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World of Warcraft Invades Language Arts Class
World of Warcraft Invades Language Arts Class

World of Warcraft Invades Language Arts Class

I never would have even thought of using WOW as a learning tool in schools until I saw this post and student responses given in the project. This is the kind of outstanding risk I like seeing teachers taking to incorporate technology in the classroom.  While there should be caution when using games like this that have violence included, there is a great deal of learning involved, especially in communication with a game like this.
I too play WOW from time-to-time during breaks from school and when we are not busy with family stuff and I will say that there is always a lot to learn in this game each time I come back and play from taking long breaks in between.

Last year, Lucas Gillispie started a World of Warcraft club at Cape Fear Middle School in Rocky Point, N.C.

After fourth period, students ran into the media center to play the massively multiplayer online videogame. With students from Suffern Middle School in New York, they formed a guild — or a play organization — called The Legacy.

At the end of a long day of sitting in class, Gillispie couldn’t be overtly instructional without turning them off. So the instructional technology coordinator for Pender County Schools took a ninja-like approach.

“We would sneak the learning in through the game, which is actually very easy to do,” Gillispie said during a presentation at the Global Education Conference this week.

This year, the middle school took the club to the next level.

Principal Edie Skipper wanted to find out what impact the game would have on student learning. So she asked Gillispie and teacher Craig Lawson to design an elective language arts course around the game.

Gillispie and Lawson developed a curriculum that aligns to the Common Core Standards. And this year, 29 students from both Suffern and Cape Fear middle schools are exploring language arts through the World of Warcraft.

Guide students on a learning quest

In World of Warcraft, players take on the role of heroes as they fight with enemies, forge alliances and foray throughout the world of Azeroth. They choose characters including orcs, dwarves and elves. And they fight on the side of the Alliance or the Horde.

The players advance to different levels by earning experience points. And they earn experience points by killing monsters, exploring new places and completing quests. Through guilds, they can join forces with other players and coordinate attacks.

In the WoWinSchool class, the game inspired a number of changes. Instead of earning grades, students earn experience points. Instead of doing assignments, they go on quests. Instead of using paper, they use Moodle.

“We really wanted to shake things up and do things completely different than how they would be done in a normal classroom,” Lawson said.

The students move at their own pace through the learning modules in Moodle. And an Excel document shows each student’s experience points overall and by assignment.

“They’re really excited to see where they’re at and kind of compete with each other and share that with each other because it’s experience, not grades,” Lawson said.

The kids don’t associate experience with intellect, which is a good thing, he said. And they’re constantly figuring out how they can earn more experience points.

Learn through a game

By playing the game, students practice communication, leadership and teamwork skills.

They read, make calculations and learn about economics. They think critically, solve problems and develop socially. They brainstorm guild mission statements, create their avatars and write stories about their characters.

The game gives them a learning environment that’s relevant to them and allows them to live out the plot line of a story, Lawson said.


This week, the students started tweeting in character through the hashtag “wowinschool.” They’re tweeting about the events leading up to launch of a new major game expansion called Cataclysm on Dec. 7. In Cataclysm, a giant evil dragon will break through the earth’s surface, causing major changes in Azeroth.

In the weeks before the dragon emerges, earthquakes and other activities occur in the world. And the students are telling the story of what’s going on from a character’s point of view.

In both the Cape Fear and Suffern classes, the instructors chose kids who were at risk behaviorally or academically. At Suffern Middle School, Media Specialist Peggy Sheehy teaches a class of 14 kids at a slower pace.

Her students don’t make friends easily, don’t read well and don’t always try in school.

But they really like the WoWinSchool class.

“My kids are racing into the library,” she said. “They’re running in, they’re eager to be there.”

In the course, they’re reading The Hobbit, the quests from the game and entries in the forums. They can’t succeed in the game if they’re not constantly reading, she said.

In the game, students can try again if they fail. And that’s what students want. One of them told Sheehy, “School should be more like games: when you get it wrong, you try again.”

Think differently

Administrators shouldn’t be afraid to try curriculum like this, said Skipper, the principal of Cape Fear Middle School.

“We’ve got to think differently about how to reach children because the way we’ve always done school is not going to continue to work for us,” she said in a phone interview.

Games allow schools to reach a certain group of children that they may lose otherwise. And with this class, Skipper couldn’t be more excited about seeing children engaged, working together, solving problems, developing mission statements and forming guilds.

Since the class started at Suffern Middle School, students who have social difficulties have improved their communication skills, Principal Brian Fox said. The students know that Fox plays World of Warcraft, so they talk to him about strategies and ask for advice.

Fox knew the game would engage the students when Sheehy proposed teaching the class. As an administrator, he also knew that the game wasn’t a controlled environment. Some of the things in the game weren’t necessarily appropriate for middle school kids either.

But most of his fears haven’t panned out. The kids have learned their own lessons on how to make appropriate choices in the game, just like they learn those lessons in real life.

One student set Fox’s mind at ease when he told him about the consequences of drinking too much at Brewfest, an in-world festivity. He said that if you drink too much at the festival, the game goes all fuzzy, you do stupid things and your character could die if you wander into the wrong place. The kid really taught himself a lesson on the bad choices characters could make if they drink too much alcohol, Fox said.

