Too violent or not?

An alien parasite crashes to Earth inside a meteorite.  You need to help the alien parasite evolve in order to solve some of the games puzzles.  The way the parasite evolves is that it invades the body of its host, hatches out and assumes the physical characteristics of its victim.  Lots of gore, animals explode, people die in gruesome ways and I’m sure I have a few teenage language learners who would love it.  not sure about their parents or the school, though.

When do you think a game is too violent to use with your learners.  Obviously with very young learners having a very strict filter goes without saying but when you get to mid to late teens the filter gets a bit turned down.  There is still a line though.  What I’ve included here is a game which I think you should either play using the walkthrough or see by watching the video walkthrough.  The gore and the horror nature of this game would definitely appeal to teen boys but does that make it ok to use?  The more gruesome elements would no doubt get those teen boys who are not necessarily into writing to pick up a pen and write either the walkthrough, a description of what happens in the game or the story.  You could argue that the cartoon look of the game makes the blood and graphic elements of the game less real but there is still no doubt that the game is inappropriate for certain ages.  Whether you showed it or not would also depend on cultural mores and morals.  What you can safely show in one country may differ considerably with another.  My question is, would you use it?  Who with? and how?

Screen shot 2010-05-21 at 6.40.22 PM

Read the walkthrough

Play the game

Watch the game

The Visitor video

If this game causes offense it’s through it’s portrayal of bloody and quite gruesome deaths. There are of course other things to consider when choosing games for your learners.  These include:

The nature of the advertising present on the game page.

Inappropriate images present on the host page.

Links on the game page that may take a gamer to sites that are inappropriate but not immediately apparent from the original page.

The use of taboo language connected to to the game either within the game or in its walkthrough, forum pages etc.

Game content of a violent, graphic or sexual nature.

Cultural considerations that may differ between the teacher’s home and that of the class context.

And I’m sure there are more.  So, over to you.  What do you think?

Task Based Learning – Task Based Gaming

Task based learning is a language learning principle where learners communicate in order to complete a meaningful tasks.  The Wikipedia TBL site cites visiting the doctors, conducting an interview, or phoning customer services for help as possible task scenarios.  In TBL how well a learner has done is mainly based on the task outcome and how well the task was achieved and not on how accurate the language production was.  This is in direct contrast to how traditional assessment is done based on tests.  Unfortunately, the tasks mentioned above are very much ‘adult world’ tasks and not very meaningful for young learners.  Nor do young learners assess their own language production in terms of accuracy but rather whether they have successfully communicated their point.  This is why a lot of classroom activities need to be either very structured or fun.  If it’s not then young learners tend to use their own language because it is a more effective means of communication.  How many times do we hear learners getting the task done but in their own language?

What’s the problem?  To find a meaningful task for young learners which uses authentic language and encourages them to complete the task using any target language – in English!  What’s the solution?  One of them is to use video games.  Video games are a very meaningful cultural icon to young learners much in the way films and music are to me and my friends.  Much of the authentic language within the video game culture is in English.  Such things as reviews, cheats, guides, walkthroughs, fansites, forums and in-word chat (online games).  Modern video games have now advanced enough that you can choose which language you want to play in the settings or at a pre-play ‘set up’ stage (console games).  Furthermore, many online games which require gamer interaction use English as the Ludo Lingua Franca (virtual worlds).  The meaningful task for teachers is unearthing this language and bringing it into focus.

Many video games are ,in my opinion very suited to a task based learning approach.  As I said before the task of completing a game is very meaningful and so any language that assists in this task also has a level of meaning for young learners.  The TBL approach can be used to help increase learners’ awareness of language items, for teaching them new language items and for practicing language.  First let’s look at some of the beliefs held by this theory.  There are in fact several beliefs about language acquisition that are held by this theory.  These beliefs in turn are highly relevant to how we may use computer games in the English language classroom. For example, staging a gaming activity in three stages – a pre-gaming stage (or orientation activity), a gaming stage (playing the video game) and a post-game stage (a focus on language) is not only very much in line with TBL but also good practice when using video games in the classroom.  A pre-gaming stage helps orientate learners to the language task before they can become too distracted by the game itself.  Each of these stages in turn can have their own set of task types and each type of game can lend itself to differing areas of language and skills practice. Learner task types can be done by either individuals, pairs or small groups and the language areas covered can generally be adapted so that they are skills, vocabulary or grammar based.

