The Board Game Group and Shane Dunkle (center right) enjoy Insomnia cookies to celebrate the final BGG meeting of Winter Quarter. (Photo taken by Asia Quizon-Colquitt)

Author: Madeleine Roberts-Ganim

The ELI is in the news! Last month, the English Language Institute’s very own Shane Dunkle was featured in the press for his work leading the ELI’s Board Game Group. Every Friday, Shane and a group of English-learning students gather to practice their English by playing fun board games like Dungeons and Dragons, Catan, and Scythe. Several news outlets, including the Chicago Sun-Times, WLS-AM 890’s PM Chicago, and Engoo Daily News caught wind of the group and decided to interview Shane about how board games can be used to teach English.  

Violet Miller, a reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times, first spoke with Shane about Board Game Group and how role-playing games can improve students’ casual English skills. Shane told Miller how playing board games can help students practice their English in a relaxed and laid-back environment. This allows students to learn better because they are not as nervous or guarded as they might be in a typical classroom, where formality and grades can inhibit learning. 

Shane explained that, “when people get stressed, those shields go up, and that language transfer doesn’t happen because the body and the mind are doing other things than trying to learn.”

Board Game Group members debate their next plans of attack during a game of Scythe, a strategy board game. (Photo taken by Asia Quizon-Colquitt)

Participants of Board Game Group also expressed that playing board games in English has helped them improve their ability to engage in casual conversations. One student noted that when learning English in the classroom, getting a good exam grade is often prioritized over developing real-world English skills. Through Board Game Group, students learn commonplace English phrases and practice speaking spontaneously, which helps them use English more naturally in everyday conversations. Read Miller’s full article here on the Chicago Sun-Times’s website. Shane’s Chicago Sun-Times appearance was also featured in the UChicago News!

The ELI Board Game Group was not only featured in print but on the radio as well! Rachel Woodall of WLS-AM 890’s PM Chicago interviewed Shane to talk about Board Game Group’s Dungeons and Dragons sessions. While Board Game Group plays different games each quarter, a recurring favorite is the fantastical role-playing game Dungeons and Dragons. Shane explained that students embody magical characters, throwing themselves into new personas all while practicing everyday interactions in English and learning new vocabulary. In this fun and easy-going setting, the students open themselves up to learning. Listen to the full episode here

“It was really interesting being interviewed for the newspaper as the reporter was super nice and asked a lot of great questions!” Shane said. “The radio interview was a little more nerve racking as I knew there was a limited time and what I said would be what I said without the ability to clarify, so I should choose my words wisely!”

ESL/EAL Programming Assistant Asia Quizon-Colquitt (front left) and BGG members play Scythe together at a weekly meeting. (Photo taken by Asia Quizon-Colquitt)

In addition, Shane’s Board Game Group was featured on Engoo’s Daily News. Engoo is an online English tutoring platform. The article highlights how Shane uses the storytelling power of Dungeons and Dragons to help students produce English sentences in a stress-free environment. Alongside BGG’s story, Engoo created accompanying English language vocabulary exercises and discussion questions to complement the article. Check out the full article, plus discussion questions and vocabulary exercises, here

Asia Quizon-Colquitt, an ESL/EAL Programming Assistant with the ELI, helps facilitate the Board Game Group with Shane. She sees firsthand how valuable board games can be for English learning. 

“Throughout my past couple of quarters at BGG, I have seen the students become more and more comfortable speaking casual English,” Asia said. “As they become increasingly immersed in the game at hand, the students are able to shed their inhibitions about speaking English and let their competitive side take over.”

Although it may seem surprising, Shane’s Board Game Group has proven that playing fantastical games about magic and monsters can actually help English learners better navigate the real world! 

If you, too, want to be a part of the magic that is Board Game Group, you can join us on Fridays from 4:00pm – 6:00pm in Cobb Hall. Sign up for the Board Game Group listserv so you can be up to date with all the BGG happenings! 

Asia and BGG members take a short break for a photo during an intense game of Scythe. (Photo taken by Asia Quizon-Colquitt)