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Minecraft and Language learning

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James York
I am an assistant professor
of English at Tokyo Denki
University, Japan. As part of
my job, I teach an elective
seminar class once a week
on a research subject that
I am interested in. This
Minecraft project started
during a seminar class in
which I was using it to
teach Japanese students to
speak English. The project
quickly expanded, and now
the Kotoba Miners project
includes a course for people
to learn Japanese.
I have a master’s degree
from the University of
Leicester and am working
on an EdD. My research
is concerned with the
development of a suitable
teaching methodology to
promote oral language pro-
ficiency in virtual worlds.
James York appeared on my Minechat series in February
2013 and then again in November 2013. His Minecraft
world has evolved so much over time that I felt that we
needed an update, and I can only guess there will be fu-
ture visits to his Kotoba Miners Minecraft world. I always
cite James’s use of Minecraft as a jaw-dropping example
of Minecraft in education. I guess many people have
struggled at some point to learn a second (or third or
fourth) language, but how on earth can Minecraft assist
with this? Read on.
Minecraft and
Language Learning
9
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Project Summary
言葉 (Kotoba):
noun
1) a language; speech; (a) dialect
2) a word; a phrase.
miner 1 |ˈm ɪn |
noun
1) a person who works in a mine. A coal miner.

use of Minecraft as a domain for the acquisition, or mining, of words—or

My history with language learning in virtual worlds and with the use of
games started in 2005, when a friend asked me to start playing World of
Warcraft (WoW). I had just moved to Japan and was just beginning my
adventure with the Japanese language. I knew that WoW would drain
any free time that I had, but I didn’t want to give up learning Japanese,
so I made a compromise. We decided to join a guild of Japanese players.

interest in the subject of online communities for language learning.

research on the use of games in language education. The head of my
department told me that I could do a seminar class once a week on any-
thing I wanted, so I decided to make my research into a class: learning

But why Minecraft in particular?
I experimented with a number of virtual worlds and games as part of
my research. I rejected massively multiplayer online games (MMOs) for
lack of control over content and their often extremely specialized dis-
course (for example, Prot Warrior LFG SFK pst). I also rejected a lot of
social worlds (such as Second Life) for their painful aesthetics, controls,
and perceived distance between “users” and “content creators.” That
is to say, they appeared to be either one or the other rather than both.
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Minecraft is simple. From controls to aesthetics and even gameplay.
This means that you spend less time learning how to navigate the game

teachers and learners 100 percent control over content—content that

creation of language learning activities and of locations for language
practice.

because it uses a Bukkit server (https://bukkit.org/) that is open to the


to conceive of the project in any other way, and the reason for this will

does take place in an educational institution, the main student body
is made up of individuals outside of school or education, and most are
adults with full-time jobs.
Project Goals
The main goal started out as:
Provide a safe, motivating, and immersive environment for my Japanese


the project to what it is now:

speaking students to learn Japanese.
This does not mean that the original goal has completely disappeared—I


the start of the project to understand exactly what happened and take
a moment to consider and respect the phenomenon of emergence in
online communities.
The server was initially set up with a few basic lesson ideas and activi-


him admin access soon after, and he is still with the project to this day.

9 
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news website Reddit whether people would be willing to come onto our


low, the experience would also be a good opportunity for them to prac-
tice Japanese. The results were very positive. Once a week, my students



-
ing Japanese. It was this experience that started my interest in teaching
Japanese and led to the creation of Kotoba Miners.
Learning Objectives



levels: N5 through N1, where N5 is the easiest test and N1 the most
-
though there is no speaking component on the JLPT tests, the Japanese
course I designed has a strong focus on speaking. The reason for this
is that learning in a virtual world lends itself to social learning, where
interactions with peers provide a fantastic opportunity to develop com-
municative competence.
Organizing the Project
The main tasks for this project were:







Input Japanese into Minecraft
The project required some time and tools:

Teacher preparation time: Over 100 hours

Project duration: Ongoing
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






Curriculum Development

project, whether it is hosted in a virtual world or not. Personally, it
helped me to set a concrete goal. In the case of KM, this goal was to
provide students with the necessary knowledge to pass the JLPT N5 test.
This helped organize the progression of the course and even the design
of the buildings and learning areas.
Occasionally, however, the game itself—a particular activity or plug-in—
would inspire a lesson plan, and I would work backward from that.
Activity Development

