11/19/2013 01:28 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

Use Games to Teach

Fact: Kids love playing digital games. It therefore makes sense that teachers and parents should use digital games to engage kids more in the learning process.

Video games, once associated with violence and anti social activity and considered to be on the periphery of culture, now play an important role in popular culture. This is mainly due to the advent of 'casual games' (games targeted at an audience that are not 'gamers' but play games on a casual basis) particularly those played on mobile devices such as the massively popular Candy Crush saga.

If playing digital games is now an integral part of our young learners lives, then it makes sense for teachers and parents to use this to motivate children to learn. I believe at the very least, we should be talking about video games with our students and children to engage them in conversation about a subject they are passionate about. As all good language teachers know, what engages kids in conversation to develop language skills is talking about what they love.

I believe that a teacher's role is to make lessons as relevant as possible to students' lives outside the classroom because this promotes meaningful learning. As Mark Warschauer, the author of 'Technological change and the future of CALL' says "to be able to use English to have a real impact on the world" is what gives the most satisfaction when learning.

This is where video games have enormous potential to become powerful learning tools by providing meaningful learning experiences.

When I was a teenager learning German at high school, I remember being bored by the constant vocabulary drills. The boredom distracted me and I in turn distracted others by chatting in class. At a parent teacher meeting my German teacher told my mother 'I think your daughter only wants to learn German to chat-up German ski instructors' and my mother replied 'what better reason to learn a language than to want to speak it.' If my German teacher had practiced real conversations in German about subjects we were passionate about, it would have had more meaning to our lives and therefore been more engaging.

Like many parents of the digital immigrant generation, with children of the digital native generation, digital games were not a part of my life until after Apps were introduced in 2007. I had young children and I wanted to know why they were so attracted to games on my mobile phone and tablet. I thought if these games are going to have such an enormous impact on my kids, then it makes sense for me to talk about them at home and include them in our daily learning routine. As Marc Prensky argues in his book, Don't Bother me Mom -- I'm Learning, when responsible parents balance daily periods of playing good video games with schoolwork, homework, sporting and social activities, they promote cognitive growth and develop a child's language skills.

As both a parent and an English language teacher, I believe strongly that we need to embrace the revolution of causal mobile games that is taking place and use them to our advantage to engage our children and students in conversation and motivate them to learn.

Catriona Wallis is an English language teacher and mother of 2 boys. In 2012 she founded Colto to create action adventure games for kids to learn new words in different languages. Their first game Dodo Ladder Chase, an English language learning game, is due for release on the App Store in November 2013.