Monthly Archives: April 2010

3rd World Farmer Note Taking Activity

Level: Upper-Intermediate

Location: Connected classroom

Skills focus: Note Taking

Game: 3rd World Farmer

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Download a copy of the 3rd World Farmer Worksheet (which contains learner worksheet and teachers’ notes).


Hand out a copy of the student worksheetUse the teacher’s notes to play the game.  The interesting thing about this game is that is purposely designed to be difficult to win and progress.  The reason for this is that the game is intended to raise awareness and mirror the plight of third world farmers who themselves may live in no win situations.  In effect the game simulates the impossible to win situation that third world farmers can face.

Post Play

Learners use their notes to complete a writing for homework.  Possible writing activities:

Write a letter to a newspaper from the view point of the farmer to ask for help.

Write a letter to a bank for the farmer asking for a bank loan.

Write an information pamphlet entitled ‘The Plight of 3rd World Farmers’.

Write a composition entitled ‘3rd World Farming is a ‘no win’ situation’.

If you have any suggestions on other writing activities or ways to scaffold the then please feel free to share them in the comments section.

English Attack – a new fun way of learning English

English Attack is a new way of learning English through videos, games and other online entertainment platforms. Aimed at the 15-35 year-olds and claimed by the founders to be “the world’s first 100% entertainment-focused online resource for improving English language skills”, it is now open for beta testing (you can request an account here) and my first impression is that it looks like it’s going to be a winner.

I’ve just signed up for an account, so I haven’t had much time to explore, but I couldn’t wait to share the opportunity for you to sign up and use the site now. It seems to feature a points system, which will appeal to the gamer in any of our students and hopes to provide “the kind of “digital entertainment immersion” most likely to appeal to this audience, and in so doing greatly increase learners’ exposure to a wide range of authentic spoken English.”

Can’t wait to spend more time on the site!

I first came across English Attack when I saw a presentation listed at TESOL France last year by one of the founders, Paul Maglione.

The presentation is excellent, and full of the same kinds of ideas that appealed to us when we decided to set up Digital Play, so I’m sure you’ll find it of great interest.

You can see the slides to his presentation below:

View more presentations from Paul Maglione.

10 Search tips to find games online

Here’s a brief description of ten key words to make your online search for games to use more effective.  They should help you find some free, easily accessible, engaging and fun activities for your English Language Learners.

1 “free online games”

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Learn a bit about boolean search techniques.  An example of one of these is to put your search words in quotation marks so that your search specifically looks for a set phrase.  e.g. the title of this tip is “free online games” – games that are ‘free’, can be played ‘online’ and that are, er, ‘games’.  In fact, tip titles 1-5 here all use Boolean search methods.

2 “point and click games”

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Using inverted commas for a set phrase and then adding +word means you get searches on the set phrase plus (+) the target word which helps to refine searches.   If you use the tip title here you may like to add:


By the way, Point and click games require the use of your mouse to interact with the game on the screen and this rather prolific genre has some great uses in the classroom and this blog has its fair share of them.

3 “escape the room game”

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A sub genre of point-and-click games the escape the room game has a rather self explanatory title.  Look for ones that use a context which contains vocabulary that is either of interest to your learners, can be easily graded to their level or simply that they are exposed to day in day out.

4 “online game walkthrough” + youtube

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Use google video to find walkthroughs.  It’s interesting to see the different search parameters on the left (above).  Search for video games in video share sites, such as  youtube, and you not only get to see a game without playing it (to check the images for appropriacy, language potential, to see the game in its entirety etc) but you also get a video walkthrough you can use.  If that wasn’t enough, down the right hand side youtube will kindly list a whole list of other game walkthroughs on its site to check out.

5 “online game walkthrough” -youtube

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The current trend for using screencapture to video a game being completed is so great that it is sometimes difficult to find walkthroughs that are just text.  If you want to find a piece of written text that instructs a gamer (or language learner) on how to complete a game step by step then add the:


to take the content from this page out of the equation.

6 Delicious

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If you don’t bookmark or mark as favourite any of those interesting game sites you find you should do.  Opening an account at delicious means you can not only see and tag those sites more easily but check out the sites of people who have used the same tags.  A great way to find others who may already be doing the site searching for you.

7 Tweetdeck

Open a Twitter account and then download Tweetdeck on your imac or PC to more easily see and organise your tweets.  It’s full of people microblogging about the things you set as being of interest to you.  Here’s a few columns I’ve set up to help me hear about online games:

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8 Share and share alike

Create a website or a blog to collect all the games you would like to use in class in one place.  In this way you can get sites checked and approved by yourself close together and direct your learners or fellow teachers to with ease.  It also means the game, walkthrough, video walkthrough, reviews, fan reviews, screenshots and material are all easily accessible from a single site.

9 Google alerts

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Once you’ve refined your searches a little and you have identified key search words you can get google alerts to scan the net for them and send you an alert each time they crop up.  Try getting google alerts on certain game types, terminology, people and events.  Scan read the summary email you receive and trash it if nothing really grabs your eye.

