Creating Games, Gaining Assessments

As I explore the role of games in assessment, I am expanding my vocabulary of some essential elements.

  • Semiotic Domain: use of a set of modalities to communicate specific kinds of meaning (Gee, 2003).
  • Internal Grammar [🍃, 🍎]: is “the principles and patterns in terms of which one can recognize what is and what is not acceptable or typical content in a semiotic domain” (Gee, 2003, p. 30).
  • External Grammar [🐛]: “the principles and patterns in terms of which one can recognize what is and what is not an acceptable or typical social practice and identity in regard to the… group associated with a semiotic domain” (Gee, 2003, p. 30).
  • Procedural Rhetoric: The structure of the game and how the choices and rules emulate how the world works. 

According to my assessment design checklist, creating an assessment starts with identifying the needs of the students- to understand life cycles. In my experience, students begin to understand the life cycle of a butterfly from The Very Hungry Caterpillar and various non-fiction books. Students would benefit from an opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge of the full process before observing live caterpillars over a span of weeks. I believe that a game could be a way to assess understanding before observations begin. I will model the game on The Very Hungry Caterpillar book to give some recognizable content to the younger groups and use this to support and assess a student’s understanding of the whole lifecycle process from egg to butterfly.

Procedural Rhetoric. How will the game function with choices and rules to assess learning?

  • Caterpillars must eat to grow, so the game is founded on opportunities for growth
    • 🍃 Leaves- 2x growth
    • 🍏 Fruits- 2x growth
    • 🧁 Other foods (those found in the part of the story where the caterpillar gets a stomachache (pie, cake, etc.))- no growth
      • Caterpillar will develop a stomachache and needs to eat a green leaf 🍃 next or else he’ll be too sick to move and a bird will eat him.
  • Exceed the target for growth (15/15)- become too big and slow-moving, so get eaten by a bird
  • Need to get to achieve 15/15 growth and then create a chrysalis.
  • Anything less than 15/15 and forming a chrysalis kills the caterpillar. Once 15/15 is achieved, chrysalis always leads to butterfly.
  • Becoming a butterfly 🦋 prompts the laying of an egg on a leaf and the learner can play the game again.

Internal Grammar: These are the principles and patterns of content that govern advancement in the game. It focuses on elements that identify what is acceptable or unacceptable. In this game, the internal grammar is that caterpillars thrive on eating green leaves and fruits. Once they have grown sufficiently, they construct a chrysalis and become a butterfly. Butterflies lay eggs on leaves, and the process is cyclical. This game could be played repeatedly.

External Grammar: These are the principles and patterns of social behaviors and interactions that govern advancement in the game. In my game, this focuses on growth- caterpillars grow, go through the life cycle and turn into butterflies. Failing to grow is caused by not eating appropriate foods, not eating enough food, or overeating. The external grammar supports real-life concepts that caterpillars must advance through the stages of life in order and in time, but that lingering in one stage is not a healthy option and leaves the caterpillar vulnerable to prey (birds).

To make sure my assessment is appropriate and effective, I am framing my ideas within my Assessment Design Checklist.

How will results be used? Students who succeed in the game can be pushed to explore similarities in other life cycles. Those who do not succeed, can be engaged in other learning activities. 

Will this activity provide timely feedback and promote transfer of knowledge to new contexts? Yes- use appropriate visuals that match the classroom and natural environment. Game is short and success is immediately known. If a butterfly is not achieved, student is directed to a new egg to try again.

Have I clearly articulated the goal? Students will be able to identify the 4 major steps of the life cycle- egg, caterpillar, chrysalis, and butterfly. Students will make choices to feed their caterpillar healthy foods to enable growth.

Have I identified expectations for any cooperative learning? Currently, I don’t foresee opportunities for cooperative learning.

This is just the beginning of the process of designing a game assessment for young learners and I’m looking for feedback on ways to extend or improve this concept.


Gee, J. P. (2003). What video games have to teach us about learning and literacy. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan. 

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