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June 2024 - Year 26 - Issue 3

ISSN 1755-9715

Gamification in TEFL Through the Use of, Salvatore M. Ciancitto, Italy

Salvatore M. Ciancitto is currently Junior Researcher at the University of Catania (Italy), where he also teaches English linguistics and translation. He is interested in Translation Studies and TFL, carrying out a research project focused on Digital Learning Environments for EFL. Email:



The Covid-19 pandemic has increased the use of personal devices in education, and students, beginning at a young age, are exposed to personal internet devices such as smartphones and tablets, to the point where their use in the classroom has become somewhat routine. One of the disadvantages of new technologies is that they reduce students' attention spans, both in adults (Paul, Baker, & Cochran 2012; Bradbury 2016) and in younger learners (Cicekci & Sadik 2019; Dolgova, Kapitanets, Polyakova 2022), whose attention spans are physiologically short and increase with age. As a result, regardless of the subject taught, teachers and instructors must capture students' attention and adapt their teaching strategies to new environments and tools. Attention in the classroom is essential for comprehension and plays an important role in language acquisition, as students must be able to distinguish differences not only in pronunciation from their native language, but also in lexicon, grammar, and syntax. Unlike native language acquisition, second language acquisition is conscious (Krashen 1982), and what appears to be the most important condition for improving second language acquisition is a relaxed learning environment created by the use of a better teaching methodology (Brown 1994).

Gamification is a modern methodology that combines all of the typical features of games (points, difficulties, and videogame dynamics) in a context other than leisure. Despite the fact that the use of games in education has always been common practice in the foreign language classroom, today's students are deeply immersed in the digital world, and the use of videogame strategies is a common tool in foreign language teaching (Osma Ruiz et al. 2015: 2268), as many learning apps, such as DuoLingo or Mondly, suggest.


Gamification and

Gamification is a relatively new term that originated in the digital media industry (Paharia 2010). The original definition included any type of interactive computer-based game software for one or more players to use on any platform, developed with the goal of being more than just entertainment (Ritterfeld et al. 2009). In recent years, the emphasis has shifted to the concept of games as a tool for teaching and entertainment, and the definition of gamification emphasizes the use of game design elements in non-game contexts (Deterding 2011). The latter evolved into the use of game-based mechanics, aesthetics, and game thinking to engage people, motivate action, promote learning, and solve problems (Kapp, 2012).

As a result, the term gamification does not refer to the more general and broader category of "play," which is distinguished by freedom of action and a lack of rules. The term gamification refers to three fundamental characteristics that all games share (Reeves & Read 2009). The first feature is a clearly defined set of goals that define the scope of the player's available actions. Second, all games have a rapid feedback system that displays the results of the player's choices and actions immediately, determining victory or defeat in the game. Finally, they all have an ultimate and well-defined goal; the game concludes with an accomplished goal or a condition of victory that is clearly defined and without ambiguity.

Gamification is the process of incorporating game elements into non-gaming environments to improve user experience and motivate users to achieve specific goals. Game elements provide a fun and challenging way to explore a non-gaming environment. It is critical to distinguish between the concepts of gaming and gamification in this context. While a gaming environment always has a ludic element, gamification may or may not include a playful environment.

Gamification is frequently associated with the concept of flow, but flow and gamification are distinct concepts. When someone is in a state of flow, they feel completely immersed in the experience and sometimes act effortlessly and gamified components may be beneficial for overcoming learning obstacles. The components of game design are a collection of elements that we define separately and combine to achieve our goal. Examples of game design include avatars, reputation, feedback, levels and rankings, time pressure, parallel communication, teams or groups, rules, a method of enforcing rules, narrative and context, and marketplaces (Apparicio et al. 2019: 40).

As can be seen, the definition of gamification has evolved from the simple use of some game elements to a wide range of features that blur the lines between pure entertainment and teaching, as gamification was originally designed to increase student motivation. Research suggests that using games in education can increase student interest and participation (Ariza Benavides 2001; Peña-Miguel & Sedano Hoyuelos 2014; de Freitas 2018).

Gamification elements that can be used in non-game contexts can be categorized into five levels:

1. Interface designs: such as badges, leaderboards, and levels

2. Design patterns: such as time constraints and resources

3. Design principles: these can be guidelines related to clear goals and enduring of the game play

4. Modes: following theories like triggering curiosity and creating a challenging environment

5. Design methods: such as playtesting and play-centric designs (Khalil et al. 2018: 1630)

Through the use of the internet and ICT, gamification tools are enriched with visuals, and the internet offers the possibility to manipulate virtual objects with beneficial effects on the learners. Students nowadays learn best visually (Russell & Murphy-Judy 2021). Working memory can hold seven to nine pieces of information at once, on average, but visual information, regardless of mode of delivery, improves student learning because it is processed directly and stored in long-term memory. At the same time, modifying and working with the suggested texts reinforces the concepts of learning-by-doing, discovery, and challenges (Reese 2011). Learners who are visual and kinesthetic are both assisted and supported. is an online software that allows teachers to create interactive games and teach any subject by using gamification. The website is free to use, but if teachers want to save a specific number of activities that they created, an affordable subscription is required. enables teachers to use other teachers' activities, fostering a sense of professional community at the same time. 

The premium version of allows teachers to create both interactive and printable activities (33 interactive and 17 printable), and the interactive tasks can be played on any web-enabled device, including a smartphone, tablet, or computer. Furthermore, the interactives can be played by individual students or led by the teacher, with students taking turns at the interactive whiteboard. Moreover, the same activities can be distributed as printables to be used alongside the interactive activities. The free version, on the other hand, allows you to create language games and share them with any virtual learning environment. Its layout and functionalities are very intuitive and easy to use for both teachers and students; in fact, activities are created using a template system, which allows teachers to create classic games such as quizzes or crosswords, as well as arcade-style video games. 

This adaptable system also allows for the customization of existing activities, which can be tailored to the class and teaching style. Finally, Wordwall activities can be used as assignments, with individual student results recorded. Teachers can send a link to the activity to their students using a snippet of HTLM code in any digital learning environment (such as Classroom or Edredo).
Previous studies in TEFL have primarily focused on for vocabulary acquisition, which is crucial for students of all language levels (Çil 2021; Jannah & Syafryadin 2022; Paksi, Sari, & Somawati 2023)., in particular, proved useful in providing decontextualized vocabulary learning activities (such as flashcards, word searches, and matching games) that focus on specific aspects of word knowledge, such as form and meaning (Moorhouse & Kohnke 2022).


Action research and discussion

A short action research study was carried out in 2021 in two secondary school classes of students, ages 11–12, whose level of English was A1. The research question is whether the use of gamified online activities can impact students' vocabulary learning and improve the overall class environment, fostering student attention.

Most of the students had a basic knowledge of English, although they had been studying English during the last three years of primary school. In one class, where there were about 26 students, each student had their own tablet because it was a digital class and English, like all the other subjects, was taught in a blended modality, so activities were delivered. On the other hand, in the other class, whose number of students was about 18, subjects were taught traditionally, and they were allowed to use their smartphones only occasionally. In both cases, since the students were young, they had a very short span of attention and lacked enough concentration to elaborate on the contents of the lessons.

In the first of the two classes (digital class), activities were then implemented and delivered through Edmodo (a learning digital environment no longer active), usually in the final part of the lesson, which had the duration of two full hours. In particular, the interactive activities had an arcade videogame template (Whack-a-mole or Airplane ride, for example) with scores and abilities in order to implement gamification principles in the communicative approach chosen. Activities were focused on vocabulary or grammar structure presented and studied in the first part of the lesson. The content of the interactive activities was not only vocabulary-based, but they also contained tasks on sentence building (negative or interrogative form or the use of adverbs of frequency).

The mechanical elements of gamification around which activities were built entailed an incremental progression system: goals and challenges were set, and they were layered with subgoals and missions, which became increasingly challenging for the player. In a shift to language teaching, a clear hint of Krashen is clearly detectable, in particular to the input hypothesis, where the learner improves and progresses along the 'natural order' when he/she receives second language 'input' that is one step beyond his/her current stage of linguistic competence (Raju & Joshith 2018).

The personal and emotional elements from games to gamification activities are those that ensure the engagement of the students, and one of the key principles of games is that they bring players into a mental state called flow (Nakamura & Csikszentmihalyi [2002]; 2014). According to neuropsychiatry, flow is achieved by having a clear goal, clear immediate feedback, and a balance between the challenge posed by the game and the skill of the player. Gamification helped to establish flow by taking students out of their normal routine and presenting them with a series of tasks that were engaging enough to prevent their minds from wandering, keeping them focused on the topic and the language used throughout the activity.

From the indirect observation conducted in the class, what emerged was that when activities were implemented, students were more focused and less disruptive, according to the principle that, when applied to education settings and environments, gamification affects students’ behaviour, their commitment, and their motivation, thus leading to the improvement of knowledge and skills conveyed (Huang & Soman 2013).

In fact, in the traditional class setting, Wordwall activities were used in a blended environment, and students were practicing activities at home as homework. They delivered their assignments, but when observed in their classroom, they showed a foreseeable lack of attention and focus on the activity. They were easily distracted by external factors, and this partly affected their results in tests, even though they did not differ dramatically from the digital class. 



Far from being regarded as the solution to the lack of attention, gamification through online learning activities delivered through has proved to be rather effective. Students were ready and eager to play games, and they were absorbed by the mechanics of the game, according to the flow principle.

As Çil had remarked in his work (2021), the two classes did not show a particular difference in language acquisition, but where gamified activities were used, students showed a higher degree of attention and were more focused, showing a more controlled behaviour. The class atmosphere and environment were more serene and productive in linguistic terms. What is important seems to be the role of the teacher, who must be able to identify students' needs and abilities and consequently build gamified learning activities tailored to them in order to be successful. 



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  • Gamification in TEFL Through the Use of, Salvatore M. Ciancitto, Italy