Table 9.1-
guage learning purposes. If such considerations are made, language
teachers have immense freedom in activity design.
Table 9.1
Minecraft game modes and example activities
GAME
MODE ACTIVITY
LANGUAGE LEARNING
OUTCOMES LANGUAGE EXAMPLES
Creative Building together (something
to be used in future classes)
Giving and receiving
Prepositions of place
Conditionals
Shall we use wool for the
walls?
Put the table in front of the
window, please.
If we use black for the floor,
this room will be too dark.
9 
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Table 9.1
Minecraft game modes and example activities
GAME
MODE ACTIVITY
LANGUAGE LEARNING
OUTCOMES LANGUAGE EXAMPLES
Adventure Cooperative “escape the
room” challenge
Imperatives
Question formation
Imformation sharing
Jump now!
Move three blocks left.
What can you see?
Is the creeper still there?
I can see only one block. How
about on your side?
Survival Play together with teacher-
defined objectives
Verb tenses What are you doing?
What did you do?
What will you do next time?
Two-player co-op activities are a large feature on KM as a means to pro-
mote interaction. Figures 9.1 and 9.2 show some of the KM world.
Figure 9.1
Guess who!
184

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










was designed to promote the use of the present continuous test (for
example, “I am playing baseball” as opposed to “I play baseball”). The





Player B: He is watching TV.



Figure 9.2
Spot the
difference.
9 
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Survival play has been used in a similar vein to promote using compari-

merely assigning players the task of “playing in Survival mode.” With
pre-determined goals, students have something to work toward and
something to talk about. Separating players into pairs has the additional
bonus of getting groups to talk afterward about what they did. The
activity starts as a pair-work activity, and then expands into a group
discussion at the end.
The setup was to select a suitable selection of land, hide some resources
and treasures, and then create a bedrock wall around the perimeter

Fig-
ure 9.3), creating multiple instances of the same arena for sets of pairs
to play in. Next, we create objectives for the pairs. These objectives can
be given a value of points for completing them (“XP” below) to encour-
age behavior in a certain direction. Objectives I created were:

Find the nether star (100XP)



Find a diamond (50XP)

Raise 20 sheep and cows
Figure 9.3
Survival set up
for compari-
son activity.
186
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


Four windows

Bedroom

Table

Four chairs

Kitchen

pairs, and partner with a player from another pair. Students can talk
about what they did and didn’t do, comparing their experiences.
There are a number of things that can help. JLPT N5 vocabulary and

of resources are available that provide a fairly accurate outline. With
reference to these resources, I designed activities that would promote

-
enced as part of this project.
Plug-ins themselves can be appropriated for use as language learning
tools (Figure 9.4
Thing. This is a multiplayer game, similar to the popular game Piction-
ary, in which one person is randomly selected to build an object based
on a keyword whispered to them, and the remaining players have to
guess what they are building by typing words into chat. One useful thing

for example, we created a custom dictionary of Japanese words.
Figure 9.4
Appropriation of
existing plug-ins.
9 
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The game can be used for a number of language learning objectives. By
playing “as is,” vocabulary can be learned, but if we overlook the “build
and guess” play style, additional language-learning activities can be
generated, such as:

The person in the middle doesn’t build but describes the item whis-
pered to them. The remaining players guess.

The person in the middle doesn’t build but answers yes/no questions
from the remaining players (essentially re-creating the famous 20
questions game).
Lesson Buildings and “JP Road”
Students who learn with us on KM do not have a pre-selected textbook.


tips, and lesson plans. The problem with this was that it was awkward

as much material as I could in the game world itself. In other words,
I wanted to have to rely on external tools as little as possible. I now

collaborative writing and reading lessons. From this notion, the develop-
ment of a university building, or “learning zone,” emerged. The problem
was that the university would have to be huge to house all the material


JP buildings, and these buildings would be in a row. This row of build-
ings was thus called JP Road.
Figure 9.5) represents a lesson.

the whole course is contained within ten buildings: JP1 through JP10.
In each room, there are typically new words, grammar, and activities
(Figures 9.6 through 9.8).
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
9780133858013ch09.indd 188 8/28/14 2:38 AM
Figure 9.5
Original concept
design for the
JP buildings.
Figure 9.6
New words.
9 
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The JP Road design (Figure 9.9) was the most logical way of having all
learning material in the same place, and there was no problem when
-

-
gate the area. This was disastrous for the road system and led to the
developent of a new system. This was initially very frustrating, but now
Figure 9.7
Grammar.
Figure 9.8
Activities.
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
9780133858013ch09.indd 190 8/28/14 2:38 AM
I am happy that this problem arose, because the evolution from JP Road
to JP area has been a very positive experience.
The current state of the learning area is shown in Figures 9.10 and
9.11. Buildings stands 15 chunks apart to ensure that only one build-

relevant to the learning material inside.
Figure 9.9
Finished version
of JP Road.
Note
I am aware
that people can
increase the
default number
of chunks that
can be seen, but
in general people
are limited to
about 12 chunks.
Figure 9.10
The JP8 build-
ing and learn-
ing activities.
9 
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Japanese Input

in Minecraft by default, but this limitation can be surmounted with ad-
ditional plug-ins.