These students don’t just run around in the game and in class. Sheehy guides them through lessons and quests that have a purpose. The curriculum is well developed, and every session has a goal, Fox said.

“You have to focus their experience; you can’t just let them wander around for two hours and do whatever they feel like,” he said in a phone interview. “There has to be some overall educational goal.”

He’s curious to see if some of the writing and reading they’re doing in the class will help them in their growth assessments this year. In both Pender County and Ramapo Central school districts, the superintendents support the classes. That’s made all the difference in the world as both schools have taken a risk to engage kids, Skipper said.

After next summer, Gillispie hopes to make the course available for others to use under a Creative Commons license. But for now, he’s sharing what he’s learned on the project wiki. And through Twitter, his students tell the story of the earth-shaking happenings in Azeroth.


WoW in Schools wiki

Edurealms.com: Gillispie’s gaming and education site.

Cognition and Learning in MMOs

Write a Guild Mission Statement Challenge

World of Warcraft Guide


  1. This is another example of teaching how they learn…we’re dealing with a generation that knows the ins and outs of gaming, so why not speak to them on that level?

    However, I only hope that lessons like these are combined and integrated with some practical, some traditional, some hands-on and some cerebral to give a full complement of teaching and learning opportunities to our children.

    Fingers crossed.

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  4. Ummm…this is effing awesome. I would have aced that course as a kid and there is no better way to engage kids than with video games these days. Seems like a hard thing to pull off in theory, but these teachers deserve a standing O from the PTA for pulling it off. Very cool, great post!

  5. That is actually quite fascinating, and I’m pretty jealous of these kids. I would’ve died happy and gone to heaven if my shithole middle school had something like this. WoW does offer a lot of lessons, from Brewfest debacles to saving money to socializing with other players. That teacher is brilliant, especially in the way she got these kids interested in reading. When I was in elementary and middle school, I have Wishbone.

    However, I would be hesitant to incorporate what inevitably becomes the biggest time-waster/addiction into a classroom. What are these kids going to do when they go on to high school and don’t have this class available to them? In high school, you have so many extracurricular activities that have proven effective in keeping kids focused in school. Sports, art classes, music, and drama, as well as student clubs and organizations promote mental and physical well-being. As fun as WoW is, and despite it teaching some valuable lessons, it turns kids into shut-ins with no social skills.

    Please keep in mind that I do not blame video games for the downfall of education in the United States. I blame parents for not investing time in their children’s daily lives and ensuring that they eat well and get enough exercise. If and when I have kids, they’ll play video games, but they’ll also learn to go outside and have fun.

  6. noothergods

    I have to admit that I’d like to see the long-term results before making any kind of judgment on this. How does this experience effect these students in their highschool, college, and early career. However I am cautiously optimistic that this type of learning could be extremely effective, especially for at risk students for whom other learning models are ineffective.


  7. My senior year of high school would have been so much more entertaining if they had built a curriculum around Mario Bros, or any game, for that matter. What a tremendous idea. Teachers need to acknowledge that times have changed, and that students WANT teachers to try new methods. Students WANT to be reached. These teachers are certainly doing that…kudos. Congrats on FP!

  8. This is a wonderful idea, and I’m exteremly jealous. I used to play WoW a few years ago and if I had of been led through it in a class environment and what I read I would’ve enjoyed it and learned so much more.

    This could really begin great new bounds for keeping kids attention in schools.

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  10. I think this is a great idea because it actively teaches skills. Reading classics from another era is good and fine, I guess, but I don’t think it teaches anything beyond basic reading skills–and most of the time, it doesn’t accomplish that, because students find the material dry and boring. I LOVE to read, and even I found the material we read in school less than appealing. Although I do think that reading novels and short stories should certainly not go out of style–and I think learning to critically read news stories is a vital skill that most people do not have–I think that material should be updated to modern youth and interspersed with activities such as playing WoW.

    Of course, I wonder about some of the bad things that they might be learning from the game–which I play. There’s a lot of trash talk, foul language, sexual jokes, and people generally being idiots in the chat channels (the anonymity of the internet strikes again). I wonder if they are addressing this in any way.

    1. Lucas Gillispie

      Interestingly enough, these sorts of situations have provided some of our most powerful teaching moments. We’ve had situations in which we were able to address issues around online privacy (How much information should you share with a stranger?), ethics (Is it right to scam a person out of their virtual currency even if it’s not real?), teamwork (Should you simply leave this group because someone’s not understanding the mechanics of the dungeon?), chat etiquette (Should I use that sort of language in an online channel?), and discerning good from bad information (Should I click this link from someone who’s responded to me in Twitter? Can I really get a free Spectral Tiger mount by visiting that site?).

      Every one of these lessons are the kinds of things we say we want students to learn in our schools, but we never get to it. Here, we’re doing it and with a meaningful context.

      Thanks for the response!


