You won’t believe this mindbogglingly simple idea for using #PokémonGo with #ESL learners!!!

One of the major gaming events of 2016 was the release of Pokémon Go and the immediate aftermath of people rushing out to play the game all over the world (even in countries where it was not officially released). This led to a lot of interest from educators in how they could harness the appeal of the game and channel it into an engaging lesson. My response as reposted below is not what you might expect….

So exciting! My students are really into this game – they play it all the time. It’s all the buzz and I’m keen to find ways to tap into that. So, what’s your idea for using it in the classroom?
Quite simple really – don’t.

Wait… what?
Give this one a miss. Let Pokémon Go… well, go.

Is that it?
Indeed. Just let the students have their fun catching imaginary beasts in their leisure time.

Oh, I see. We’ve got ourselves a hater here…
No, you haven’t. My son loves the game. I’ve played a little bit myself and found it amusing (never really been into Pokémon that much, even the first time round but I’ve nothing against the game itself).

But I thought you were into all this GBL stuff…
I am… but that’s kind of the point. I’ve seen a lot of excitement and enthusiastic ideas for using the game but they are all ‘classic’ language learning activities – describe the monsters, describe the location, compare your avatars… I’m more into games that prompt discussion (interactive fiction titles like Her Story, for instance), promote critical thinking (think simple puzzle apps like Can You Escape?), encourage exploration and experimentation (such as survival titles like The Long Dark) and/or facilitate creativity and productivity (Minecraft, what else?)

Hang on – I’ve just taken a quick look back through your blog and you have lesson plans on here about describing avatars and ideas about gap-fill walkthroughs.
I do, and that’s where my thinking began a few years ago. I think it’s only natural to look at familiar activities and try to adapt them to a different medium. Speculation and prediction activities are usually among the first we try out, then descriptions, and then things like writing narratives based on the game or using a level guide as a reading text. There’s nothing wrong with doing that of course but it soon becomes seen by the students for what it is – more of the same kind of tasks they do with their course books.

So, these augmented reality geo-location games are not going to add much to my students’ learning then.
There is actually great potential in this area. AR apps and geo-location triggers create opportunities to learn in context by taking the classroom with you rather than trying to bring the outside world in (Urban Chronicles, a project by Paul Driver, is a prime example of how getting students to interact with input ‘on location’ can be an enriching learning experience…) This involves carefully constructed and targeted multi-modal access to information and ideas, however, not so much capturing animated objects and then describing them to a partner.

Hmm, should I just ignore it when my students start talking about the game then?
If your students want to talk about it, by all means let them. Just approach it in the same way you would anything else happening in the world that they want to talk about – ask them about it, let them speak and then build on it dogme-style if you wish or move on.

See this great mini-plan from Phil Wade for an idea of how you could frame such a discussion:

Image by Phil Wade. Used with permission.

But really, there’s no point sending them out around the school to find Pikachu because a) they probably won’t find much in such small confines and b) after all that excitement, are you really going to make them sit down and describe the experience with ‘there is/are….’ and ‘it has got…’? As I said above, let them have this one. It’s the most popular game of the moment but that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily one for the classroom.

Really? What about Minecraft then?
That’s different…

Of course it is…
Seriously – that is, yes, an immensely popular game but it has developed in such a way that it has opened up all sorts of possibilities for creation and creativity. It can be used to support a multitude of subjects, to teach things, to learn things, to make projects, to collaborate, to realise ideas… Even if your students are expert players, there are still things they can discover about the game and bigger ideas they can think about through playing it. Pokémon Go simply isn’t that kind of game. It may develop into something like that in the future – we’ll just have to wait and see.

Well, you still tricked me into coming here by promising lesson ideas…
Fair enough. Plenty of ideas and have been shared here. They are worth checking out but if you are thinking about getting into game-based learning for more than a lesson or two, I suggest you start looking beyond language points and key vocabulary. Anyway, please see:

This post originally appeared at in August, 2016.

Title image from under fair use


3 thoughts on “You won’t believe this mindbogglingly simple idea for using #PokémonGo with #ESL learners!!!

    1. Rose Bard • 4 months ago

      Hi, David! I like the fact that you compare it with other games and how different genres offer different possibilities. Although I agree that we don’t have to succumb and we can actually let Pokemon Go itself go (I did), there is no way we can ignore it depending on the age range we are teaching. I run an online discussion group with my teens who are gamers. There were mixed feelings about the game and a heated discussion. My 11-year-old groups are all for it. Some of my young adults (between 17 to 22) are playing it, but my phone is not compatible, so my questions were really genuine and that promoted a great discussion. For teachers, it’s a great opportunity to understand about the game themselves and all the buzz is about. Teenagers and young adults will love making the effort to explain in English. I’m working on couple of projects using some of the mechanics of PokemonGo right now which I think that can be expanded naturally to narratives for instance. It depends of how we approach something. I’ll share in a few months how the projects go and plan to also adapt it to Minecraft. Let’s see how that goes! Thanks for adding your thoughts. As I said in FB they are more than welcome as all perspectives are useful for us to reflect further. I’m glad you are blogging.



      1. ELTsandbox Mod Rose Bard • 4 months ago

        Hi Rose,

        Thank you for your comment and kind words!

        I saw your posts on Facebook about discussing the game in class – I think that is the best way to go. I tried it and thought it was ok but I doubt I will play it long term. I was then intrigued to find out what made it so captivating for others. When some in the class love it and others don’t get it, it makes for an interesting and, as you say, genuine discussion.

        Please do share how your projects go – it will be interesting to hear about a different approach.




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