Monthly Archives: November 2009

Designing a Gaming shop

A speaking activity on the subject of gaming that requires no connectivity in the classroom.

Level: Intermediate

Topic: Designing the layout of a gaming shop

Language Focus: Future clauses with if, when etc

Time: 20 – 30 minutes

gaming shop

A Mac store selling XBOX games...


Download a copy of the gaming shop worksheet and print off enough copies for each pair of learners.


1) Don’t hand out the gaming shop worksheet straight away but dictate the three questions at the beginning.  Dictate the questions in chunks (see below) and as naturally as possible, making sure connected speech elements are present.

Have you ever/ been to a / gaming shop?

Did you /buy anything?  /What?

Can you remember/ the layout /to the shop?

Learners compare their sentences to make sure they have the same words written down.  Hand out the worksheet and ask them to compare what they’ve written with the three questions in exercise 1.  Discuss any differences.

2)  Check learners understand all the vocabulary in the box.  Explain thier meaning or ask learners to use a dictionary to look them up.

3) Ask learners to look at the layout of the gaming shop (page 2 of the worksheet).  Each pair now have to work out how to organise the shop.  Encourage learners to use the language in the useful language section of the worksheet and record any new language.

4) When all pairs have decided how their shop will look, put the learners into new pairs and get them to explain their shop to their new partner.  Encourage learners to use the useful language and to try and agree on the best layout.

5) Learners vote on the best shop layout.

Post play

Learners write out a description of their gaming shop.

Get hip with Hapland – A Live Listening

Level: Intermediate

Topic: Vocabulary within the game Hapland

Listening Focus: Instructions & directions

Time: 20 – 30 minutes

Game: Hapland


Screenshot of the game Hapland (what you see is what you get)

Hapland is a point and click game which takes place over the space of one screen.  Basically, in the screenshot above you can see the whole game.  The object of the game is to get the stick man, who you can see in the cave by the light, out of the cave and through the door which is on the other side of the door in the cave.  Of course you have to do a lot of complicated things in between to get him there but that means there is a lot of explaining to do and therefore a lot of language.


Print off a copy of the walkthrough and familiarise yourself with the game by playing it a few times.  There are a few screenshots of each stage of the game to help you.


In the computer room use the walkthrough to guide your learners through the game.  Most of the language production will be done by you so essentially this is a listening.  However, because this is live it does allow the opportunity for learners to interect with the teacher and vice versa.  For an idea of how to conduct this activity, have a look at this Hapland tapescript of the Hapland live listening activity between myself and an English learner.  I try to be as natural as possible and ask occasional questions to check comprehension, recycle vocabulary and get the learner to describe a little about what’s happening in the game.


Back in class you can ask the learners:

1) what new vocabulary they learnt and ask them to write them on the board, correct spelling and then copy into a gaming dictionary.

2) Show learners or give out a Hapland screenshot and ask learners in pairs to take it in turns to explain how they completed the game.

3) Ask your learners to write out the walkthrough using the the new vocabulary.

Tube Crisis – puzzle game for conditionals

Tube Crisis is a short point-and-click puzzle game that is good for stimulating conversation with (upper-intermediate + ) learners if you are lucky enough to teach in a connected classroom (i.e. one equipped with a computer and data projector and/or interactive whiteboard)

Language: descriptions of people, relative clauses and the difference between first and second conditionals. This game is also a very rich source of vocabulary that you can either pre-teach the learners or deal with as you go along.

Preparing to Play

1) Ask the learners if they like travelling by public transport – what disadvantages are there?

2) Write this on the board:

What would you do if you found yourself crammed into a particularly busy tube train carriage?

