“The old tales tell of such wizardly barriers, which open not to a key such as ye can put in your pocket, but to a rhyme or a riddle’s answer.”

Cecilia Dart-Thornton. The Ill-Made Mute. 2007. p. 245

I grew up reading folk tales where language was almost magical, and words were full of power. Evil creatures like Rumplestiltskin could be defeated by a single word and Goblins could be driven away by rhymes and songs. Writers like Ursula Le Guin managed to capture this idea through magical words that had the power to shape characters and landscapes too.

But words don’t just have power in folk tales, do they?

Words have tremendous influence in our world here and now.

One of the challenges for us teachers is helping students to understand, access, and be inspired by the power of language.

Unfortunately, there are many monsters of distraction that crowd in and block the path to true mastery of English.
Something I’ve noticed time and time again in my classes is that my students don’t seem to remember figurative language easily. Even simple literary devices like similes and metaphors are often confused by students, and this gap in knowledge makes the higher-order tasks (like essay writing!) all the more difficult.

To make matters worse, students are regularly bombarded with dry and boring worksheets of literary devices that are all too often disconnected from any meaningful story or purpose.

I’ve been trying to think of game-based ways to inspire students and help them learn different literary devices. I wanted something that focussed on engagement and immediate feedback, and at the same time, I was hearing about how much fun teachers were having with BOOM cards. I decided to experiment and see if I could come up with some kind of interactive task card game that would be way more interesting than a typical worksheet. Was there an easy way of gamifying ela language techniques in the classroom?

Here’s what I came up with…

ELA Monsters – a game-based learning activity where a student can talk to monsters to learn figurative language

My gamification strategy was based around the idea that student engagement would increase if the learning was transformed into something more like a conversation. And that’s when I thought of monsters…
Why couldn’t the game be about defeating creatures with literary devices?

To help students recall each literary device, I thought it would be fun if each creature in the game modeled the technique in some way. The final piece in the puzzle was realising that these monsters could be vulnerable to the very technique they demonstrated – so to defeat a monster you have to turn its own language back on itself.

Have a go yourself! This skeleton models similes, and similes are also his weakness. Can you work out what to say to him?

A picture of a Simile Skeleton monster who says "I'll crush you like a bug!"
This Skeleton can be defeated by similes. Can you spot the simile below?

No you won’t. I’ll crash my way out of here!

Oopsy! This language contains onomatopoeia (“crash”) but no simile.

The skeleton advances towards you!

You can’t get me. I’m as fast as lightning!

Nice job! You found the simile and turned the skeleton’s language against itself!

You have defeated this smart as bone skeleton.

Look at you! You’re just a pile of rags.

Oopsy! This is a metaphor, because it compares the skeleton to rags DIRECTLY (doesn’t use “like” or “as”)

The skeleton advances towards you!

Once I got started with this idea I quickly got excited. I could see this game being very useful and easy for a teacher to implement (BOOM marks the quizzes so the teacher can focus on helping individual students around the classroom). I also had a hunch that the cute art and funny phrases would increase student motivation and ultimately aid the learning process.

In my first set of learning games, I focused on 5 of the main poetic techniques (Metaphor, Simile, Personification, Alliteration, and Onomatopoeia) and came up with a 3 monster cycle structure – Each deck is focused on 1 main technique and 2 minor techniques alongside it. This structure helps students focus on learning one thing thoroughly, but also allows them to consolidate their learning later on, as the same technique will feature (as a minor technique) in 2 other decks in the cycle.

I finished my first 5 decks and I must say, even with the limitations of BOOM as a gamification tool, I’m pretty happy with how they turned out! It makes a pretty fun learning game, and I’m hoping that students will find them much more engaging and memorable than the typical worksheet. I even put them all together for a discount in my first ever bundle which you can check out HERE!

UPDATE: Based on the success of my first bundle, I made a new cycle of decks based around the rhetoric of persuasion – a handy tool for teaching students speech techniques before they start writing a persuasive piece! You can check that out HERE!

I do have some ideas for making an EPIC version of this monster battling game(maybe even a full-blown escape room with more game elements?). But for now, these BOOM cards are a good step on the journey towards helping students appreciate the power of poetic and persuasive techniques.

Hopefully these decks are something that a teacher can pick up and use easily – especially in a time when distance learning and flipped classrooms are becoming the new normal.

I’m hopeful too, that these simple game elements combined with immediate feedback will help to fight the monsters of boredom and make the ELA classroom more fun.

I hope you enjoyed reading this and it gives you some ideas for designing your own game-based learning too!

-Gil Walker

Discussion: How have you fought the monsters of boredom in your class recently? Do you have any success stories to share?