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April 2022 - Year 24 - Issue 2

ISSN 1755-9715

Using Minecraft as a Teaching Tool

Walton Burns has been teaching since 2001 when he joined the Peace Corps as an English teacher in the South Pacific. Since then he has travelled and taught Kazakh oil executives, Afghan high school students, Saudi royals, and Vietnamese video game champions! He started Alphabet Publishing as a self-publishing enterprise but it quickly grew. They specialize in creative and innovative language learning resources that are a bit outside the box as well as their Basic Minecraft for Kids series. All the materials are 100% teacher-created, classroom tested, and student-approved. Email:                           


Minecraft is not a typical computer game. Because it is an open-ended game, players are free to play in a variety of ways. The game allows players to build structures and machines, to explore a vast and diverse landscape, to fight monsters, or do any combination of the above.  It’s a also a hugely popular game and has been so for its 11 years of existence. Chances are some of your students are playing it and doing interesting things in it.

So it’s not surprising that teachers exploit Minecraft for educational reasons. I’ve found that there are any number ways to use the game with students inside or outside the classroom. In this brief article, I’m going to explore a few approaches and the kinds of activities they might lead to, as well as some of the language each approach might extract. I expect this article will be most interesting to people new to the game or unsure how to exploit it in educational settings.

By necessity, this article won’t delve deep into details, but I’ve listed some references for you to learn more. I also recommend reaching out to teachers who are using it with their students. Communities like Kotoba Miners or the Minecraft EVO MOOC are good places to start. I also love hearing from teachers and sharing ideas, even meeting in-game! You may find the best way to figure out how to use Minecraft in your teaching situation is for you and your students to dive in and see what works!


Topic of conversation

I first heard of Minecraft in 2012 because my students were talking about it. It sounded like fun, so I decided to try it out. I really enjoyed the game, so naturally I started chatting with my students about the game before class or during breaks. We’d talk about what we built, cool places that we found, adventures that we took, monsters they killed, and even discoveries about the game itself.

This provided a wonderful authentic context for conversation in English. Students were engaged to produce express themselves so they talked a lot, and they worked to be understood. Useful conversational moments occurred naturally, such as:

  • Speaking over a vocabulary gap “The big green monster with four legs”
  • Using vague or hedging language “I think I did this” “the reddish stuff” and so on.
  • Exaggeration and hyperbole “It was the craziest thing I ever saw” “scared the heck out of me”
  • Clarifying and asking for clarifications “What did you feed the cow again?”
  • Vocab related to materials, colors, shapes, and colors.
  • Vocab related to computers, and more.

Furthermore, sharing an interest of yours outside of class is also a great way to build rapport with students.


Adventuring and letting language emerge

Some teachers take this a step further by organizing adventures in the game with students, then having students discuss or write about what they did. Alternatively or concurrently, teachers can also use emergent language as fodder for a lesson. Students might struggle with verb tenses as they talk in the game, leading to a lesson on that tense in future classes. Or the teacher might notice that students would benefit from learning certain lexical items.

Teachers can engineer adventures by constructing intricate buildings or designing obstacle courses, even using third-party resources such as mods and marketplace-bought worlds. However, Minecraft naturally has a number of features that can be fun to explore such as:

  • Villages: Students can trade with villagers (computer-controlled characters) or just watch them go about their day, and also explore the village itself, interact with crops, and animals.
  • Monuments such as desert temples or jungle pyramids: They can be hard to find and dangerous in survival mode, but there’s lots to explore and it’s easy to make up stories about adventures.
  • Caves. Exploring caves is always fun, and in Minecraft, they can mine ores or fight monsters. The newest version of Minecraft also includes beautiful cave biomes, particularly lush caves full of glowing berries, moss, and even crystals.
  • Mountains: Climbing a mountain in Minecraft is easier than doing it in real life, but there are challenges. Once you’re at the top, you can spot an interesting feature in the landscape and set off on a hike!
  • Fishing: Fishing is a kind of mini-game in Minecraft and you can show students how to do it, then cook and eat the fish.



Of course, after playing for a while students may not be content with sticking to only what they can figure out on their own. Students may see a picture of a cool Minecraft castle on Instagram, or hear about something you can craft. There are key skills in Minecraft, particularly if you play in survival mode, that are not always completely intuitive. So using community to find guides to the game is a large part of playing.