Next, show the learners the following image (the easiest way is to start the game)

Ask them to describe the people and identify the potential problems they might cause

Game Plan:

The carriage is too busy – it would be better if someone left. But who would you like to get rid of first? And why? The options are:

  • The man blowing the party blower who is carrying the ghetto blaster
  • The bald-headed man who has the sweaty armpits
  • The backpacker who’s carrying the heavy rucksack
  • The small child who is holding the fizzy drink
  • The tall man in the suit with the red nose who’s got a cold
  • The plump ginger-haired man who’s carrying lots of food
  • The goth with the red sun-glasses who has a pigeon on his head

Once the learners have given their ideas, ask them to guess the answer to the following questions

  • What would happen if I hit the balloon? (correct answer: it would bounce off the wall)
  • What would happen if I nudge the backpacker?

After their ideas for each action, carry it out and then check with them what they saw. Now, once they know what happens, ask the students to confirm what they have seen? (So, what happened when I nudged the backpacker?)

  • What’s in the backpacker’s trouser pocket? (bubble gum)
  • What would happen if I gave some to the little boy?
  • What would happen if I gave more to the boy?

Now, which person is bothering me the most? (The man eating the crisps)

And what happened when the boy left? (a little dog came in)

  • What would happen if I gave the dog one of the man’s crisps? (it would want more)
  • What would happen if I continue feeding the dog? (It would try to eat them all and the man with the crisps would have to leave)

Now who’s the problem? (the bald man with the sweaty armpits)

And what happened when the door opened? (a spider came in)

  • What should I do now? Why? (Push the spider. Because the bald man is afraid of spiders)
  • What would happen if I hit the balloon now?

What happened when the bald man left screaming from the carriage? Who came in? ( A nun, a strange man wearing a hat and a bat) What is sticking out of the man’s hat and jacket? (twigs)

  • What would happen if the pigeon took the twigs? (it would start to build a nest)
  • What’s going to happen when the bird finishes building a nest?

What happened when the pigeon finished building a nest? What’s left of the pigeon? (a feather)

Who’s the most irritating person in the carriage now? Why?

  • What would happen if I tickled the man’s nose with a feather?

Now, what’s different?

  • What has the man in the hat got in his pocket? (a cricket bat)
  • What would happen if the goth had a music cassette?
  • What would happen if I hit the bat while the goth was singing?
  • What would happen if I hit the ghetto blaster out of the carriage at the next station?

Now who’s the most annoying person?

  • What would happen if the two men really saw each other? (tug on the trouser pocket of the man with the cold to find out)

Now, who’s the last person I have to deal with? (a health fanatic)

What’s that on the floor of the carriage? (a lunchbox)

  • What would happen if the health fanatic were given some sandwiches?



After the game has finished, restart it and ask the learners to remember and write as many of the questions you asked them earlier, but to write them using the first conditional (e.g. What happens if I hit the balloon? etc.) – you can tell them that you have to use the first conditional now because they know the answers and this is what happens every time you do this (= now there’s no hypothesis).

Once they have finished, you can get them to ask their partner and see how many of them they can answer. Finally, check the answers by going through the game again.

Extension / Homework

Ask them to write what happened in the game as a narrative: Last Thursday I was on my way home and decided to take the Tube…

Spotlight on Digital Play Innovators #2 ‘Lil Poison'

The World’s youngest professional video gamer

lil poison

Manyparents complain that their children waste too much time playing video games and not enough time on their schoolwork.  Maybe it’s because they are worried that their children won’t study hard at school.  If they don’t get good exam results they won’t grow up and get a good job when they leave.  Well, this is not a problem for Victor De Leon III, AKA ‘Lil Poison , who first took up playing video games when he was two years old.  His parents have been so supportive of his video game playing that he is now, as his website says, the world’s youngest professional video gamer.