Where do we start then?  As language teachers using a TBL approach to video gaming, our first concern is how best to plan a class to ensure that the video games are used effectively. During the planning stage it is necessary to consider what game you’ll choose, how best to orientate learners towards the language task before playing the game, how learners will actually play the game and finally after the game has been played how and what language can be focused upon.

Choosing a game

First of all, the teacher needs to find a game for their learners. This should be done with both the individual learner’s interests and language level in mind.  The great thing about this is (at least for potential gamers out there) is that you have to play the games in order to assess them.  Some useful website sources for free online games include:

www.i-am-bored.com

The games section here has an extensive list of games. Each title has a brief description and a rating out of 4.

www.pointandclickgames.com

This is a comprehensive site dedicated to point & click games. It also has links to walkthroughs.

www.gamershood.com

This site has got an extensive range of games with a star rating system and a brief description of the game.

www.flash-game.net

This is home to a large selection of Flash games.

NOTE With many online games you need to be sure of a reliable ADSL internet connection and have the latest version of Flash Media Player installed.

Preparation of learners for tasks

Some sort of pre-task preparation or orientation is important for learners. This is particularly so as young learners may become ‘over distracted’ by the game at the expense of the language element. Such activities might include:

  1. introducing the game via visual cues (screenshots, for instance)
  2. clarifying task instructions
  3. introducing or recycling useful words and phrases to facilitate completion of the task
  4. exposure to text that communicates the games ‘narrative’ (e.g. a walkthrough)
  5. providing partial demonstration of task procedure (guiding learners through first part of material, say a gap fill, with the game on a data projector, for instance).

The Language Facilitator

While students are ‘gaming’ our role is generally to monitor.  This is to make sure that our learners remain on task, get the necessary help with any language problems when it is needed and to engage us, a language learning expert, in meaningful communication. Incidentally, some of the most productive teacher/ learner moments for me here has come out of instances where neither I nor the learner knew how to play a game. (“try doing . . . No?”, “How about  . .”, “That’s odd! And what about if you . . . ?”, “Sorry, I haven’t a clue.” and “Does anyone here know how to . . . ?”).  For this reason don’t panic if a learner asks you a question about the game that you don’t know the answer to.  In fact, you’ll probably discover that they are the gaming experts while you are the language expert and remember that at the end of the day the main aim is simply to generate language.

Awareness-raising

Finally, we need to use a variety of  ‘focus on form’ techniques.  A ‘focus on form’ activity needs to be considered early on and be seen to smoothly move from your engaging pre-task activity into the game itself and finally move into a post play stage.  These tasks are considered the most boring by my students but it’s surprising how an analysis of text, a guided exposure to texts or the use of restricted or “closed” post task activities can ride of the wave of post play fun.  To be as flowing as possible these post-play tasks should be considered at the pre-gaming stage.

And that folks is how I see Task Based Gaming.  So get online now and find a game, play the game, assess the language potential and finally adapt it for one of your classes.  Hope you have as much fun as I’m sure your learners will.

Make Your Own Quiz

There’s no reason why this activity cannot be adapted to higher levels.

Level: PreIntermediate

Location: Computer room

Skills Focus: Writing

Language Focus: QASI Questions(Question word + Auxiliary + Subject + Infinitive)

Game: Quizmaker

Here’s one made by a group of my learners:

Preparation

Present the grammar.

Put learners in pairs or small groups.

Brainstorm favourite films or books.

Learners write 10 questions about the film or book.

Play

Learners turn their questions into a quiz.

Fast finishers can start a new quiz.

Post Activity

When the quiz gets submitted it usually takes a minimum of 48 hours for a quiz to get approved and posted by the site so tell your learners that it won’t be until the next time that they will be able to do each others quiz.  Back in the class brainstorm the title of each groups quiz.  Next class learners can take that list with them, do each quiz and write their score next to it.  The group of learners with the highest score after they are all added together is the winner.

