Using Minecraft to Develop Vocabulary and Writing Skills

Words: The fundamental building blocks of language.

In isolation they have the beauty and kinetic energy of a snowflake on a mountainside. Combine them into well crafted sentences, paragraphs and texts and their power can rival that of an avalanche. A expert wordsmith can change the world!

The palette of words we carry with us is drawn from a variety of sources: reading, listening, speaking and writing. Most of our personal vocabulary is learned via speaking and listening. We hear a word spoken by someone of influence in our lives and emulate the usage in our own talk. Geographical accents and dialects are thus perpetuated. As we develop the ability to read, we are exposed to an ever-broadening palette of words which we use in our talk and eventually our writing.

We must therefore ask ourselves where our students acquire their own personal palette of words. The fundamentals are drawn from the vocabulary of family and friends but where do they add new vocabulary? TV shows? Books? Teachers? YouTube? Gaming? Social Media? If the most memorable thing a student has read today is a meme, then we truly have failed as educators, as parents and as human beings.

So how do we help our students develop a rich palette of vocabulary that they can draw upon in their own writing and become a wordsmith?

Sure, we need to expose them to the rich palette of expert wordsmiths from Shakespeare to Dickens, Churchill to Martin Luther King and Tolkien to Rowling. But we also need to bring them vocabulary in a format and medium that is familiar, non-threatening and easily digestible. They already seek out and assimilate the vocabulary of YouTubers and music stars for themselves. That is our competition.

In my own classroom, I have used everything from texts, poetry and speeches to music, photographs and video clips. Anything that might stimulate the experimentation with vocabulary has found its way into my classroom. The problem with a photograph, for example, is that , invariably, students will ask what is around the corner, what is behind you or what is inside a building. This is where the interactive and immersive nature of a Minecraft experience shows its full power. They can explore every corner and look in every direction. They control the experience in ways a static photograph or “on rails” video simply cannot rival. Not only is it possible to stimulate the imagination in Minecraft but key vocabulary can also be presented in a medium that students are familiar and comfortable with.

I created the Dystopian themed “Baddopia” to help students explore that genre of writing, but also to showcase the mechanics of key word delivery via Minecraft. By delivering the vocabulary via the engagement and immersion of Minecraft it is possible to stretch and challenge students in ways that static experiences cannot. With a photograph I can show my students a jungle, a mountaintop, a sunrise over an abandoned and overgrown city. Via Minecraft, they can live it! The mechanics used in Baddopia could equally be used to present everything from the anatomical terminology of the human body to foreign language vocabulary of a marketplace shopping experience.

The use of empty rhetoric, full of jargon and wild assertions, is something I personally avoid at all costs both in my practice and in my blogging. Let the experience speak for itself and try out Baddopia for yourself.

Simon Baddeley (@SimBadd64) is a Secondary phase English teacher with over 15 years of experience in the classroom. He has used Minecraft in education for three years and is a firm believer in the power of immersive engagement to motivate reluctant learners. As a Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert, he is keen to explore the possibilities of embedding and integrating Minecraft within a broad, 21st Century learning environment.