I recently taught a workshop at the Scratch al Sur conference in Santiago, Chile. My workshop was designed for language teachers, and how they could use Scratch to teach English as a second language.

I see Scratch being used to teach English in two ways: explicitly by having students write and record dialogues in English, or implicitly by instructing students in English.

1. Students can be taught how to program in English. 

English instruction: Implicit learning

In this approach, students learn new subject matter in another language. We move away from creating hypothetical scenarios for English learners and begin to ask them to apply their knowledge of English. With Scratch, students can learn how to program, even with a basic English level. I love this method because it builds confidence. Students realize that they’ve learned how to program, and they’ve learned this new skill in English.

Here’s how I’ve taught English using this approach. English version of the Scratch application. Thus, the students will be required to build their programs using English commands. The teacher gives instructions primarily in English, while also displaying their screen to the class. The teacher may lead the class in building a video game. The students follow along with the teachers’ instructions in English. Even if the students don’t understand every word the teacher is saying, they are able to follow along visually.

2. Students can program English dialogues. 

English instruction: Explicit learning

The second approach is to use Scratch as a tool for getting students to write and speak in English. I think Scratch can be particularly effective at encouraging students to speak in English. In any language classroom, it’s much easier to design reading and writing activities. Getting students to speak is hard. Students are shy. If you’re leading a conversation or posing a question to the class, only one student speak one at a time. This is slow. And even if you do have students speaking among themselves, how do you correct all the conversations happening at the same time?

Scratch eliminates a lot of these problems.Students can record their voices to create video clips. They can upload their Scratch projects online so you can review pronunciation and grammar.

How to teach English using Scratch

Method #1: Have students build a game. Instruct in only English!

I’ve taught over 40 introductory Scratch workshops. Whenever I’m introducing students or teachers to Scratch, I teach them how to build this simple video game, in which the user is a fish, trying to escape from a shark. The game is easy to teach, but it also covers some key computer programming concepts.

Here is a link to more information on the video game and how to teach it.

Method #2: Have students build an English dialogue in Scratch.

In this method, you’ll have to introduce students to the basics of Scratch, but the focus will be on the output, rather than the programming itself. Thus, this method is extremely flexible. You can use Scratch as a tool to teach any course unit (vocabulary, grammer, etc.) I recommend coming up with some requirements for the dialgoue the students will write. How many exchanges should the characters have? What verb tenses should they include? How much new vocabulary should they use?

In this video, I discuss how to build a simple dialogue in Scratch.

Here are the slides from my presentation: