, filled with specialised discourse features, and ultimately demotivating due to the level of technical expertise needed to participate in gameplay. From such criticisms aimed at digital games, we argue that board games offer superior opportunities for authentic communication, and both affective and cognitive benefits when used as part of a rigorous teaching methodology.

In today’s workshop our goals are:

  1. to educate practitioners on the range of available board games and their specific affordances for language learning from a sociocultural perspective.
  2. to reveal our framework for using board games as a core component in EFL contexts with a specific consideration on fostering verbal interaction. This includes an extensive pre-play stage utilising YouTube “gameplay” videos and other online resources.

The workshop was divided into three sections which allowed us to first of all let people experience the Kotoba Rollers framework for themselves, then we went over the theoretical underpinnings that helped shape the development of the framework. Finally, we held a Q&A session to get feedback and to help clarify parts of the framework that might not have been so salient/required further explanation.


The first part of the workshop was for the attendees to experience the framework. We gave them five minutes to read through the rules to 2 Rooms and a Boom and create questions based on those rules in order to check understanding with the other participants. In other words, they quizzed each other on the rules that they had just read to make sure that the game rules were known to all participants.

Upon completing this stage, they played through the basic version of the game themselves. We weren’t graced with the luxury of being able to send players between rooms, so we used the room for the presentation and the corridor (I apologise to the other presenters for the ruckus we caused..!)

A very hands-on workshop with attendees standing up, playing and being active participants.
A group of attendees discuss who to send to the other “room” (actually the corridor) in a game of Two Rooms and a Boom.
The other group of attendees discuss who to send to the other room in a game of Two Rooms and a Boom.

Upon completing the play phase, we went through all three post-task report sheets (verbally) to debrief (or reflect) on the activity we had just done by asking questions such as: What words had come up again and again? Who won? What were the best tactics?

Framework explanation

After the experiencing the framework for themselves, it became much easier to show them the theoretical considerations that underpin the development. The main theories being Task Based Language Teaching and Sociocultural Theory. You can see an outline of the model in this post. The only new item regarding the framework is the addition of a reference to Long’s (2014) Methodological Principals and the extent that we are adhering to them.

  • MP1 – Use task not text YES
  • MP2 – Promote learning by doing YES
  • MP3 – Elaborate Input NO
  • MP4 – Provide rich input YES
  • MP5 – Encourage chunk learning NO
  • MP6 – Focus on form SOMEWHAT
  • MP7 – Provide negative feedback SOMEWHAT
  • MP8 – Respect learner syllabi and development process SOMEWHAT
  • MP9 – Promote cooperative learning YES
  • MP10 – Individualise instruction NO

These points require more explanation, and will become the topic of a future blog post.

Q&A Session

The final Q&A session allowed the participants to ask questions about the framework, and posit any concerns they might have. Generally, we felt that questions were not so much criticisms, but requests for additional information on how the framework works in practice and suggestions for implementation in their own contexts. One questions was regarding which games we recommend, so I see a “Kotoba Rollers recommends…” post coming.

One participant mentioned fairly obviously that

This framework would work with people that like games.

which is totally fine. Much in the same way that an English designed to be taught through the reading and discussion of classic literature would work with students that are interested in that subject.

However, I would argue that the number of students that are interested in games versus those that are interested in classic literature, or even more “popular” topics such as movies, music, sports, etc. would be less than those that play games. Gaming is the real unifying factor amongst students (especially at my science and tech university…), which provides support for the use of games as a teaching tool. Why? Because students are familiar with and motivated to learn with this media. But that’s for another blog post, too.


Our workshop at JALT CALL went as well as we hoped and we able to both inform others of the power of games in the classroom, but also generate a discussion on what the implications of doing so are.

I do not plan on doing any more presentations regarding Kotoba Rollers this year, but am deep in the process of writing a paper on students perceptions of this framework, and also planning a revised version ’Framework 2.0’ based on student feedback for use in the autumn semester later this year. I have a lot to talk about regarding the revised framework, and will be updating this blog with details also.

As always, thanks for reading and I appreciate any questions you may have.

James / ちーぷ

Originally posted on the Kotoba Miners blog

Introducing the Game Lab at the University of Shizuoka

Game Lab website: https://sites.google.com/site/gamelabshizuoka/

I’ve been doing game research for more than a decade now. After doing some projects on how interactivity affects language learning with games, (and moving to the University of Shizuoka in 2009), and some case studies of students using games to learn a second language, I became more interested in literacy, media education, and 21st Century skills.

In 2011 and 2012, my thesis students and I ran 2 week-long “Game Camps” that taught students about games, had them play lots of unfamiliar games, had them make online “Sploder” games, had them create advertisements for their games, and had them present and be interviewed about their games at mock industry events.