Top Ten Casual Games about fish

1. Fish Tycoon
http://www.arcadetown.com/fishtycoon/gameonline.asp

With lots of instructions in English relating to caring for the fish, as well as information about species, etc., this could be an ineresting game to introduce to students

Get ya gaming mojo back

  1. Did you ever play computer games as a kid?
  2. Is there a game you remember that you always used to play?
  3. Would you like to play it again?

If your answer to any of these questions was ‘Yes’ then why not play it again?  Maybe you can’t.  Either you or your parents sold on your console or simply at some point it broke and never got replaced, became obsolete or you just moved on.  Nowadays, though, you don’t need to dust off an old piece of electronics from the attic or scour ebay to relive those digital days gone by.  Use an online emulator.  Here is a list of a few online emulators that allow you to play those games from years ago:


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1 ZX Spectrum

If you owned a spectrum in the 80s or 90s then this is the site for you. This site has a listing of spectrum games through the golden years from 1982 to the mid 90s. What’s great about this site? Well if the errrr-eek sound of a loading spectrum game cassette holds a lot of nostalgia for you I’m afraid this site has got rid of that. However, if you get misty eyed at the mention of Manic miner or Elite then both these games and more can be played online and for free. Get playing now!

2 AtariScreen shot 2010-04-22 at 1.42.50 PM

Remember those clunky cartridges you had to shove in the machine at the top? Well, whether it was the Atari arcade games or one of the home cartridge games that you used to play then one of these sites is for you. Do you remember staring at awe at the amazing graphics? Well goggle no more if you’ve played any game from this decade.

Screen shot 2010-04-22 at 1.45.18 PM3 Commodore 64

I only knew one kid with a commodore 64 at school which may say something about the PC system or not. Nevertheless, I got the impression that Commodore owners were very much a minority. No doubt this debate is continued by our young learners with the xbox versus playstation debate. What’s the commodore equivalent then? If you had this system or would just like to see what all this fuss is about then play one of their games and get misty eyed with ‘paperboy’ or ‘ghosts and goblins’.

4 AppleScreen shot 2010-04-22 at 2.02.55 PM

Apple design has certainly got sexier over the years. Anyone remember this little number? Possibly not but for those of you that do then why not play a few of their old timey games on the virtual apple site.  Can anyone spot the similarities between this (picture on the right) and the new ipods and ipads? I don’t!

Screen shot 2010-04-22 at 2.02.24 PM5 80s 90s arcade games

Maybe you spent a lot of your misspent childhood playing or hanging around game arcades. I know john Connor in Terminator II did. Maybe you played Missile Command or After Burner like he did in the film. If you didn’t and another title was the joystick/roller ball of your choice then check out this 80s arcade game site – it lets you play your favourite 80s arcade game.

6 GameboyScreen shot 2010-04-22 at 3.23.54 PM

Over 20 years old now and superceeded by a whole generation of different handheld gaming platforms. Still, at one time you may have been that kid on the bus/train/ waiting room/ playground (delete as appropriate) and may want to see some of those Gameboy games again. You may have to configure the keys before you ‘Load ROM’ (the game you want) but I’m sure it’ll be worth that little inconvenience.

Now you have to ask yourself:

  • What would your learners think of you playing these games?
  • What would they think of the games themselves?
  • How do they differ to games nowadays?
  • What do they think of the look of the hardware itself?
  • Can they name 6 differences between the consoles and games of then and now?
  • How have the specifications changed?
  • How has gaming changed for them over the years?

Xtranormal Movie Maker

Level: All

Location: Computer room

Language Focus: Any

Game: Xtranormal

Xtranormal is a text to speech movie maker that’s free and easy to join.  It might be a bit heavy to run but it’s a definite hit with learners.

On the right here you can see a screen shot of the movie maker editor. The instructions are at the top followed by the set, actor, sound and story folders.  The story folder is where all language production begins.

The Story

Simply click on an actor and start writing what you want them to say in the text box.  Once you’ve finished switch to the next actor.

For fast finishers there are the effects running down the left hand side.  Why not customize your movie to:

  • Change the camera angle during shots.
  • Get the actors to perform actions.
  • Get the actors to point to objects.
  • Get the actors to make some facial expressions.

