Players take on the role of freedom fighters who create a secret code to outwit wily alien invaders.

Wordplay Games is a suite of Web-based games designed to improve the vocabulary and reading comprehension skills of middle-grade students. To help teachers integrate the games into their curriculum, we also provide associated support materials.

The project seeks to address the critical need for more innovative approaches to teaching and learning by creating games that combine engaging, creative forms of play with instructional impact that teachers recognize and value. Our target audience is struggling readers who possess basic literacy skills, but have difficulty making sense of complex texts they encounter in school. We aim to provide these readers with playful experiences that foster some of the reading comprehension strategies used by successful grade-level readers.


1. To develop instructionally rich digital games that engage seventh graders in sustained, playful communication activities directly relevant to improving their academic word knowledge and their ability to discriminate among possible meanings of multiple-meaning words.

2. To develop multiple models for integrating these games into in-school instructional practices that are logistically manageable for teachers.

3. To help science and social studies teachers integrate Common Core literacy tasks into subject-area instruction by providing versions of the games with content-specific vocabulary. (Each game is available with different word sets specifically designed for ELA, science, or social studies instruction.)

4. To gather preliminary evidence of (1) the impact of gameplay on students’ comprehension of sentences using multiple-meaning words, (2) their knowledge of the specific words targeted in the games, and (3) the feasibility of the implementation model.

A 7th grade student put together these images to convey one definition of act to her teammates. They must pick which of several definitions she is trying to communicate

Our games do not involve students in the review of existing knowledge, as in vocabulary drills or quiz games. Instead, the games help players to develop and rehearse new comprehension strategies and vocabulary knowledge, using high-frequency academic words and multiple-meaning words with content-specific definitions. These innovative, standards-aligned resources aim to engage struggling readers in word work that will build their capacity to read grade-level, content-rich texts with comprehension.

Findings from the project will inform our thinking about the potential of casual, interactive games as mechanisms for building students’ reading, vocabulary, and comprehension skills in the middle grades. This work also will contribute to a broader conversation about the role of electronic games in formal school settings, offering an innovative model of instructional design and implementation.

Wordplay Games was developed at the Center for Children & Technology with the support of grants from Educause and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.