Empowering Readers in Special Education and Language Arts with Minecraft

08 Oct 2021

When the written word leaps off the page and into a digital environment, engagement soars. 📚
Karen Carnes was looking for a way to help her special education students dive into their class texts, so she turned to Minecraft: Education Edition. Read her story in this guest blog!

I teach an eighth-grade language arts special education class consisting of four students in a self-contained, small group setting. All of my students have learning disabilities and working memory deficits that require them to receive instruction outside of the general education class environment. These learning difficulties most profoundly affect their reading skills.

As a reading and writing teacher, it's particularly difficult to find ways to encourage these students to stay engaged in learning. And engagement with assignments is a key component of a successful classroom environment. That's particularly important with novel studies since they require substantial time using decoding skills and comprehension strategies. Minecraft: Education Edition has provided an excellent way for my students to engage fully with their readings, especially lengthy texts.

Using the Camera, Portfolio, Book, and Quill in Minecraft: Education Edition

After reading the first chapter, students create the setting of the story using the information from the reading. As the story progresses, they begin to build and incorporate its details into their Minecraft worlds, adding characters, situational elements, and personal touches related to their analysis of the author's words. The Book and Quill feature allows the students to summarize and document their work.

Throughout my career, I have never experienced students being this excited to read and engage in a story. That's been true for nonfiction as well as fictional texts. Each class, students couldn't wait to find out what happened next so they could make additions to their world. One of the most impressive results of using Minecraft with our novel studies has been its effect on the retention of new vocabulary. The students created visuals of the words in their worlds, took photos with Cameras, saved them to Portfolios, and captioned the images. The way that Minecraft has enabled the students to retain and integrate new vocabulary words has been nothing short of amazing!

This year, the students completed a novel study of Island of the Blue Dolphins, a historical fiction about an Indigenous woman stranded on an island off the coast of California. For this study, the students worked independently to create their own island worlds. They incorporated practically every detail from the story into their Minecraft builds: kelp beds surrounding the island, the wild dogs that play an extremely important role in the story, plot locations, Russian otter fur traders, ships, canoes, and island birds, to name a few.

Coral Reef in Minecraft: Education Edition

The students' enthusiasm for the novel was impressive. They were engrossed in the text, paying attention to every detail, and they were able to transfer this information into expanding their Minecraft world. After they completed the assignment, they begged for another!

The Holocaust memoir Night is a popular choice for eighth-graders. This book addresses a complex subject and requires extensive knowledge of the historical context of the memoir as well as an understanding of deep characterizations involving emotional trauma. For the Night project, the students worked as a group to create the World War II concentration camp Auschwitz as described by the author, who chronicled the horrors of his time imprisoned during the Holocaust.

Minecraft: Education Edition not only helped the students to engage with the text actively, but also to participate in collaborative opportunities that expanded their discourse skills. They were responsible for managing their tasks by deciding and delegating who would be responsible for which elements. They also had to problem-solve by using the inventory to provide the best materials for their creations. Finally, they needed to work together to find ways to resolve creative differences and expectations.

So often in education, teachers have difficulty keeping students focused and on task with group projects. It's easy for them to drift off topic and stray into irrelevant conversations. That wasn't a problem with Minecraft. The students were so engrossed in the project that they had no desire to spend even one minute discussing anything outside of their build. They had never been so excited to read!

Building Reading World in the Minecraft: Education Edition

Students used the Book and Quill to document their thematic analysis while citing textual evidence. They also made extensive use of Posters and Boards to provide information from the text that explained the locations in their concentration camp world. All of these tools afforded excellent composition opportunities.

The integration that the game allowed for using text to incorporate reading as well as comprehension and memory skills in a hands-on, student-directed learning activity provided many benefits. But the most important outcome of these projects has been the boost to my students' self-esteem and confidence. Traditionally, they've had to deal with frequent feelings of defeat. Minecraft: Education Edition provided the opportunity for my students to stay motivated for their work, engage deeply with the content, and most importantly, feel good about themselves and their learning.


Karen Carnes is a special education language arts teacher in the Cobb Country School District in Acworth, Georgia

Explore lessons and resources for teaching language arts with Minecraft: Education Edition.