‘Lil Poison first started playing games such as basketball and Star Wars: Episode I on the Sega Dreamcast when he was just two years old.  Two years later, he signed up for a HALO tournament in New York.  By the time he turned nine he was competing in championships against thousands of other competitors and coming third.  In one to one challenges he was unbeatable.  He is now in the Guinness book of records and there is a film being made about him.   He even earns a living by charging $25 an hour for personal online tuition to people who want to learn how to play Halo better.  He also earns money from gaming tournaments, licensing deals and having his very own clothing company.  That’s not even where the big money is.  Prize money at one of the gaming tournaments he attends can be as much as $200,000.  Not bad for a video gamer.

What do his parents think of all this?  His father is very proud of his son’s achievements and he calls him “Superkid . . . He just needs a cape.”  It was ‘lil Poison’s dad, also called Victor De Leon, AKA Vic, who first noticed his son’s gaming talent.  One day Vic was playing a game when his two year old son joined in. By playing together they completed the whole game and it was at that moment that he realised how talented his son was.  His mother hopes that ‘lil Poison will make enough money to pay for his university education, which in America can be more than $30,000 (about 20,000 Euros).

His parents do have some worries though.  Some of the more violent games, such as Grand Theft Auto, are games that they want to keep away from ‘lil Poison.  The strong language content, both in these types of game and that used by gamers at conferences, is something they frown at.  They are even careful about how much time he spends playing on his games.  His father says “He comes home from school, does homework first, takes a little break – eats, of course – and then plays two games, just two.  Then he goes in the pool, plays basketball . . . Then 8 o’clock comes and he plays with the team from 8 to 10 pm.”

‘Lil Poison himself says that he has got a lot of interests outside of playing video games.  He likes to swim and play basketball.  He likes to draw, play with his toys and watch TV.  He also has 3 pets he like to play with and look after.  Their names are Rocky, Scruffy and little Cortana.  Those are the names of his two dogs and hamster.  As for school work, he always does his homework because his mum and dad won’t let him play if he doesn’t.  His school work always comes first.

Both his father and uncle are avid gamers and give him advice on the ‘dos and don’ts’ at tournaments and how best to deal with all the female groupies that ‘lil Poison has been known to be pursued by.   He is still a little too young for that kind of attention though and prefers to play with his hamster than spend time with girls.  He’s a long way off being eighteen.  But what does the future hold for Victor De Leon III?  ‘Lil poison himself is uncertain whether he’ll still be playing games, at least professionally, but reckons if there are still cool games out there then he’ll be playing them.

Download a copy of “‘lil Poison plays video games – parents are ‘oh so happy!‘with a reading activity.

Spotlight on Digital Play Innovators #1 Jane McGonigal

To launch a new series entitled ‘Spotlight on Digital Play Innovators’, here’s a brief profile of Jane McGonigal, Director of Game Research and Development at the Institute for the Future, whose ground-breaking work on alternate reality games (ARGs) has led to a lot of excitement about how the power of games can impact the real-world.

Her ARG The Lost Ring, which ran at the same time as the last Olympics, was a great example of how these sorts of games can engage huge audiences and be be both collaborative and creative without losing elements of competition. The idea revolved around devising the rules of play to a lost sport. Now the game is over, but you can get an idea of the kind of creative content that was produced by people while the ARG was running by browsing the archives.


Another game that Jane was involved in is Superstruct, which can be used with students in the English language classroom. The premise is for players to imagine what their lives will be like in the year 2019. Although the description on the site tells us the game is now finished (it ran for 6 weeks from October 2008), students can still register and interact with the content. You could also use the game in the classroom for discussion and as an impulse for writing.

If you want to get students to use the site, they can register in a matter of seconds (if they have an email address) and the next step if to create a profile by answering the following questions about their life and world in 2019 (which could also be done in the classroom instead):

  • Where do you live?
  • Who do you live with?
  • What do you do? Where do you work?
  • What matters to you most?

After comparing answers, the next step is to watch one or two of the Superstruct videos with students and ask them to react to them to come up with possible solutions to the problems.


Students could prepare video diaries such as the one Laura (one of the participants in the ARG) prepared:

If the students react well to this, there are other missions for them to follow on the site.