Guides to how to farm, hunt, get particular resources, or craft tools exist in many forms: blogs books, YouTube videos, wikis, and social media posts. Reading and using those guides is a wonderful language task, one that every player does at some point. To do it, students need to read or listen very carefully and integrate words with any visual aids.

You can also find tutorials on how to build some amazing buildings or sculptures. There are even guides to building machines which can automate farming, light up a floor like a disco, launch fireworks, or even keep time like a clock. These guides tend to be more complicated, meaning that they are best implemented by a group. So group work and project-based learning are easy to integrate into Minecraft. Of course, once students have read a few guides, they’ll be ready to make their own creations, then write or present a tutorial on how others can build it!


Classroom activities in Minecraft

Since Minecraft is such an elaborate tool, it is possible to replicate a wide variety of classroom activities in the game. Some teachers conduct almost their entire classes inside the game in fact.

We already discussed having students work in groups to follow directions and build something. This is a much more realistic version of group work we often have students do in the classroom e,g, build a Lego structure or make a bridge using only materials provided.

You can also do this as a kind of gap-fill activity. One student builds a structure out of sight of the other. The other student has to build the same structure by following the first student’s directions

Here are some other activities I’ve done or seen done in Minecraft successfully.

  • Reading: It is possible to write books in Minecraft. The system is awkward so it works best for short informational texts or short graded readers, but students can read a text in-game before doing activities related to it.
  • Writing: It’s unfortunate that there’s no way to carry text out of Minecraft, by copying and pasting, e.g. However, students enjoy doing writing short journal entries inside the game. They can build a house anywhere in the world and pretend it’s their writing cabin!
    • Scavenger Hunt: Scavenger hunts in the classroom are an engaging and interactive way to teach vocabulary or even grammar. Doing them in Minecraft is just as effective. You can also use a hunt to teach students how to do simple tasks in Minecraft, such as crafting tools.
    • Roleplays: You can build almost any setting in Minecraft, with enough time and skill and do roleplays or even short skits. These could be as simple as “buying things at a store” or as complex as recreating a setting from a book and acting out a scene! Without much effort, students can act as tour guides to something they have built as well.
    • Obstacle Courses or Trust Walk: Having students follow directions to navigate a path is a great way to get students listening for prepositions, verbs of motion, and certain sets of vocab. A trust walk, where one student guides the other (who is often blindfolded), gets one student to even produce the language! In Minecraft, you can arrange much more elaborate and interesting obstacle courses than in reality. And you can do a trust walk by having students into two identical rooms. One room is empty and the other has a clear route mapped out on the floor.

With a little creativity, I’m sure you can replicate many of your go-to activities in Minecraft in a way that is meaningful!


Learning tools built in Minecraft

It’s also possible to build devices explicitly targeted at learning. Without too much effort, you can create combination locks that require students to pull certain levers in order to open a door and advance in the game. Using books, signs, NPCs or out-of-game resources, you can turn this into a vocabulary or grammar test. i.e. “Pull the levers under the synonyms of blue”.  

Students can have a kind of office or learning station where they keep books they’ve written, notes they’ve taken, and so on. In addition, it’s possible to create meters out of lanterns that students can light up as they progress.



Of course, there are always technical aspects to work out, which I haven’t touched on here. You’ll need to decide on basic things such as:

  • Will you have a class server or rely on pre-existing servers?
  • How will you communicate in-game? Likely you’ll need Discord or a similar service that lets you chat orally, while you play.
  • Will you set up your activities to be done synchronously or asynchronously? Or some combination. How much teacher or class support is needed for the activities? Will you assess and if so, how?

These are questions every teacher must figure out for themselves, but fortunately there is a wide community out there with experience and a willingness to help. Your students who play the game are often also valuable resources!

I hope this article has given you some idea how effective Minecraft can be as a teaching tool. Perhaps it’s even inspired you to try something out I suggested or something you’ve seen on the Internet. And if you aren’t ready to try it in the classroom, maybe you’ll download the game, take a walk in a beautiful landscape, try your hand at building a dream house, and even slay a few zombies! Then tell your gamer students what you did. We’ll have you hooked in no time!



Burns, W. (2021, March 8). Minecraft Survival Mode Challenge. Google Sheets. Retrieved March 4, 2022, from

Dikkers, S. (2015). Teachercraft: How teachers learn to use Minecraft in their classrooms. ETC Press.

Gallagher, C., Asselstine, S., Bloom, D., Elford, S., & York, J. E. (2015). Minecraft in the classroom: Ideas, inspiration, and student projects for teachers. Peachpit Press.


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