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Using Minecraft to Inspire a Love for Reading & Storytelling

How parents can incorporate game based learning to help their child succeed in — and out of — the classroom

“...not only is Minecraft immersive and creative, but it is an excellent platform for making almost any subject area more engaging.” — Alan Gershenfeld for Scientific American

Do you remember the first word you learned to read and spell? Mine was “S-Y-S-T-E-M.” My father was an engineer, and introduced the first computer to our neighborhood. From day one, I was fascinated; however, I needed to learn the magic box’s secret language to unlock the games I so desperately wanted to play.

For Generation Alpha (kids born after 2010), computers are commonplace. Children now adopt technology and gaming skills within the first year of their lives, although the need to type “SYSTEM” to open a program is ancient history. My peers and I were hooked on computer games, so learning new words to access programs became a part of the appeal. Nowadays, kids use words and symbols to interface with games, and educators have learned to incorporate game play to help students with reading and comprehension. These pioneering teachers have seen remarkable results, particularly with students who may struggle to focus or have difficulty in the classroom. Game based learning research also reveals that games help children with dyslexia improve reading skills via improved “spatial and temporal attention.”

Researcher and educator James Paul Gee is often considered the “godfather of Game Based Learning (GBL).” Within his seminal paper on GBL called Games for Learning, he states, “Games associate words with images, actions, goals, and dialogue, not just with definitions or other words.” Gee cites Minecraft as one of the best games for helping young readers to develop or improve language and reading skills.

“Games associate words with images, actions, goals, and dialogue, not just with definitions or other words. Learners come to see how words attach to the world’s (contexts, situations) they are about and help to create or manipulate.” — James Paul Gee, the Godfather of Game Based Learning

You probably don’t need to have a young gamer at home to be familiar with the name Minecraft. From games and action figures, apparel and costumes, to avatars and emojis, Minecraft has become synonymous with online gaming. If you aren’t already familiar with Minecraft, this influential sandbox game allows players to explore an infinite array of worlds where the objective is to stay alive and avoid hostile mobs. Players choose Game Modes to experience different adventures, and characters are created with pixelated graphics, or blocks, that you can design, build, and replace. The possibilities for Minecraft game play and creativity are endless.

Minecraft Game Based Learning
Image courtesy of Minecraft Education Edition

Immersive Minecraft environments are often valuable teaching tools. As a result, Minecraft partnered with Random House and the National Literacy Trust to launch the Education Edition with a mission to “encourage students' love of reading, enhance comprehension, and support educators with learning content and programming.”

Educators worldwide are discovering the benefits of Minecraft to teach a range of STEM subjects, history, design, and, of course, reading and language arts. They have observed that game play offers more than just recognizing words, sentences, and punctuation. It develops the child’s reading comprehension by wrapping words in entertaining narratives and visuals which become more complex as the child progresses. Extra bonus: instructive Minecraft games also introduce coding and engineering skills to complete the story.

“It’s kind of sneaky—they don’t realize they’re learning. Kids are going to have a really good time, and they’re going to learn along the way.” — Kendra Cameron-Jarvis, instructional technologist for Buncombe County Schools

So where do you get started? Here are a few resources we think will help you and your child have fun — while learning:

Education Edition Parent Guide For parents who are new to Minecraft, this free guide is the perfect start to understanding how to use the game to help your child learn and grow.

Minecraft: The Island There is now a whole industry of Minecraft books for kids; however, this series by author Max Brooks is a fantastic start for children in grades 5 to 8. This story features a Minecraft adventurer who is stranded on an island and must endure a variety of adventures to learn important life lessons.

“When a child likes something like Minecraft, they become highly motivated to read these types of books. What I’ve learned from teaching is that kids tend to rise to our expectations. If you say they are a fourth-grade class and should only read fourth-grade stuff, then you’re not challenging them to read higher.” — Mark Cheverton, New York Times best-selling author

Diary of a Minecraft Zombie This series of 18 books (and counting) by Herobrine Books has been touted by Amazon as “The Best Selling and Most Popular Minecraft Fan-Fiction Book of All Time!” It’s a great read for kids ages 7 to 10-years-old, and the humorous content has made it a favorite among reluctant readers.

Active Citizen for Minecraft For online reading (and inventive history lessons) for kids ages 8 to 18, you must check out Active Citizen for Minecraft. This program was created in partnership with the Nobel Peace Center and Games for Change, and is an adventure series that brings Nobel Prize laureates to life. This super-cool (and free!) program was created by a Swedish software developer and animator who inspires kids to write their own Minecraft stories with easy-to-use, online video creation tools.

Minecraft’s Fairy Tale Reimagined This amazing lesson plan by the makers at Minecraft Education Edition is another story telling tool that immerses one into the imaginative worlds of Grimm’s Fairy Tales and Aesop's Fables. Check out the story of Hansel & Gretel that was the result of a 7th grade school project.

For more great ideas visit the Language Arts Resources on the Minecraft Education Edition, or download the Parent Guide to Minecraft.

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