Find out more about how to play the game by watching Jane’s introductory video:


Jane is particularly interested in looking at how games can change the way that we learn and work in the future, something which she explains in more depth in the short video interview below.

She also explains the potential that collaborative gaming such as that promoted through XBox Live can contribute to the development of collective intelligence and other skills.

Jane talks about the future challenge for education and the world of work to take advantage of the potential of such gaming systems. Surely there are possibilities for language learning and teaching here. What do you think?

More about Jane McGonigal (follow her on Twitter here) and her work here:

Dictionary work with online point-and-click game 'Blue Beanie'

Level: Pre-intermediate

Topic: Doing a crossword/ Using a dictionary.

Focus: Vocabulary in an online game walkthrough.

Time: 1 hour/ 1.5 hours

Preparation: Download a copy of the walkthrough for yourself and a copy of the crossword and crossword clues for each pair of learners.

Game: Blue Beanie A young ghost has his blue beanie hat stolen by a big bird and has to set off on an adventure to get it back.

Blue Beanie

Opening screenshot from Blue Beanie

This activity is designed for dictionary work and focuses on vocabulary items found within the Blue Beanie game walkthrough.  Decide if you wish your learners to use printed dictionaries in the classroom to complete the crosswords or use online dictionaries in the computer room to complete the crossword.  Either choice means that a valuable language learner skill is being practiced.  If you choose to use online dictionaries it may be a good idea to chat with your learners and find out what they know about online dictionaries.  You may learn something yourself and also acquire a list of possible online dictionary web addresses that you can use and your learners are already familiar with.

Pre gaming activity

Explain to the class that they are going to play a game.  If you have a screenshot of the game show them what the game looks like and ask them what they think  the game is about and what they will have to do.  Tell them that there are a lot of difficult words in the game so before they play they are going to do some dictionary work to complete a crossword.  Show them a copy of a crossword and ask the class how to do a crossword.  Hand out a copy of the  crossword and crossword clues to each pair of learners.  One learner is responsible for reading the clues and writing the answers and the other learner is responsible for looking the word up in a dictionary (online in a computer room or in a printed copy in the classroom).  The learners complete the crossword.

Gaming activity

Direct your learners to the game and tell them they are going to play the game and check their answers to the crossword.  They will have to listen to you to complete the game.  You can then use a walkthrough in two different ways.

1  Using the copy of the walkthrough you printed off for yourself, dictate to your learners how to complete the game.  They listen and play the game.   If a learner has any language difficulties that were covered by the crossword then refer them to that.

2 Using an online walkthrough your learners can open two internet explorer windows.  One to play the game on and the other to read the walkthrough from.   Learners play the game and use the crossword and clues as a referrence to any of the vocabulary they have difficulty with.

Learners need to understand the vocabulary items in the crossword in order to play the game.  This is because in the game you have to click on the right vocabulary items in order to successfully complete the game.  Playing the game not only tests their understanding of the vocabulary items but seeing the objects also helps them to remember the vocabulary.


You could ask your learners to find a short point and click game and write their own crossword using an online crossword generator.  Rather than encourage endless hours of game playing which learners can tell their parents “my English teacher told me to do it!”, why not have a list of short games from which your learners can choose?  A list of games providing links to the games and their walkthroughs can be found here.

Runescape – An interactive reader


The Game

Runescape is a very popular online role playing game where players can interact with each other within a medieval style fantasy world.  It has a short tutorial which serves to walk new players through some of the simple every day in-world activities such as choosing what their character looks like (physical features and clothes) and fighting dragons. There is a lot of text in the runescape tutorial but the graphics and the action scenes make the reading both fun and functional.  For difficult language items, learners can use dictionaries (online or printed), ask you or record it in their own gaming dictionary which you can help with as you monitor.


There are 4 steps you need to take before you start playing and you may have to talk your learners through it.  Within five minutes though you should all be in and starting out on your first task –  kill the dragon!