Intellinput is a mod for the client-side version of Minecraft. It allows
players to input Japanese directly into the chat box.

Lunachat is a fantastic server-side plug-in that takes users’ text,
sends it to Google (not sure of the details), and brings back the
Japanese characters for that text. The Japanese text is then shown
in the chat box. The raw input is shown after the Japanese text. Fig-
ure 9.12 shows how this looks in the game.



possible to type directly into the Minecraft chat channel from the

activities on the server and participate in discussions even when
you are not able to log in to the game directly.
Figure 9.11
Aerial view of
the JP area.
Figure 9.12
Chat box.
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
9780133858013ch09.indd 192 8/28/14 2:38 AM
Getting Started

security and teacher-friendly controls, Bukkit has no inherent protection

or stealing items. I highly recommend the following three plug-ins to


World Guard allows you to protect important builds so that they will



Group Manager. With this, you can create a number of player
groups whose permissions are customizable. The default groups are
admin, moderator, builder, and guest. You can also add groups to
World Guard areas, giving build access to only certain members.

/warp,
/teleport, /gamemode, and /seen. You can grant permission to use
these commands on a per-player or per-group basis if using Group
Manager.
I also recommend these plug-ins:




Variable Triggers is a plug-in we rely on a lot at KM. It has a whole
range of uses, but the one I use most is to cause signs in the game




Completing the Tasks
The Japanese course that I teach has been a long time in creation from
the humble (read: shabby) buildings and scattered activities of the
-
cal area that it is now. This came about through trial and error, player
feedback, and player contributions, so it is not easy for me to provide a
9 
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
following dos and don’ts.
1. Start with a concrete objective.
2. Take inspiration from lessons you already teach outside Minecraft.
3. Make use of all game modes.
4. Focus on creating a need to be in Minecraft. If the activity can be
done without it, it is probably better not to use Minecraft.
5. Prioritize pair or small-group work to maximize individual output.
6. 
student interaction from moment to moment.
In my opinion, the KM server will never be complete. This is not to say
-

working on building a city that will be used as the arena for an immer-
sive roleplay-based curriculum. In other words, they have an airport, a
train station, restaurants and other common shops, and a residential

on a survival games map to pit player versus player.
Reflection and Assessment
This project has been a labor of love for well over a year, and although
a number of activities could be re-created to be more engaging or

out. Feedback from students is generally positive, and the experience
they are getting is the one that I envisioned: social learning with an
emphasis on speaking and listening in a “real classroom in an unreal
world.” Or as another student described it, “textbook content without a
textbook.”
Project Future
One thing that I haven’t been spending too much time on is how to


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free online resources for studying kanji use this method, and a number
of alternatives systematically teach kanji. Because of the low-resolution
graphics of Minecraft, it is hard enough writing the roman alphabet
using Minecraft blocks, let alone an incredibly intricate character such
as “”.

the name suggests, we play games together in Japanese. The class is not
formal, and vocabulary and grammar are kept to a minimum so that we
can focus on actually playing. We’ve mainly focused on Minecraft until
now, but we are experimenting with other multiplayer games, such as

suggestions are also welcome. In a sense, the KM server hosts a formal,
guided course in Japanese, and then we apply this knowledge to play
other games together (including Minecraft).
Finally, I think the KM model is transferable for other languages. There


and more), but most activities are very much transferable. So if any
readers would like to teach another language with us, please get in

Resources
Listed here are programs and tools that can assist with the Kotoba Min-
ers activity:



discuss language learning with other students on the forums.

Kotoba Miners blog: http://blog.kotobaminers.org

language learning.


I use this to create homework exersices for my students. It is very
easy to create curriculum content, and it features a plethora of

matching, and so on.
9 
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
Planet Minecraft: www.planetminecraft.com

of content here is freely available to use, but it is always a good idea
to ask the creators if you can use their content.

Bukkit: http://bukkit.org/

mentioned in this chapter.


include:

