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Arkansas State University

Using Computer Games to Improve Literacy

Many educators see video games as effective tools for engaging today’s students. They bridge student interest, diverse literacy development and in-depth learning. Strategies for teaching reading in innovative ways are increasingly using games in the classroom to engage students in their learning. Candidates for a Master of Science in Education in Reading have the opportunity to study this new avenue for literacy education and incorporate it into effective reading education models.

Computer Games and Student Motivation

When teaching reading strategies to educators in all disciplines, there are many reasons why literacy specialists should use games in the classroom. The first step to understanding the potential of computer games to improve literacy is to examine how students learn and retain knowledge. Memorizing a fact is one thing, but learning the how and why of that fact at a deeper level is another. The key to this process is the combination of student motivation and engagement in their learning.

This is the essence of in-depth experiential learning. Students who are already interested in video games are usually willing to engage them in the classroom as well, challenging themselves to learn, improve and advance. The gameplay itself applies what they learn to an experience they value, which supports the lesson’s retention and creates a positive learning cycle.

How Do Computer Games Address Literacy Improvement?

The current holistic definition of literacy is expanding from reading and writing to include visual and spoken communication, digital communication and technological proficiency. Computer games are uniquely suited to address these forms of literacy development, from teaching reading strategies in the classroom to supporting extracurricular, self-directed literacy improvement.

When playing a constructive video game such as Minecraft, students process text of many different varieties: information from the game, communications with other players, and game-play options and details, to name a few. Interestingly, researchers have found that the reading level of in-game text is often far higher than the player’s measured reading level in school, yet students excel with it. This correlates with student interest and motivation to improve their reading abilities by succeeding at a game.

When students read traditional books, they may only passively engage in a story’s narrative. Conversely, as players work through complex video games, they choose their paths and actively construct their own narratives, resulting in deeper engagement in the story.

Self-Directed Discovery

Moreover, many educational games include minimal instruction. Players search for tips and guidelines by reading exhaustive gaming books, studying complex maps of game environments, participating in online discussion forums and player chats, and watching instructional YouTube videos. This process develops players’ digital literacy, reading and communication, visual processing and map-reading, and critical analysis.

The video game can be an effective medium for teaching reading strategies as well as improving literacy in the digital age. Educators pursuing a Master of Science in Education in Reading can develop this powerful new educational tool to help students truly engage in their own literacy education.

Learn more about the A-State online MSE in Reading program.


ASCD — Taking Action on Adolescent Literacy

Edutopia — Learner Interest Matters: Strategies for Empowering Student Choice — Literacy Expert Pushes ‘Play’ on Educational Games

Wired — How Videogames Like Minecraft Actually Help Kids Learn to Read

Portland Tribune — Video Games Help Promote Literacy

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