. . . and more.

At any time you can hear how Xtranormal converts the text that has been written to speech.  It may not be the most authentic sounding speech but it serves the purpose.

The free account is more limited than the options open to those that pay but the free account does offer a good range of sets, actors, sounds and stories. If you did decide to go pro and get the better upgraded options then its worth bearing in mind that learners on multiple computers can access, work and save on a single account  – at least they can on the free one.

Why not watch an example of two actors discussing how an Xtranormal movie can be used with a class.  That way you can judge for yourself if you think its worth turning your language learners into movie makers.

Level: I’ve used this site with language learners as young as 8 to adults.  You just have to make sure the activity task is appropriate and to their level.

Language focus: The first time I use this with learners I generally just let them get on with it.  As I monitor I’ll help on correction, input language and ask them about the direction they are moving in.  Then, in later classes I like to return and get learners to open their movie projects and expand on the text using recent language we’ve covered in class.  This generally means the final product contains a range and complexity of language that they can be proud of.

If learners feel inspired enough to start a new project this is also fine but I always encourage them to review some of the language we’ve done over the course and encourage them to recycle it.

Have fun and maybe see your language learners at the oscars one day.

Gaming Soundtracks

Level: Intermediate/ upper intermediate

Location: Connected classroom

Skills focus: Writing

Language Focus: Relative clauses

This is a nice little activity to stimulate a little writing in class.  I have used it to practice relative clauses but there’s no reason that you can’t just forget a language focus and just get learners to write.  I’ve done this activity a few times and I either :

  1. Let them see the titles of the game and ask them if they know the game.  If they do if they know the music.  If they don’t know the game I ask them to predict what the music might sound like.
  2. Don’t let them see the titles and simply play the music following the instructions below.

Pre-play

Brainstorm the titles to a few video games on to the board.

Ask the following questions about each game and elicit some sentences using relative clauses.

When is it?          Where is it?          Who is it about?

e.g. Mario brother olympics

I elicited the following:

“In a time when Mario and his friends went to the olympics”

“In a land where Mario and his friends live”

“About people who compete to win the olympics”

Play

  • Put learners in pairs and tell them they are going to listen to some music from a video game.
  • After they hear each piece of music they should write three sentences about what they think the video game is about.
  • You can get them either to number the sentences in order or ask them to write them out of sequence on a piece of paper.  Tell them not to worry if they don’t know which video game it is.  This is not important.  What is important is that they listen to the music and imagine what they think the game is about and write the sentences.
  1. Age of empires intro
  2. Call of duty 4 intro
  3. Farmville
  4. Full metal gear intro
  5. Grow cube intro
  6. Half life intro
  7. Spore intro
  8. Sims 3 intro
  9. Pacman intro
  10. Mario intro

Post Play

  • If learners have numbered their sentences in order then they can compare their sentences and decide which are the best for each piece of music.
  • Play the music again if necessary to help learners decide.

OR

  • If learners have written their sentences out of sequence on a piece of paper you can collect them in and hand them out randomly.
  • Learners then read them, listen to the music again and match each three sentences to each piece of music.

Homework

  • Dictate the names of the games and ask learners to find out online about the game.  They can then rewrite their sentences to compare the following class.

OR

  • Learners go home and choose three games (one’s they’ve got if possible) and write three sentences about them.  They then read the sentences out next class to see if their classmates can guess the name of the game.

Playing At Pirates With 'The Ballad of Kinetto'

The ‘Pirates of the Caribbean‘ has proved such a successful movie franchise that we’ve decided to get in on the act at Digital PlayThe Ballad of Kinetto is a series of online pirate adventure games involving strong narrative features, some great puzzles and its own pirate heroes – Kinetto and Amber.  ‘The Pirates of the Caribbean‘ is on its 4th installment and Kinetto has doubled that and is now on its 8th.  Here are some screen shots from each chapter (Chapter 1-8 clockwise from top left):

*Oops! 1 and 2 are the wrong way round!*

As the movie franchise is on its 4th release we’ve decided to give you some ideas on how to use the game with the 4 skills of writing, reading, listening and speaking.