My thesis students (with me their 3rd and 4th years at the university) conduct research projects of their own design (and some are starting to get their work published in academic journals). Some of my students are going to be putting James’ Kotoba Rollers framework into practice this year!

In 2013, I changed up the format of the Lab.

I extended the Lab to create special projects for 1st and 2nd year students at the university. I wanted these younger students to experience long-term, intensive projects other than clubs and circles before they had to begin job hunting. Some amazing students and I initiated:

  1. Community projects:
  2. Collaboration project: we competed in a local business plan contest (we wanted to make games to promote tourism in Shizuoka)
  3. Critical thinking project: we began playtesting games for professional game designers (students have to understand the rules, play repeatedly and communicate their comments to the designer over email or Skype)
  4. Creativity project:

In addition, last year we



  • and a local event (Shizuoka Game EXPO) for students, families, academics, community groups, and game designers.

Students in a 2nd/3rd year elective class do most of the heavy lifting on the charity event; they make “big” versions of popular games where people are usually the “pieces” of the games. The various Lab project students and thesis students get to show their work to the community each year.

The next BOOST charity event and Shizuoka Game EXPO will be held on January 21 and 22, 2017. I’ll post more info later, but if you are interested in coming or teaching some games or sharing what you are doing, please get it touch!

A new project that has been in the works since the Game Camps is the Game Terakoya project. It explores language learning, participation, academic research skills, 21st Century skills through the multiliteracies / learning by design framework. The model that I am testing with 2 excellent students right now is:

I’ll be posting about the Game Terakoya, as well as news from each of the projects, as often as I can.

Let me know if you have any questions.

I’m very interested in comments/suggestions on these projects as well.

Introducing Tokoha GameLab

Its the middle of 2016, about two months since the start of Tokoha Gamelab (TGL). Here, I would like to briefly introduce what TGL is now and how it is developing.

TGL is a weekly meeting for any Tokoha University students and teachers who are interested in joining activities related to games in English. We meet from 2:40 to 4:10 at the Foreign Language Study Support Center on our university’s Shizuoka Campus in Sena.

What do we do?  Good question. What we do is developing and changing over time, but very broadly our activities can be categorized as “thinking together” and “doing together.” Of course, you might say that “thinking” is a kind of “doing,” and furthermore that as we are “doing” we can also be “thinking.” Okay, okay, I agree.  But I also think that dividing these two activities conceptually might be useful for explaining our activities. Bear with me.

These two processes of thinking and doing can be broken down into the following four activities:

1. preparing to play games

2  playing games

3. reflecting on games and game play

4. making/modifying game materials, including study materials useful for preparing to play games (e.g. flash cards etc)

Each of these four activities is meant to be able to “produce” something. Preparing should produce understanding, readiness, motivation, and curiosity. Playing should produce enjoyment (fun), engagement, and community. Reflecting can produce insight/growth, critical understanding, and discourse analysis. Finally, making/modifying can produce real things like flash cards, how-to videos, game reviews, new games, translations, and much more.

All of these four activities are in the service of language development. I don’t want to say “language acquisition” because I think of language learning as a process not a product. The idea is that by engaging in these activities, we can share language and culture together and also grow as people while building community.

Here is a visual representation of our model:

Screen Shot 2016-06-02 at 9.08.05 AM

Here’s a .pdf version: gamesframework.

Okay, that’s all for now. I will try to post more as our TGL evolves over time.

Our introductions


James York (me)

I am an assistant professor at Tokyo Denki University where I conduct research on the use of games in low-level language learning contexts. I am also a PhD candidate at the University of Leicester (UK). My research falls under two broad headings.

  1. Kotoba Miners: a project exploring how tasks can be created effectively in virtual worlds.
  2. Kotoba Rollers: the development of a teaching methodology utilizing non-digital (board, card, etc.) games as the key teaching tool in low-level EFL classrooms.

can be found on the internet here: Twitter (@cheapshot) or on my blog.

Peter Hourdequin

Hi there,

I teach English and conduct research in the faculty of foreign studies at Tokoha University in Shizuoka, Japan. I am also working on a phd in educational research at Lancaster university in the UK. I have various research interests, but a unifying theme is multiliteracies. Jonathan and James have sparked my interest in games, and I have recently been exploring ways to use games as a focal point for learning and communication in my university’s self access center.

You can see more about my academic work here: http://researchmap.jp/read0150176

Jonathan deHaan

Jonathan studies educational games and simulations and is particularly interested in methods and technologies that support the development of (a) second language skills and (b) media literacy skills. Jonathan is an Associate Professor in the Faculty of International Relations at the University of Shizuoka, Japan.

website: http://jonathandehaan.net/
twitter: https://twitter.com/jonathandehaan
Game Lab website: https://sites.google.com/site/gamelabshizuoka/
(latest project) Game Terakoya: https://sites.google.com/site/gameterakoyashizuoka/home