1 Click on play Runescape (it takes a minute or so to load)

2  Create an account (the information given here is confidential)

3 Supply an email and agree to terms and conditions ( email is used if you need to recover your password and ticking all the boxes is usually what I ask learners to do)

4 Enter your character’s name & password.


If you are lucky enough to have a computer/ learner ratio of 1:1 then great but you can always get them to play this game in pairs.  In the reading task they may be able to peer teach difficult language items.

Runescape avatar

As the game starts your learners get exposure to ‘parts of the body’ vocabulary. You can see them listed on the left in the screenshot.

Click on a ‘part of the body, and lots of language associated with that body part appears to the right of the list. You could argue there’s a lot to pre-teach here but why not let learners just play.  They can see what each vocabulary item means by clicking on it and looking at the changes to their character (or avatar) on the right.

Once your learners have decided what their character/ avatar is going to look like they start the game.  First there are a few control instructions telling them what keys to use in the game and which the game then tests them on by getting your learner to do some actions using those keys.  They then find themselves in a room with a knight, an elf and a dragon.  What do they need to do now?  Well, they will have to go and talk to the knight, Sir Vant:

Runescape game screenshot

In the screenshot above, Sir Vant is the knight standing between me and the dragon (phew!).  He’ll ask your learners to do a few things via text boxes that appear in the bottom left hand corner.  Your learners need to read, understand and then do these instructions.  There are some nice uses of the first conditional in the game:

Runescape dialogue

You do get other tasks that your learners can do:

Runescape task bar

But I think it’s fair to say that fighting a dragon is enough to be getting on with, at least for one class.

Tell your learners if they get stuck they should go and see Sir vant.  If one group is having considerable difficulty, ask another group that is doing well to help them out (in English!).

What you can also do is get your learners to record the in-game language by making a gaming dictionary.  You can either download the Gaming Dictionary Template or simply ask your learners to turn their notebooks upside down and turn to the back page.  Then ask them to draw four columns and then simply dictate the four titles above each column from the Gaming Dictionary Template

There are a few times when the game will ask your learners to choose what they would like their character to say.  They will then see 2 or three options.  The answer they choose will decide the direction the game takes.  Easy to understand?  Why not play the game yourself and see what it’s like?

Runescape final tab

Why playing videogames better than reading books

Are books on the way out in education? Will their role be taken by educational games?

The Digital Educational Revolution

The explosion of technology that is taking place in schools has led to a number of ideas being put forward related to the death of the book in education. More and more, laptops are being introduced in schools all over the world. In some cases, buying a laptop for a child is actually cheaper than a typical year’s spending on text-books. The OLPC (One Laptop Per Child) project is the driving force behind this in developing countries, such as Rwanda. Elsewhere, such as in Spain, current trials are underway in schools to evaluate how the use of laptops could replace much of the content now delivered through coursebooks. It also seems to make sense in order to appeal to the new generation of digital natives.

Death of the Book

That books are a dying species is a popular subject for debate on the Web and in the press. It seems clear that we are reading less, and this has been happening for some time now . Of course, books won’t totally die out, but they will probably become what they were to earlier generations – for a minority audience only. But should we really be lamenting this?

School didn’t teach me to read – I learned from my games

– a student (Prensky, 2005)

Replacing the Book with Games

Games offer so many benefits when you compare them to books:

Finally, the last words go to a researcher of the Institute of Educational Research, University of Oslo:

“A reader has no say in what happens to the protagonist of a book…while we may feel empathy, emotions run higher for videogames. By controlling the protagonist in a videogame, we become an active participant in the story. We are no longer passively being taken for a ride, but have to process information actively, make decisions and respond to stimuli from the game. Thus videogames are the stronger medium playing to a broader register of the human mind.”

Hans Christian Arnseth, quoted in The Book of Games (Volume 2)