Game Design – The Amazing Maze Game

In this lesson series where we create a maze game in CS First for Google, what more appropriate warm up than to give students a traditional maze to work through. I began too easy, then the next day, a more difficult one, the last day, what I considered a difficult 3-D maze. Timed the students and watched them fly! This gave them an opportunity to explore the challenges and emotions of mazes before we explored their place in literature.

Then, in an ESLified version of unplugged to plugged, ELs are intentionally given opportunities to grow in the four language domains, listening, speaking, reading, and writing, to advance their English. I find poems to be extremely accessible for English learners. They’re succinct and gripping. Because much of academic, elevated language has cognates in Spanish, poems are more accessible than one might think. We began with “Joy” by the celebrated Harlem Renaissance author Clarissa Scott Delaney.

Reading Poem 1 – “Joy

Student sketchnotes the poem. We underline adjectives and point them to the nouns they describe. We define the literary device. And illustrate “bewildered” with symbol ??.

“Joy” is accessible on We began with a sticky note warmup and attached it to the image below. Using the sentence frame _______ bring me joy because ________. students thought and shared with the class their answer to the prompt: What brings you joy?

We read the poem in a choral read a few times over the course of the lesson series. We sketchnoted the phrases. We explored the literary devices. Then we separated the poem into two parts–the first 8 then then last 3 lines. We explored the flexibility of the last 3 lines and moved that emotion of being scared and lost to the front of the poem-a more chronological approach.

My students rewrote sections of the poem adding what brings them joy. Made their own comparisons. Explored synonyms for “bewildered” like “confused,” “unsure,” and “uncertain.”

Reading Poem 2 – “El Laberinto/ The Laberinth”

One of my deep desires for my students is that one day they will have access to a heritage Spanish class so they enjoy the beautiful authors of Latin America. And they all have the ability to interact with grade level (above grade level!) content with the appropriate supports. Watch this in action.

Jorge Luis Borges is a Argentinian author who had a degenerative eye disease which progressively left him blind giving his poem El laberinto (Spanish for maze) a different significance. I placed the translation side by side and we made bilingual connections about all the ways he refered to the maze. I told my students to hunt for and underline 6 phrases. They’d bring the poem back to me until they found them all. Then they wrote them in a list below.

Student notes on El Laberinto by Borges

Write to the End

Using elements from both poems, I created sentence stems for my students to complete. Students used the maze phrases from El laberinto to complete the sentences then selected their synonym of choice to replace “bewildered.” They wrote their final drafts on a maze they completed earlier and the joy of having written something so complete and inspired by such greats.

Student draft of their poem inspired by “Joy” and “El Laberinto.”

Now code your own maze!

With a firm exploration of mazes’ place in literature and culture, we opened up our last Game Design set of modules, “The Maze Game.”

At this point, we had completed both the character story and the racing game, so students had some base familiarity with coding. That is the beautiful thing about coding- when integrated with even some regularity, students build on the same skill and further their competency. Nearing the end of our school year, they were ready.

We made connections to ELA story elements and learned about equivalency across disciplines. In English language arts, a setting is where the story takes place and in computer science backdrop is where the story takes place. With this, we reviewed and discussed the utility of phrases like “in other words” and “that is” which can cue us in to an alternative explanation. This is a key comprehension strategy for ELs as they may understand one explanation over another because of cognates and vocabulary knowledge.

Students, with the support of the guide sheets when needed and video tutorials, created their own maze games. They customized them by selecting different add-ons. Then, to cap it off, with our final part of the project, we had a speed dating structured presentation where the students got to show off their games to their peers and try to pitch them to the game company. Knowing that they would present to their peers helped motivate some. After this speaking activity, I had a couple students tell me it was the best project we have done all year. Amazed.

Student proudly presenting her maze game to a classmate in our speed dating style presentations.

Game Design – The Racing Game

On Your Marks!

Whether on the recess playground or behind a controller playing Mario Cart, racing is as old as time and every human has experience in this game, making it a natural extension for a first foray into competitive Game Design with CS First for Google, Racing Game!

Get Set!

Support students with a physical copy of lesson 2 in CS First for Google’s Game Design Solution Sheets. It breaks down the steps visually and incrementally, providing a reference for the process.


Students learn how to code characters to move in 3 directions: left, right, and forward using 3 keys. Character 1 is an elephant, and the student codes the elephant to move with pressing the up, right, and left arrow keys in game play. Character 2 is an lion, and the student codes the W, A, and D keys to control the character in game play.

L3 EL student codes player 1 & 2 but with a twist! The roaming bear which will send you back to start if he touches you!

They learn to rotate by experimenting with degrees (the language of math), and have the opportunity to input different values to adjust their character’s movement. The CS First tutorial video leads them into the very basics, where they encounter a pit stop–inefficiency. The lion moves clunky. Then in the next value, they fix the inefficiency and code the character to move more smoothly. This experience that CS First provides–first a basic code then a refinement to the code to improve it–is an planted learning experience. How often does an app on your phone work, but then there’s an update? The update results in a minor adjustment that makes for an overall better experience for the user. They experience the work of a computer programmer, with guidance, here in this sequence. How does this benefit students as English learners? Language can be rudimentary–communicative–and then refined. Help students make this connection between the disciplines computer science and language learning give them an awareness of how learning works and practice in another discipline’s context.

