Educational Uses for the Nintendo DS

An interesting article ran on the front page of The Wall Street Journal today, discussing the educational uses of the Nintendo DS in Japan. The DS is the current iteration of the venerable Game Boy platform, and is a very popular gadget. It is the highest selling handheld gaming platform, with some 18 million units sold to date, three times its nearest competition, the Sony PSP. Wikipedia states previous iterations (i.e., the Game Boy Advance) have sold 75 million units worldwide, and the DS is backwards compatible with older cartridges.

It turns out Nintendo is slowly expanding the market for Game Boy applications, adding such things as reference manuals and tutoring software. Article author Yukari Iwatani Kane indicates that Brain Age is the tip of the iceberg for these educational titles; the company has been slow in exporting them to countries beyond Japan’s shores. But, these titles are gradually proliferating elsewhere. Electronic Arts is readying some reference works such as wine catalogs that can run on the platform.

One very positive element in the platform’s favor is the brighter, larger screens it offers. Plus, the clamshell design opens up to a larger, easier to hold handheld device. Previous iterations of the Game Boy were not as appealing to adults (old people) because they were hard to manipulate and the screens were hard to see, much less read. The DS goes a long way in addressing these issues. Thus, educational and reference titles that appeal to adults and have more serious uses than the traditional games are starting to proliferate in Japan.

DS stands for Dual Screen, and the second screen can be used as an input device with a stylus. The unit also features a microphone and voice recognition that is integrated in some games such as the popular Nintendogs, where users “train” virtual puppies to respond to the sound of their voice. Finally, at a price point under $150, integration into the classroom seemed economically viable in comparison to more expensive devices. These are similar to research findings for PDAs in the classroom, as reported by Norris and Soloway in particular. The features intrigued Japanese educators, who began to think of educational applications. One early idea that caught on: using the DS as an electronic English tutor:

Many teachers found computers to be a nuisance because they required preparing extra lessons, and moving children to a computer room. Some were even intimidated by the computers. But the DS could be used briefly and in the classroom. And it cut down on paperwork.

“It’s not like we’re letting the students play games without supervision,” [a school manager] says. “I don’t even consider them to be a game device. It’s a tool.”

After a cautious trial with the English tutorial software, in which students write out the words they hear, and are prompted as to whether their handwriting is correct or not …

The school found that nearly 80% of students who used the DS each day mastered junior-high-level competence in English vocabulary, compared with just 18% before. About half of those students had developed 11th-grade-level abilities. The school district is now testing other [DS] software for subjects like arithmetic and Japanese.

Students reportedly like the device in its new role as an educational assistant:

“Work sheets were such a pain […] These exercises feel like a game.”

This is consistent with research on appropriating the Game Boy Advance for educational purposes, which I’ve talked about here. Lee and colleagues were able to show a higher rate of practice math problem completion with students using a GBA math game than those in the control group using traditional paper worksheets.


Kane, Y. I. (2007, July 11). Beyond Pokémon: Nintendo DS goes to school in Japan. The Wall Street Journal (p.A1).

Lee J., Luchini, K., Michael, B., Norris, C., & Soloway, E. (2004). More than just fun and games: Assessing the value of educational video games in the classroom. In Proceedings from Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (pp. 1375 – 1378). Retrieved from ACM Portal.


Nintendo DS Classroom is on the way in 2009.


  • By Chuck Palmer, September 20, 2007 @ 8:35 pm

    My 8 year-old son is an exceptional reader, thinker and DS game player, but has a serious hand writing problem. Any idea how i can acquire handwriting training software for the DS? I would love to leverage his gaming interest to help him.


  • By John Rice, September 21, 2007 @ 7:36 am

    Hi Chuck. I don’t know of a handwriting game, per se, but I do know that my kids like playing with my tablet PC. They spend a lot of time doodling and handwriting messages in Microsoft’s OneNote. Perhaps handwriting on virtual notebook paper could be turned into a sort of game for your son somehow.

    You might have better luck finding workbooks that focus on handwriting, especially for those with grapho dyslexia. Try this site:

    I know it’s a “practice makes perfect” kind of thing. Hopefully you can find a way to make his practice fun.

    Best regards,

  • By Peggy, April 5, 2008 @ 3:09 pm

    For handwriting frustrations, “HANDWRITING WITHOUT TEARS” Program is very helpful, and Occupational Therapy–often covered by insurance.

    I also like the Gettys Italics out of Portland Oregon.

    I know part of my sons handwriting issues have been because he chooses to think, read and play games –instead of write–along with poor instruction in Kindergarten and first grade. A trained or self educated teacher is helpful. I think handwriting is becoming more of a problem with computer technology..

    Seriously, look at the HWT and use it yourself and or try to get him in a program.
    An OT assessment might be useful.


  • By Mac Gardner, September 29, 2008 @ 10:17 am

    Any tech that get kids involved and learning is a good thing. by using the tings they know they participate more.

  • By Omer Altay, September 29, 2008 @ 6:43 pm

    Like Mac said, using something kids are familiar with and like using to learn is the best approach.

  • By John Varkley, March 20, 2009 @ 11:38 pm

    Actually this could work really well. Kids would LOVE using the nintendo DS’s touch screen, so it would be sort of like an actual game + Kids could learn a lot.

  • By V, May 14, 2009 @ 12:57 pm

    check out

  • By DS Downloads, September 24, 2009 @ 1:35 pm

    Hi! I really like you rarticle. In fact I am a frequnet reader. Guess it was time to say “Hello”

  • By gmpoint, October 18, 2009 @ 2:54 pm

    Great post my friend,this is really helpful,especially the last part,keep up the good job

  • By allfreeads, October 19, 2009 @ 5:14 am

    nice tips,and nice article

  • By WP Themes, January 18, 2010 @ 1:01 am

    Amiable post and this mail helped me alot in my college assignement. Say thank you you seeking your information.

  • By bandsxbands, February 4, 2010 @ 3:58 pm

    I truly believe that we have reached the point where technology has become one with our world, and I am 99% certain that we have passed the point of no return in our relationship with technology.

    I don’t mean this in a bad way, of course! Ethical concerns aside… I just hope that as memory gets cheaper, the possibility of uploading our memories onto a digital medium becomes a true reality. It’s a fantasy that I daydream about all the time.

    (Posted on Nintendo DS running R4 DS NetPostv2)

  • By Fabian, March 3, 2011 @ 9:17 am

    I think the idea of using the touch screen and DS for teaching handwriting is a great idea.

    My son wanted me to “help him” with the exercise where you have to memorize a word and write it, one letter at a time. I did the memorizing and he did the writing. The instant feedback he got when he wrote a letter incorrectly or correctly was GREAT!

    His teacher was so dismayed at his graphology that a year and a half ago, she considered having him go straight to keyboarding.

  • By Kenny, June 15, 2011 @ 7:41 pm

    The fact that the DS/DSI is highly portable and these days can be bought for under $100 used makes it perfect for kids to have as a learning tool. They can take their “games” anywhere they go and learn with them, All while us parents sit back and laugh that we successfully got them to play a video game that will improve their knowledge and wont rot their brains :)

  • By Cornell Keney, October 13, 2011 @ 2:07 am

    cool work, love your theme, suits the site well :-)

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