Parents and teachers alike often worry that children spend too much time on their computers playing video games, rather than focusing on key skills like reading and writing. However, Reay Primary School in Lambeth discovered that using a platform that children were already familiar with, like Minecraft, could really bring the curriculum to life and transform the experience of even the most reluctant writer.
Reay Primary School in Lambeth has an energetic Year 5 class with a diverse range of interests and skills. Reading and writing were particularly difficult for some students to engage in, so their teacher Lucy Coates approached OpenCity and London CLC about teaching her class about city planning, while building their communication skills.
OpenCity delivered its ‘Open City Neighbourhood’ workshop, with an aim to show children the different elements needed to build a neighbourhood, including transport, renewable energy, building materials, pollution control, and leisure and tourism. Students designed buildings, decided on a community ethos, and made models that were placed on the table to work out where the buildings would go. London CLC was then brought on board to help conceptualise and visualise these designs, which was where its ‘City Planning in Minecraft’ workshop fitted in.
Rowan Roberts, computing tutor at London CLC, worked with pupils to encourage collaborative working in building their neighbourhoods using Minecraft. Using what they had learned during the OpenCity programme, the students developed their geographical and historical knowledge about real-life architecture and applied it to a popular game that many were already familiar with.
How did we inspire students to read and write?
Because Minecraft is so popular with children, a large portion of the class had already used the platform in their spare time, which gave them the confidence to be able to engage with the session straight away. We also opened the ‘chat room’ function on Minecraft, where players can talk to each other about their designs and share tips. The students were so excited to be playing the game that they spent much of the afternoon reading and writing using the chat function without even realising. They used the chat function to have meaningful conversations about their neighbourhood’s design and ethos, and showed a real understanding of the lessons learned from the OpenCity session. Even the most reluctant writers were commenting on their peers’ designs.
This approach to reading and writing works so well because it provides students with a variety of options and topics, allowing them to pick what interests them the most. Some may be interested in intricate design details of a building and enjoy sharing feedback on their friend’s library or community centre. Others took a more storytelling role, relishing in the opportunity to share their ideas for their neighbourhood.
Giving children the creative control to use their own ideas can really inspire students that don’t typically engage with reading or writing. If a topic is interesting, they will be less likely to see it as a chore. However, it is important that the tasks are balanced correctly for their ability level, providing something that is not so challenging that they feel demotivated but is also stimulating enough that they have something to aim for and feel a sense of accomplishment when they complete it. Technology gives teachers the chance to adapt and personalise learning, giving every student the chance to become passionate readers and writers.
Finally, I think that it is key to recognise that children today are raised with technology and often have natural abilities to utilise it to enhance their learning. Knowing this, we should encourage them to make the most out of that interest, rather than punishing them for spending time on their computers. Including tasks and games like Minecraft in the curriculum is likely to help students build skills not only in reading, writing and collaboration, but also in problem-solving and trouble-shooting. The result is a generation of students that are great communicators, who didn’t even realise that they were developing reading and writing skills while they were having fun!