Games to Support Engaged Literacy Learning

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Games to Support Engaged Literacy Learning

Being engaged in learning through gameplay can be a lot of fun! Allowing students opportunities to develop literacy skills while collaborating, competing, and creating offers a wonderful recipe for engaged learning. Additionally, tapping into home-based gameplay can enhance academic literacy by utilizing students’ cultural literacy as a foundation for new learning, as gameplay requires choices based on a multitude of cultural and social practices (Collins & Halverson, 2009; Gee, 2004, 2007; Haas, et al., 2021). Literacy and games offer a partnership that supports developed skills, engaged learning, and extended literacy encounters (Collins & Halverson, 2009; Gee, 2004, 2007; Haas, 2012; Walsh, 2010). Furthermore, gameplay provides the potential for both formative and summative assessments without the added strain of traditional test taking anxiety (Shute & Ke, 2012).


The definition  of literacy has gone beyond traditional reading, writing, listening, speaking, and language conventions. According to the International Literacy Association’s online glossary (n.d.), literacy is “the ability to identify, understand, interpret, create, compute, and communicate using visual, audible, and digital materials across disciplines and in any context” (para 14).

Games Literacy Learning 2
Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

This definition takes literacy beyond academic settings and into unexpected places. Additionally, it provides connections to literacy across materials, methods, procedures, processes, techniques, systems and/or modes. Multimodal literacy learning supports a variety of ways to learn concepts (Philippe, et al., 2020) while reinforcing memory and understanding (Lazar, 2008). According to Tussey et al. (2021), “multimodal learning opportunities across content areas allow students to experience elements of control over the time, place, and path within integrated learning environments” (p. 193).

Text Sets

Instructional resource collections, or text sets, can be enhanced through multimodal literacy additions, including games. Text sets, according to Garrison (2016), are “collections of texts tightly focused on a specific topic. They may include varied genres (fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and so forth) and media (such as blogs, maps, photographs, art, primary-source documents, and audio recordings)” (p. 1). These instructional resources may also include books, comics, film, games, music, and video (Albers & Sanders, 2010; Collins & Halverson, 2009; McLaughlin, 2010; Tussey, et al., 2021; Wyatt-Smith & Elkins, 2008). A variety of literacy resources offer opportunities to experience different perspectives (Reinking, 2008), which in turn supports culturally responsive teaching and learning. When considering games as text set resources, it is important to note that games lend themselves to potentially greater engagement than is typically found through more traditional literacies (Haas, et al., 2021). While games should not be the only engaging literacy in a text set, they should be considered as a valued addition. Furthermore, it is important to consider that “during this unique time in history, engaged, playful, technology-based learning offers students opportunities to grow in a safe and healthy environment” (Haas, et al., 2021, p. 17).

Engagement Strategies

Engagement strategies supporting literacy through games can be broken down into the following three ideas: collaboration, competition, and creation. Gameplay engagement is often increased through a sense of camaraderie, as collaboration offers opportunities for students to balance one another’s strengths and weaknesses. Competition strategies can be individualized or can incorporate multiple types of groupings and support gamified student progress measures via badges, checkpoints, levels, XP, etc. Creation opportunities can lead students to develop their own games, including objectives, rules, procedures, and rewards, to support learning through collaborative and competitive engaged literacy experiences. Therefore, engagement becomes the catalyst for learning when educators integrate an individual’s schema, interests, and motivation into culturally responsive instruction incorporating non-traditional academic literacy experiences.

Engagement Tools

When breaking down engagement tools, it is important to be mindful of how literacy can be explored through games. Keeping in mind that literacy goes beyond reading, writing, listening, speaking, and language convention, as it also incorporates multimodal encounters. However, it can be time consuming and a bit overwhelming to weed through all the online tools, so here are a few to consider. Apps that support both collaboration and competition include Kahoot, Poll Everywhere, and Quizlet. Templates supporting these concepts include Jeopardy, Memory, and Wheel of Fortune. Websites that support game design include and


While many of the strategies and tools provided can be used to assess learning through games, it is important to remember that engaged gameplay offers assessment in a nonthreatening, almost invisible manner (Shute & Ke, 2012). Furthermore, according to Shute and Ke (2012),

Games Literacy Learning 3
Photo by Bermix Studio on Unsplash

During game play, students naturally produce rich sequences of actions while performing complex tasks, drawing on the very skills or competencies that we want to assess (e.g., scientific inquiry skills, creative problem solving). Evidence needed to assess the skills is thus provided by the players’ interactions with the game itself (i.e., the processes of play), which can be contrasted with the product(s) of an activity—the norm in educational environments (p. 53).

