Games With a Purpose and a Social Network

Well who would believe it? A social network built around playing word games with online partners! This may not sound like a great idea, but I have to say that I'm impressed! Gwap (Games With a Purpose) is a collection of 5 basic word games which you can play in collaboration with an online partner (The website automatically finds you one).

The site has a selection of five rather addictive games:
  • The ESP game. You and your partner both see an image and you have to type in as many words as you can that you associate with the image, until you and your partner come up with the same word ( that's the ESP bit). This is great vocabulary practice and pretty addictive too. You play to a time limit ( about 3 mins) and get a score at the end.
  • Tag a Tune. This is a fantastic idea. You and your online partner both hear a tune and you both have to type a description of the tune. You then have to decide if you were both listening to the same tune or a different tune. Great writing practice and again done against a time limit with points awarded.
  • Verbosity ( a variation on the classroom 'Hot Seat' game). You and your partner take it in turns to see and describe a word. The partner who can't see the word has to guess it. When you are describing the word you have specific sentences that you complete as clues. This not only helps to develop vocabulary skills, but also helps develop students abilities to explain new words which they don't understand.
  • Squigl. This is an image based game. You see an image and a word and you have to hold down your mouse and outline the place on the image where you see the object of the word. Great for vocabulary building.
  • Matchin. This is the least useful game in terms of developing vocabulary, but is still quite interesting. You and your partner see two images and you both click on the one you like the most. If you click on the same one, you get points.
All of these games are played against a time limit and you are awarded points, though you work collaboratively with your online partner.

Where's the social part?Well you have the option to start chatting with them at the end of each game and you can also set up a profile with picture and demographic information, which the site uses to help select a similar playing partner for you (though this is optional).

I was actually more interested in the games than the chatting, though with the last game, particularly if you are choosing similar pictures a lot, it might be interesting to chat and find out how similar the person you are working with is. It's also a good bit of language practice for your students if they do, though as ever they should be careful to protect their privacy and identity.

How to use this with students
  • Just get them online and get them playing the games.
  • They could do it from home as homework and you could set them a score to reach, or see who can get the highest score.
  • You could use them as warmers at the beginning of class, especially if you have an IWB or data projector, or as fillers for early finishers in a multimedia room.

What I liked about it
  • It's free, though you do have to register, easy to use and fun.
  • Students work collaboratively rather than competitively
  • The games are really nicely designed, visually very attractive and have good use of multimedia
  • They are 'authentic' rather than being made for language learners, though they are really well suited to the ELT / EFL classroom.
  • The site was set up by Carnegie Mellon University so you can be reasonably sure there isn't some large dark corporation doing unspeakable things with your personal data
  • The site is actually being used as a way of tagging images and audio, so your time is being put to good use and helping the world become a better place ( find out more)

What I wasn't so sure about
  • There's not much I don't like about the site. It's shame that you 'have to' register to play the games, especially as you are supposed to be 13 or over to register, but this is due to the chat functionality.
  • Also, as with any site that contains images, there is the potential for some of these images to be offensive to your students, but there is a small button for them to click to flag offensive content, and that in itself is a good form of training.