Minecraft homepage

Minecraft wiki


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... Plugins were utilised heavily in the creation of tasks for this study. For an introduction to additional plugins suitable for language educators, see York (2014). Below is a list of the main plugins and how they were used to create additional functionality in this study. ...
Thesis
Full-text available
Virtual worlds have been identified as a potentially beneficial domain for language learning due to various cognitive and affective affordances such as immersive content, access to native speakers, and motivating properties. However, research on computer-mediated communication (CMC) has largely ignored the use of virtual worlds as a possible domain for communication. Additionally, the game-based language teaching (GBLT) sub-field of CALL has focused too narrowly on specific virtual world affordances, overlooking how communicating in such complex domains may affect learner output, particularly in comparison with face-to-face communication. Thus, the main aim of this study is to explore the potential differences in learner oral performance as they conduct tasks via two oral modalities: within a virtual world and face-to-face. Twenty participants (10 dyads) conducted six dialogic tasks, organised by modality into three task-pairs. Quantitative data was collected via transcribing audio recordings of all sessions. The data were analysed in terms of learners’ output complexity, accuracy and fluency using appropriate measures for each. Post-task questionnaires were employed to gauge perceptions of task difficulty, and therefore validate the researcher’s presumptions of task complexity. This data was also used to provide insight into findings from the quantitative data. Results suggest that virtual world tasks may hinder output fluency. However, complexity and accuracy were not significantly affected by mode. Instead, task complexity and type had a more considerable influence on these constructs. Lexical density was higher when conducting virtual world tasks, and, regardless of the increased cognitive demands posed by the virtual world, participants preferred to undertake tasks in this domain. Implications are provided regarding virtual world task design and the cognitive and affective affordances of virtual worlds for language learning, specifically for classroom contexts. Finally, the limitations of this study inform avenues for future research.
... Since then I have been exploring game-based teaching in a number of projects. The most "successful" to date has been my work using Minecraft ( Figure 2) as a domain for teaching Japanese to learners throughout the world in a project known as "Kotoba Miners" (York, 2014). Kotoba is a Japanese word which 1 means "word." ...
Article
Full-text available
This paper presents a detailed walkthrough of a pedagogical intervention that utilizes board games as part of a TBLT approach to language teaching in a compulsory university classroom context. The context, teacher and participants are introduced before a thorough explanation of the intervention. Theoretical underpinnings and teacher decisions are introduced including how the model relates to broad literature on education, particularly Squire's (2011) conceptualization of learners and player progression. Subsequently, a "playtest" of the model is presented with a focus on teacher mediation and students' progression. Student work appears in the form of presentation slides, survey data, photos of the accompanying workbook (made specifically for this context), and final project products. The model, materials, and teacher mediation promoted students to become self-directed learners, successfully carrying out gameplay and analysis activities which led to language and 21st Century skills development. Successful (and not so successful) examples of student progression from learner to content creator are provided. Finally, a critical analysis of the model is presented, and it is proposed that the model could be developed to focus on specific skills or help learners engage in English-speaking communities outside the classroom.
... Sur le plan pédagogique, certains chercheurs ont examiné la manière dont la ludification pourrait s'intégrer au contexte d'apprentissage Charles et al., 2011;Kumar, 2012 ;Erenli, 2013 ;Simões, Redondo et Vilas, 2013) Ce jeu a été utilisé avec succès comme outil d'apprentissage dans plusieurs contextes, par exemple en mathématiques, en sciences et en lettres (Brand et Kinash, 2013 ;Schifter et Cipollone, 2013 ;West et Bleiberg, 2013 ;Rogers, 2014), et récemment, quelques analyses concernant spécifiquement son potentiel pour l'apprentissage d'une L2 ont commencé à faire leur apparition (Hausrath, 2012 ;Uusi-Mäkelä, 2014 ;York, 2014 ). ...
Thesis
Full-text available
Effet de l'implémentation d'Explorez, jeu basé sur la quête et la réalité augmentée, sur la motivation d'apprenants de français langue seconde (FL2) : une étude de cas
Article
These papers explore the idea of academic research as an “industry” that can create useful knowledge and “products” for teachers. This paper (Part 2) contextualizes game-based language teaching “vaporware” reports in educational technology “hype cycles,” as problems for both novice and expert teachers, and in relation to certain prior constraints of academic research and publishing. I argue that researchers have created an academic niche; we have not created a field based on real differences for students and teachers in real classrooms. It’s “crunch time,” and researchers have two options. (1) We can acknowledge and wrestle with our failings and foundations. Researchers can re-focus on teaching-heavy praxis that results in shipping our product: a mature field with numerous reports of normalized uses of games that result in consistent learning outcomes. A simple model and other resources are shared to help with this path. I will argue that our field needs people with many different roles to want to and learn to play well together. (2) Or, we can give up. Researchers can write a group postmortem report, shut down, go our separate ways, and stop contributing to the hype about games in language education.
Article
Full-text available
Vocabulary mastery is important to acquire a language. Learning vocabulary has several barriers that slow down the progress. Minecraft application is used as a new method of learning English vocabulary. The goal of this research was to investigate whether there is a significance positive effect after used Minecraft application on students’ vocabulary mastery for 5th grade elementary students. A quasi-experimental method was used in this research with 63 students of SDN Poris Plawad 1 Tangerang, which separated into an experimental group (n=31) and a control group (n=32). The results revealed that Minecraft has better score result than the conventional method. Besides, the students’ behavior also resulted to be better than the conventional method. The survey also revealed that the students agreed that Minecraft was making the learning easier, less boring, less stressful and happier. However, the results could not be generalized due to the small sample taken in this research.
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any references for this publication.