    1. Lucas Gillispie

      It’s interesting when the violence question arises and its an easy target. It would be good to recall that in the US we pack stadiums and cheer for violence every Friday evening during football season. Or what about celebrated classics like Romeo and Juliet? What did you envision when you read about the fight between Mercutio and Tybalt?

      Sadly, violence and war are a part of our culture. To ignore or censor those issues will do our learners a disservice. I highly recommend folks look into the psychology behind the idea of “psychosocial moratorium” or what some have called “the magic circle.” If you were to ask any of our learners, “Is it acceptable to hit someone with a sword in the real world?” They’d tell you, “Of course not.” Didn’t you play war as a kid? Cowboys and Indians? Paintball perhaps? Better yet, these sorts of virtual experiences, when structured as they are in this program give us an opportunity to tackle real issues in a safe context.

      If you haven’t checked it out, take a look at MIT Professor Henry Jenkins’ article, Eight Myths About Video Games Debunked.

      Media changes over time.


  11. nsandberg


    I really enjoyed the article a whole lot and being a WOW player since the release, only recently taking some breaks, I had to post this on my site to share. The only question I would have for you is funding. Who pays for it?


    1. Lucas Gillispie

      Originally, the project was funded as part of an EETT (Title II-D) project. As many of you are aware that funding is going away, but we’ve been rescued by a generous grant from the Breneman-Jaech Foundation that will sustain us through the 2011-2012 school year. We may even look to expand it to another of our middle schools.


  12. Creativity and detouring from the usual plan of education is always a risk until proven that it works. All teacher have to do is try something new and wait for the outcome. If it is successful in the classroom, someone else may take the credit. If it is not, then they are blamed and encouraged to leave.
    I do believe we should keep up with the times, but this may be more reason for schools that mean business only. Don’t come to this school if you intend to play, cause a scene, fight, or find ways to disrupt the class. We won’t tolerate it.
    Those who are not interested in learning, should make choices. Those who want to learn should not be hindered. If a game has potential in the classroom, it will prove itself . If it fails the children involved will never forget the experience of having fun in school. If it succeeds it would be a mercy for the whole class.

    1. Don’t come to this school if you intend to play, cause a scene, fight, or find ways to disrupt the class….

      With caveat of….”Always turn in your homework, even if you may not have answered everything correctly…turn in something that indicates you sat down for at least ten minutes and tried.”

      True, in real life, one usually does not get by with effort alone, but still…half of retaining and integrating information and philosophy is to follow directions, eh?

      1. Lucas Gillispie

        Play is not a bad thing. In fact, some forms of play “light up the brain” in incredible ways and are powerful for learning.

        In my experience most class disruption, scene-causing, etc., is caused by boredom. Our kids are bored out of their minds at school. We are testing them to death. Worksheets? Please! Copying notes? Why?

        “I have a smartphone with Google in my pocket! Why do I need you to tell me this stuff?”

        Our WoWinSchool class is “serious business.” How do the kids know? Because they’ve taken ownership of it. And that’s what we need more of in our schools. We need kids to “own” their learning. It’s my belief that every human enjoys learning. Sometimes, however, our schools beat the passion out of them. Don’t believe me? Compare a Kindergarten class to 7th or 9th grade class.

        Don’t get me wrong, assessment isn’t an evil either. It’s an integral part of instruction. In fact, that’s what video games really are… constant assessment. Yet our learners don’t mind it. Why? Because failure is never punitive and mastery learning is encouraged. The challenges in good video games are always within the player’s “regime of competence.” Perhaps schools should take notes…


  13. When I saw this on the Freshly Pressed page all I could think was ‘What? Why?’ That’s only speaking from a bad experience in my family that has to do with WoW. My brother flunked hard out of university because of the game and it has thus been banished from our house. Haha. But what they’re doing with this class reminds me of one that I took in my last year of uni called ‘Digital Selves’. We used the program SecondLife. Don’t know if you’ve heard of it but it’s pretty much the same concept of online interaction, role playing, socializing etc. Didn’t explore it that much so I don’t think they had as much fighting as WoW, but they had some pretty worlds and groupings of characters. I think this is really smart what they’re doing–honing in on the skills and interests of the tech generation! Great post! Congrats on being FP 🙂

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  15. This is actually a pretty cool and new idea and I wonder how it will turn out as far as actually learning goes. I do know that WoW is an extremely addicting game so it coudl very easily backfire. Problem with WoW is that it requires a decent to great computer to actually be able to run without problems. If you are looking to buy a computer for gaming the best way to do it is build it yourself. To learn how to build a PC which can be used to handle videogames without a problem you should check out http://elitepcbuilding.com


  16. Lucas Gillispie

    @cryof – Our students only play, as part of our program, during the time the class is happening. We’ve set up parental controls on each account (YES, parents, you can AND should do that!) to limit their play time to that block.

    Regarding the hardware requirements for WoW, they are surprisingly not too bad. For over a year, we’ve been running it on a standard Dell Optiplex 360 computer with the following specs: Dell 360. E2200 @ 2.2 Ghz. 2.19 Ghz. 3 GB Ram. Intel G33/G31 Integrated Graphics. We average between 20 and 30 frames per second.


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