If you are on social media, you may have seen contacts posting what, at first glance, seems like a simple Tetris grid or the side of a Rubic’s cube made up of gray, yellow, and green boxes. Or maybe you have been posting these grids yourself! They are part of the latest internet sensation, a simple word game called Wordle. It gives players 6 chances to guess a 5-letter word, letting the player know if a letter and its placement in the word are correct after each attempt. Is it possible to harness the popularity of Wordle as part of the learning experience? And if yes, then how?
The power of Wordle
In spite of its sheer simplicity and a lack of any kind of corporate publicity campaign, Wordle has gained enormous traction, and users describe it as being addictive. You can only play it once a day and although most users make sure not to share spoilers, conversations abound about strategies, such as which words to use as initial guesses. In other words, Wordle reunites several game aspects that are also essential in gamification and game-based learning using serious games:
- a high fun factor
- a sense of community
In this way, Wordle (and other word-based games) also fits in with self-determination theory, built upon 3 basic psychological needs of learners: autonomy, competence and connection (or relatedness). According to clinical psychologist Patapia Tzotzoli: “Wordle enables autonomy because we choose to take a few minutes out of our day to play it. It offers competence because we can solve a puzzle […]. And in terms of connection, it fosters a sense of belonging to a wider community. It hits all the right notes to activate our motivation to keep going back.”
The educational potential of Wordle
Game-based learning as a pedagogical strategy is increasingly used. Gamification has been shown to increase intrinsic motivation and promote long-term memorization. That makes Wordle an interesting tool for the acquisition and revision of course-related terminology.
While the original game is based on randomly chosen words, there is now a free, independently-run website that allows anyone—including teachers—to create a Wordle puzzle: MyWordle.me. And it gets even better! MyWordle is available in several languages, including English, French, Spanish and German. It also allows generating puzzles of any length, so words to be guessed don’t need to have only 5 letters.
The most obvious use is for language teachers to expose their students to new vocabulary in a fun manner. However, the game can prove useful in virtually any discipline, as a way to reinforce topics and terminology in courses ranging from chemistry to dietetics! After choosing the word to be guessed, you can generate a link that can be shared with students in any way you see fit.
As mentioned earlier, Wordle seems also great at creating a sense of community, by encouraging players to share their performance without giving away any spoilers. If you have set up a virtual course space (using Moodle, Teams, an online forum, …), you can easily encourage students to share their wins in an engaging, non-threatening manner.
Regularity is a key component in Wordle—a new puzzle is released every day. In a course context, this needn’t be a daily activity—for example, you can distribute a puzzle once a week—but allowing students to know when to expect a new challenge will contribute to them looking forward to that moment. If you choose to do so in between weekly classes, it also becomes a great strategy to bridge the gap between in-person meetings and make students think about your course for a few moments at a time they usually wouldn’t.
Other word-based games
In a sense, Wordle is but a new take on a genre that has been around for a long time and that includes well-known concepts like Scrabble, Boggle, or even crosswords. Many of these are also available online for teachers to tweak and create interesting game-based learning experiences harnessing the power of words:
- The CCDMD offers Crisscross Words, a tool that was created to facilitate students’ acquisition of specialized vocabulary quickly. It allows you to design and create personal dictionaries from which you can generate crossword puzzles.
- If you use Moodle or a WordPress website, you can easily create and integrate H5P content, including word games.
- Genially allows you to create several kinds of gaming experiences, including a Word Search and Secret Word activity. You can share them with students via a web link.
- Several free websites offer the possibility to set up and play free word games, although most of them contain advertising.
Are you a Wordle fan? Do you use it with your students, or would you like to? Have you used any other word games with your students? I’d love to hear about your experience and takeaways!