Writing

Use a walkthrough to play the game yourself on a screen in a connected classroom.  Ask learners to predict what you have to do or identify language elements (such as vocabulary) as you play but use the walkthrough to move the activity forward.  At intervals pause the game and ask learners to write the storyline as it unfolds.  To encourage some range and complexity of language you could either brainstorm narrative language elements onto the board or list them yourself.  Here’s one I prepared earlier:

  1. Tenses (past simple, past continuous and past perfect)
  2. Sequencers (First of all, after that, then, etc)
  3. Direct & reported speech
  4. Grammar (adverbs, adjectives, phrasal verbs etc)
  5. Typical pirate vocabulary (galleon, skull & crossbones, cutlass, deck, mast, flag, desert island etc)

Encourage learners to use the list regularly tin their writing.

Reading

Learners open three internet explorer windows.

  1. They play the game
  2. They read the walkthrough
  3. They use an online dictionary.

Of course, if you have copies of learner produced stories from the game from say a different class then there is no reason why you can’t use these with another class playing the game.  If they are reading the story they can get a good idea of how to play the game.  This in fact generates a lot of discussion as they translate the story into actions within the game so encourage speaking in English as much as possible.

Listening

There are a number of ways to do this:

Pairs or group dictation – Print off a copy of a walkthrough for each computer in the computer room.  In the computer room put learners in pairs.  One sits at the computer and plays the game while the other sits behind them with the walkthrough.  The learner with the walkthrough dictates to the gamer (in their own words if possible) how to progress in the game.  The gamer listens and plays the game.  If computer room dynamics means that there are more than two to a computer set up a ‘chinese whisper’ activity with one learner at the computer and learners sitting directly behind in a line.  The last learner in the line has the walkthrough and whispers it to the learner in front.  The instructions then get relayed down the line to the gamer.  Whichever one you choose to do make sure to get learners to change positions regularly so they all have a chance to play the game.

Relay dictation – Place a copy of the walkthrough on thw wall and get learners to take it in turns to read the walkthrough and then return to their partner/ group and dictate how to play the game.  Get learners to swap roles (gamer and dictator) every 5 minutes or so).

Teacher dictation – With a walkthrough in your hand dictate to your learners how to progress in the game.  Encourage them to describe what they can see on their screens as you monitor to encourage peer help.  Also some of the language may be new to your learners so encourage them to ask you for definitions.

Speaking

Play the game in a connected classroom using a walkthrough.  Learners work in groups to discuss what happens next in the game and a spokesperson reports their conclusions to the class.  The class then votes on the best idea and you tell them how close their ideas are to the game storyline.  Give clues so they can guess what happens next if they are off the mark by referring to the walkthrough and then move the game on further and repeat.  For lower levels they can direct you to vocabulary items on the screen to click on. Higher levels can describe what to do on the screen while the highest levels can predict what events in the story happens next.

You can find links to each game and their walkthroughs on a single page by clicking on the link below:

The Ballad of Kinetto

Let us know how you get on by posting a comment.

Free Online Game Creator

This free downloadable game creator let’s you make your very own flash games.

If you’ve ever fancied turning your hand to making a simple flash game or perhaps you’re looking for a summer course project to run with learners then Stencyl could be just the program for you.  It’s free, online, simple to download and use and it’s available for either a PC or a Mac.  The program comes with a few examples to try out and customize.  They are pictured here on the left.

After a quick look I settled on the RPG (role playing game) option.  Why?  Well . . .

  1. the vocabulary looked a bit richer and there’s potential to exploit a narrative within the game.
  2. It also looked quite easy to understand and explain just by looking at the opening shot (see below)
  3. Learners could be away from computers and draw, design and discuss the game.

The game itself consists of a male or female game character (avatar) who can explore the game world (outdoors, which is pictured above, and indoors) collecting treasure, avoiding obstacles and fighting foes.

Your question may be ‘how do I take this and use it on a summer course?’  Well there are schools out there who are already doing it that may provide you with some ideas:

Summer camp at Cal State Dominguez Hill sets out a three week programme and lists what you will learn and the topics covered.

Emagination runs video game design workshops as well as others with a strong technology slant.