After coding the first sequence for the up arrow (forward movement), the CS First video shows them how they can more efficiently do this for the next two left and right arrows: duplicate/copy. This is key in computer science, learning how to copy and paste code minimizes effort–and also reduces the likelihood of making errors. Some tasks are similar enough that they can be duplicated and changed only slightly. Students who laboriously go back and forth and code the sequence with the direction blocks one at a time see a higher margin for error than those who duplicate and paste. The SEL lesson here is keeping an eye for well functioning code and applying the code to a similar function. It brings efficiency, reduce the margin for error, and overall lower the workload. Computational thinking in action.

After coding the first player, comes player number two! This extends the practice and empowers our future programmers. They are now experienced coders and coding player two goes much faster.

For students who are more experienced in coding or ambitious, CS First for Google allows for extensive customization with its fun add on tutorials. Add crashes! Sabotage! Sounds! Celebrations! Racing fans! New racetracks!

Wave the checkered flag! Yay!

The project is capped off with a speaking activity. Students present their racing game to each other in a “speed dating” fashion. They are given the conversation guide below, and their classmates rotate to them. They have approximately 3 minutes with each classmate. We review the language of the script and notetake on it. Then I model the conversation with a student in front of the class. I set a 3 minute timer, and they present their project to a classmate. Then a new classmate. Then another. Students get extensive practice with the language of explaining their project, evaluate their work, and give advice to someone about to attempt the project. It’s a winner!

The Racing Game is a great first game design project showing precision needed without overwhelming a beginning coder. In the process, students realized that their characters needed to be coded to stay within the boundaries of the race track or be penalized for leaving the track. Some students begged to customize and upped the challenge in their game by having an enemy character hunt them during the race. Students more proficient in computer science went further–they added sound, customized characters, and more.

Next up? The last in our series, Part 3: A Maze Game. My favorite lesson series yet.

Game Design – The Gaming Story

Game Design presents opportunity to explore story elements. To lead into this unit, we built up our vocabulary, background knowledge, and made social/emotional connections with two Scholastic Action Magazine* articles: The History of Video Games and The Problem with Fortnite.

Afterwards… questions. Interest. –What are the basics of game design? How is it done? Do I have the ability to enter this world of programming and game design? YES, you do!

The unit begins with logging students in and exploring the platform. I introduced categories in the menu on the left hand side, discussed common computer science terminology, and we labeled the parts of the screen: menu, blocks, workspace, tabs, etc.

In Nearpod, students then label the parts of the screen.

Also prior to coding our character to talk, we wrote in our problem solving journals. I modeled how we were entering into the problem solving process (define, prepare, try, reflect) that we learned in our prior unit inspired by here. Together we wrote down the first two items, define and prepare. Then later returned to try and reflect.

Define: Create a gaming story.

Prepare: 1) Pause & rewatch tutorial videos or 2) refer to the CS First’s Game Design Guide (printed for each student to reference).

Try: Design my character. Move the “say” blocks and change the word.

Reflect: I felt _________ because ___________.

Gaming Story

CS First in Google begins with the concept of the story behind the game. Every good game has a compelling story. I asked the class, what are your favorite games to play? What are their stories?

The CS First introductory video begins with a thought provoker–should students play more or fewer video games. To prepare to answer, we read Scholastic Action Magazine’s “Are Video Games Good for You?” I polled the students’ opinions. Beginner/ intermediate students stated an opinion. Advanced students explained their rationales. They all answered comprehension questions after the end of the article.

Scholastic Action Magazine’s Are Video Games Good for You? was a perfect intro to Game Design

In this coding task, students customize a character’s clothing and features, and then code it to do one simple task–say something. Students replace “hello” by typing into a “say” block, which codes their character to speak.

What would the character say for this assignment? We utilized the answers from the comprehension questions that we wrote that followed the article. A character would say them.

See a student’s work in progress below. At this point, he attached four “say” blocks and rewrote what his character would say in the first two “say blocks.”

The student is replacing Hello! so his character shares the information he wrote in response to the article.

With only one primary block to identify, drag over, and modify, creating a gaming story was a nice, accessible introduction into the world of coding. Students with prior background in computer science who finished quickly further customized their characters with add-on tutorials.

This assignment extended a writing assignment into a different format. Code a character to summarize an article.

What else could a student code a character say? Some ideas…Code a character to give a tutorial. Code a character to relay greetings. Code a character to give a report. Code a character to teach a concept. Add a second character and turn in into a dialogue. The possibilities!

*As an aside, I absolutely love the language rich, highly engaging materials of Scholastic Action. I build many of our units of study based on their nonfiction feature articles. Units have included Comic Books in the Great Depression, Real Stories of WWII, Frankenstein & Fear, and Extreme Weather. I highly recommend subscriptions to them to add content related materials for reading, writing, listening, and vocabulary integration. Their digital subscription gives you access to all back issues and accompanying plans/ materials. Articles come with 3 different lexile versions usually 500-600, 600-700, and 800-900. For my beginners/ newcomers we work hard. We frontload and scaffold the articles identifying text features, analyzing images, and building background knowledge. Check them out!