Allowing assessment to drive instruction and/or new forms of gameplay rather than grades, irrevocably alters the learning community. This approach allows students to feel safe when experimenting with new ideas and concepts without fear of failure or loss of grade points. Furthermore, research has shown that multimodal learning during gameplay can predict performance outcomes that are equal or greater to those using unimodal learning (Emerson, et al., 2020).


Literacy as gameplay has the potential to level the education playing field in terms of access, engagement, and equity through culturally responsive teaching. This awareness provides understanding around the idea that literacy is part of students’ cultural practices (Gavelek, Raphael, Biondo, & Wang, 2000; Purcell-Gates, 2021). Understanding how games can support engaged literacy learning and where games can be found are hurdles many educators do not have time to consider. The provided examples of engagement tools offer a short cut and scaffold for teachers wanting to dip their toes in the games for engaged literacy learning arena. By recognizing literacy embedded in games, educators honor students’ nonacademic literacy experiences and allow for an engaged pull into academic learning rather than a mandated push.


  • Albers P. Sanders J. (2010). Literacies, the arts, and multimodality. National Council of Teachers of English.
  • Collins A. Halverson R. (2009). Rethinking education in the age of technology: The digital revolution and schooling of America. Teachers College Press.
  • Emerson, A., Cloude, E. B., Azevedo, R., & Lester, J. (2020). Multimodal learning analytics for game-based learning. British Journal of Educational Technology, 0(0), 1-22.
  • Garrison, S. (2016). What are “text sets,” and why use them in the classroom? ED Excellence. Retrieved from
  • Gavelek, J., Raphael, T., Biondo, S., & Wang, D. (2000). Integrating literacy instruction. In M. Kamil, P. Mosenthal, P. Pearson, & R. Barr (Eds.). Handbook of reading research: Volume III (587-607). Lawrence Erlbaum.
  • Gee, J. P. (2007). What video games have to teach us about learning and literacy. Paulgrave Macmillan.
  • Gee, J. P. (2004). Situated language and learning: A critique of traditional schooling. Routledge.
  • Haas, L. (2012). A quantitative content analysis of leveled vocabulary embedded within massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs) (Publication No. 3511601) [Doctoral dissertation, Texas A&M University-Commerce]. ProQuest Dissertations Publishing.
  • Haas, L., Vasinda, S., McLeod, J., & Tussey, J. (2021). Expanding family literacy through video game playographies. Journal of Literacy and Technology, 22(1), 2-21.
  • Lazear, D. (2008). “Multi-Modal” Learning. Retrieved from
  • McLaughlin M. (2010). Content area reading: Teaching and learning in an age of multiple literacies. Pearson.
  • Philippe, S., Souchet, A. D., Lameras, P., Petridis, P., Caporal, J.,  Coldeboeuf, G., & Duzan, H. (2020). Multimodal teaching, learning and training in virtual reality: A review and case study. Virtual Reality & Intelligent Hardware, 2(5), 421-442.
  • Purcell-Gates, V. (2021). Cultural practices of literacy: Case studies of language, literacy, social practice, and power. Routledge.
  • Reinking D. (2008). Thoughts on the Lewis and Fabos article on instant messaging. In J. Corio, M. Knobel, C. Lankshear, and D. Leu (Eds.), Handbook of Research on New Literacies (1175–1187). Lawrence Erlbaum.
  • Shute, V. J., & Ke, F. (2012). Games, learning, and assessment. In D. Ifenthaler et al. (eds.), Assessment in Game-Based Learning: Foundations, 43 Innovations, and Perspectives. (43-58). Springer.
  • Tussey, J., Haas, L., & Garling, B. (2020). Bye-bye basal: Multimodal texts in the classroom. In P. M. Sullivan, J. L. Lantz, & B. A. Sullivan (Eds.), Handbook of research on integrating digital technology with literacy pedagogies (192-211). IGI Global.
  • Walsh, C. (2010). Systems-based literacy practices: Digital games research, gameplay and design. Australian Journal of Language & Literacy, 33(1), 24-40.
  • Wyatt-Smith C. & Elkins J. (2008). Multimodal reading and comprehension in online environments. In J. Corio, M. Knobel, C. Lankshear, and D. Leu (Eds.), Handbook of Research on New Literacies. (899-940). Lawrence Erlbaum.

Author: Dr. Leslie Haas and Dr. Jill T. Tussey


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