ID Gaming Academy has a more ambitious three week programme that you can watch here:

Video Game Design and Creation Summer Camp

Different ways to get language production from this could be:

  1. A learner game design journal where they reflect on things they have learnt and directions they wish to move in.
  2. Discussing game maps and content with partner or team.
  3. Writing the game instructions.
  4. Recording audio descriptions for their game.
  5. Producing a gaming dictionary for game content.
  6. Any story lines and narrative giving background to the story.
  7. Giving a presentation of the game using a presentation tool.
  8. Writing a walkthrough for other learners to use.
  9. Writing a review of a learner created game or the creator platform itself.
  10. Opening a wiki on which to save game images.

I’ve yet to try this as a syllabus elective course for language learners but I can see some great potential here.  Any pioneers out there who can give it a go then get in touch with us because we’ll offer you a guest blog post here.

Stars for good behaviour

Level: Kids of all levels

Location: Connected classroom

Aim: Better classroom management

Game: Flight

My star chart for good behaviour was looking a bit dog-eared so I decided to look for some Digital Play that would replace it and I found this game:

What is the game?

It’s quite simple really.  You pick up the plane using the mouse, drag it into the air and throw it (see above), releasing the mouse when you want to let go of the plane.   You then get to see how many stars you collected on the way, how far you threw it, bonuses you accumulated and finally how much money this earnt you (see below right).  As you progress in the game you earn more and more money which can buy you upgrades (see below left).  There are levels in this game too.  Each single level takes place in a different city in the world (see at the bottom of the post) and you have to throw the paper plane from one end to the other taking many goes to do so.

How did I use it?

I used the game as a reward for work done and good behaviour much in the same way as my now defunct star chart did (my learners voted for this to take its place).  Having an IWB (interactive Whiteboard) helped as I could then present it in a mush bigger way and also have my learners use the pen instead of the mouse to play.  They were also given a chart (Download it from the link at the bottom of this post) to record their scores.  By recording their scores they could not only compete against each other in the short term but also themselves in the long term.   Top scores were kept by only recording a personal score if it was higher than their last score.  Of course, in any one throw they might score low on distance but high on stars so some time was needed after to scan the scores and make the necessary notes.  Play the game and you’ll see what I mean.

There is also the upgrade system (above left).  You can either do this yourself as you see fit or engage your learners in negotiation over which upgrade you should spend money on.  If you spend it on fuel then you can press travel further in flight by pressing the space bar.  Generally I do this myself to avoid complications.

When do I use it?

The trick is, though, not to overuse it in class.  Use it too many times and you not only tend to lose control a bit (the learners do tend to get excited over the game) but you may also wear the game out.  that is if you overplay it your learners may lose interest in it.  I’ve found that I’ve started to use the game as a reward in a few ways:

Completed Homework – At the beginning of the class I ask learners to put their homework on the desk and form a line at the board.  In this way everyone who did the homework gets rewarded immediately.  While they take it in turns to play the game I mark the homework with the learner next to me.  That way I can encourage them to self correct.  Those that didn’t do the homework have to do it while the others are playing.  They can’t copy and they see that by not doing the homework they lose out on the fun.

Classwork completed – The first one to finish an exercise from the course book or work book gets to have one go.  The learner who tries the hardest also gets to have a go when they’ve finished.  This is my way of striking a balance between always rewarding the achievers (fast finishers) and those that may struggle and usually never finish first but should be rewarded for their effort.  This kind of means the middle range kids may be receiving a little prejudice but if you can see a way around this then please say by posting a comment.

Good behaviour – Although the star chart has been retired it’s still a good idea to keep a record of good behaviour.  In my case it’s a happy and sad face on the board.  Each time someone misbehaves they get a letter of their name spelt out and marks if they have misbehaved so much that their whole name is spelt out – Spanish names tend to be quite long though.  If they are good they either get letters deleted from their name under the sad face or begin to get it spelt out under the happy face.  I’m sure everyone has a different system.  this can get a little confusing ( is ‘Mar’ spelt under the sad face Marta or Marc?) until you are used to it.

There are of course lots of games like this that you could use in a similar way.  Read about some of these and maybe play a few by reading our ‘incentive to work’ games post.

Download the Flight Chart.