The Affective Filter In Your Classroom: How Playing Games Can Help


The affective filter examines the emotional and psychological variables that can hinder a pupil’s progression in language learning. The anxiety, stress, and embarrassment of the learner can feed cyclically into low self-esteem until a firm mental block is created. In short, if the affective filter is ‘up’ in your class, learning can hit a brick wall.


The affective filter can be either ‘high’ or ‘low, ‘up’ or ‘down’. If a child’s filter is up, they are feeling pressured, concerned, and distracted by negative emotions. If the filter is down, we have a relaxed pupil who is in their element, absorbing information and being productive.

And the filter exists outside of the classroom too! Many adult learners who decide to throw themselves into a language by visiting or living in a new country can fall afoul of the dreaded high filter. It only takes a few negative responses when asking for directions, ordering food, and generally trying to get by, before our learning sponge (brain) starts to dry up.


Probably. Even the very best teachers will encounter children with low confidence who need added coaxing and strategies to get them fired up. Bear in mind that low self-esteem can be displayed in a variety of ways from shyness, to cockiness, to generally disruptive behaviour. The poorly behaved kid in your class is very probably deflecting attention away from their anxieties with learning.


Setting tasks above an ability level.

Pushing a pupil too hard can cause them to shut down. It’s a tough ask to maintain pace when you have a class with diverse abilities and confidence. Take a ‘no man left behind’ policy. Find resources that can be reconfigured for specific needs – more on that later.

Not recognising boredom.

There isn’t a teacher alive who hasn’t at some point felt they are losing the room. We can’t be on the top of our game every day. But if you see the interest levels slipping away, change tactics. Take a moment to review an older topic where the pupils felt more confident. Rebuild that connection to feeling good about language learning.

Over correcting.

We have to remember our classes aren’t just an educational exercise, but a social one too. The high affective filter is most often borne from embarrassment. Be careful when you are steering pupils towards a right answer that you don’t make them feel awkward or stupid along the way.



Teach with tone, not words. Make the assumption that many of the words won’t be understood by the learner anyway. Positive body language, tone of voice, and a nurturing atmosphere. Make it clear you want your pupils to win!

Set children up for success!

It is important to pepper your lessons with a series of easy wins. Create scenarios where the pupils will have a solid success rate, building confidence, and getting them mentally prepared for the harder challenges you will move on to. As you progress, never stop dropping easy tasks in the mix to keep engagement high.

Engaging teaching resources.

This is the big one. How do we make children feel at ease in our classrooms? How do we distract the easily distracted with our teaching? Can we make learning fun?

Play games!

With all of the affective filter techniques we have discussed above, create games that build confidence, pose challenges, yet also provide those important easy successes. How do we know this works? We built a game for you!


In the summer of 2017 we launched the language acquisition game Ruby Rei, entirely built around breaking down those high affective filters in the classroom. Ticking off the checklist, we were sure to make a game that could be customisable during class for different abilities, provide regular success states to balance the challenges, and consistently keep boredom at bay.

Ruby Rei is a communication based game (that can teach a variety of languages). Children follow Ruby on a language learning adventure as she finds herself stranded on an alien world. In order to travel, she must negotiate, collaborate, empathise, and build relationships.

Here’s a trailer to give a tease of the story and how Ruby works.

When Ruby Rei was independently tested in schools in July 2017, it was found to improve pupil motivation and engagement four times more than the comparative resources. Over the course of a week, children elected to play the game four times longer, immersed in the story, and having fun as they learnt!

So we can recommend from experience the power of play-based education for building confidence, reducing embarrassment, and creating a safe environment for children to lose themselves in learning. Suddenly, a thing that might have elicited feelings of dread is now a pupil’s favourite lesson!


What are your experiences trying to reduce the affective filter thresh hold? Is everyone in your class feeling confident in their learning, or is there a child who is struggling but is too embarrassed to say. Give play-based learning a try. Immerse your pupils in a world and watch as the positive distractions help vocab and grammar lessons stick.

If you would like to know more about Ruby Rei: The Language-Learning Video Game, get in touch and we’ll send you over a free info pack.


Truan Flynn, Educational Game Writer