Hello. My name’s Richard Edwards, and I’m the founder of Grammar Gamble, a game for learning English. We recently launched it, and if you’re reading this blog post, chances are that you’ve already played it. I hope you liked what you found.

(But in case you haven’t, go go go and play it now.)

A long, long time ago…

Grammar Gamble has had a long inception, coming out of 7+ years working in BBC Education, my travels and teaching around Asia and my passion for building online communities – especially ones motivated by learning.

“Are you mad? People LOVE comparing their test scores!”

But by far the biggest contributor to Grammar Gamble has been this statement, made by a teacher I met when I was working as an Online Producer in BBC Education. At the time I was producing learning games for kids studying maths, English, history etc, all based on TV shows (it was a pretty cool job, for sure).

I’d also done a lot of work on some great (sadly now defunct) community-based projects like BBC Blast, where teenagers get creative and share and support the work of other teens.

Anyway, having been out of the realities of education myself for a good while, whilst building all these new learning resources I had got myself into a mindset that took respect for personal privacy and not sharing any info on users to a very blinkered level. So if someone hadn’t done very well on an online history test, say, my default assumption was that they probably didn’t want other people to know this. Equally, they might be embarrassed to be seen to be doing well.

This was all pretty considerate, sure, but actually pretty restricting. I was denying learners some great motivating factors.

And I realised this one day I visited a teacher in his school to talk about new ideas for learning resources, and he came out with this:

“Kids love sharing their results. Every time there is a test and I post the scores up on the wall outside the classroom, they crowd around to see where everybody came. It’s a big event. They’re always asking how well everybody did, trying to see where they came on the list.”

Of course they did! Had I cast my mind back to my own time at school, I would have remembered that we too were always asking class-mates how well they fared. We didn’t exist in a vacuum. And whilst sometimes it could be dispiriting to find yourself near the bottom of a list of test results, many times it could inspire you to try harder next time. And if you’d aced it? You’d want to make sure that kept on doing just that.

And I’m someone who grew up in the 80s and early 90s, spending an age playing arcade machines and adding my name into high score leader-boards for all to see. How could I have forgotten about that?

Anyway. Right then and there I understood then that risk of failure and a desire to do better (and to be seen to do better) can be awesome motivators for self-improvement.

Struggling for lesson plans on the Thailand-Myanmar border

Roll on a few years to a career break spent teaching English on the Thai border to refugees and migrants from Myanmar. I’d done teaching in Asia before and I had a TEFL qualification, but even so I was going through the usual struggle of finding ideas for lesson plans. And then another fine teacher by the name of Khin Myint gave me a great idea by suggesting Grammar Gamble – an English activity where the teacher writes a grammatically incorrect sentence on the board and opposing teams bid ‘money’ on what they think the correct answer is.

As a lesson it went down a storm.

Putting it all together

So, combine some of the mechanics of this activity with the idea of comparing scores, with the notions of risk and self-motivation, plant this in a context of me wanting to get back into building online communities and web apps, and you have the birth of an idea. An awesome idea. An idea I kinda fell in love with:

Wouldn’t it be super-motivating and cool if there was a website where people could test their English and compare their skills with their friends? And even more than that, wouldn’t it be really inspiring for people to see where they stood nationally in their English skills? And even internationally?

Yes. Yes that would be super-motivating and very, very cool.

A few months of coding led to the launch of www.grammargamble.com. A couple of ‘hey, what do you think of this’ posts on social communities like Scoop.it led to its first traffic, and since then the number of visits has gradually grown and grown. With no marketing at all it’s got regular players in Thailand, Ukraine and Brazil. People come to it and stick around. They play. And hopefully learn a few things as they do so.

So what’s coming up?

I’m really excited by the initial success of the Grammar Gamble and how it seems to be useful to learners. I love the fact that people seem to enjoy playing it.

Now that it’s doing well, I want it to grow. After teaming up with teachers and developers who are much more skilled than I, we’re starting to add hundreds more questions and a whole heap of functionality. Want to be able to create your own quizzes with their very own scoreboards? It’s just around the corner. Want intelligent insights on the grammar areas you need to practice? It’s coming!

This blog is going to be the place where we get you involved in the process too. Because what’s an online community without the participation of its members? And I for one know that your ideas for features and improvements will surpass anything that we could come up with.

Welcome to the Grammar Gamble adventure!