10 Ask The Experts

Ultimately the people who are experts in knowing what games will interest your learners are your learners.  Find out what video games they play (careful as they may differentiate between what is a ‘computer game’, ‘console game’, ‘online game’ etc), when they play them, what kind of games there are and what they have to do in each game.  Even just having ‘chats’ like this can generate a lot of English and help bridge a knowledge gap between you and your learners.

Cartoon Crazy Zimmer Twins

Lesser controlled computer room writing activity.  This activity can be adapted to the level and grammar area of your choice.

Level: Intermediate & above

Location: Computer room

Topic: Writing direct speech in a cartoon

Language Focus: Direct speech, present tenses etc

Time: 30 minutes

Game: Zimmer Twins

Screen shot 2010-02-08 at 3.33.45 PMScreenshot of Zimmer Twins game


1 Play the game yourself and make a note of any language to preteach that appear in the four file categories:

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Screenshot of the four types of clips

2 In class ask your learners to make a table in their books with four columns and to label them ‘talking’, ‘doing’, ‘feeling’ and ‘writing’ (based on categories in clip screenshot above).

3 Call out vocabulary (that appears in the game and learners have to write the words in the correct category.

4 Encourage learners to ask for the meaning of any unfamiliar words.

5 Go to the computer room and direct learners to the site.  Click on ‘Make a movie’ and then ‘Make from scratch’.


You should tell tell your learners that they are going to make a cartoon by listening to your instructions.  Tell them you are going to tell them the order which they have to use the ‘clip icons’.  This is to make sure that they concentrate on the speech bubble and star icon which involves learners having to write something.  Other than that they can write the story that they want.  Allow them to discuss the storyline as well as what to write between each ‘dictation’.

Also tell them that they can change the person, place and other things by clicking on the green writing in the middle.


Learners write their story.  When they have finished they can go and look at the cartoons their classmates have done.


In the preparation stage instead of asking your learners to make a table, ask them to tear up a piece of scrap paper into four pieces.  Then ask them to draw a “speech bubble, a stick man running, a smiley face and a star”.  Learners place the four icons they’ve drawn in the middle of the table.  Learners play this game in groups of 2s, 3s or 4s.  Call out the vocabulary from the game and learners have to grab the correct icon from the middle of the table.  The fastest to get the right one is the winner.  Mix the vocabulary you call out with words they are familiar with and possibly unfamiliar with.

You could also control the activity a little more by asking your learners to include targetted language. e.g. if you’ve just done a specific tense, phrasal verbs or other language area, then tell them they have to include 5 examples of that in their story.


The disadvantage of this game is that it doesn’t save your work unless you have registered as a member with the site.  It’s free and doesn’t require too much information so you should consider joining.

Tale of Big Totem Treasure

Level: Intermediate

Location: Computer room

Skills focus: Reading

Game: Treasure of Big Totem

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Two possibilities:

1 CLASSROOM – Print off a copy of the story and read the tale in class.  Learners predict the most important elements of the story needed to play the game and underline them.  They then use dictionaries to check up any difficult vocabulary.

2 COMPUTER ROOM – Learners open three explorer windows (the game, the Tale of the Treasure of Big Totem, and an online dictionary)


Learners read “The tale of the Treasure of Big Totem” and play the game as a comprehension check.


Focus on language elements in the Tale that are unfamiliar to your learners.  Having played the game they may now be able to make educated guesses at the meaning.  If you all have a copy of the Tale ask your learners questions about the language.  e.g.

What’s a spade?”

“What’s a pick axe?”

“The spade was leaning against the totem.  What does leaning against mean?”

“What did you do with the rope?”


Learners write out a walkthrough.

Avalon – Online interactive reader

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Level:  Advanced / Proficiency

Location: Computer room / homework

Language skill: Reading

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The Game:  Avalon is a text based role playing fantasy adventure game based on Dungeons and dragons, the stories of Tolkien and the Ancient Greek myths.  You read the story and make choices in the fantasy world as they are made available to you (e.g. how to interact with in-game characters, what directions to go in, which quests to take).  The choices you make will effect how the story unfolds and how your game character develops.  An example of an Avalon screenshot is on the right here.  You have the main body of text, a tool bar on the right and a blue window at the bottom to type in your choices/ instructions and interactions with the in game characters.


Screen shot 2010-02-23 at 1.02.32 PMAsk your students to access Avalon home page outside of class time.

They will have to think of a fictional name for their character and a password to be able to save their progress and access their game elsewhere and at a later date.


Once your learners have created their characters you can use this game in a number of ways:

1 A quiet reading activity – Sometimes computer room activities can seem like too much work and too little quiet time.  Use the computer room as an opportunity for learners to ‘play’ the game while having you on hand to answer any language queries.

2 A fast finishers activity.  Sometimes learners may finish a computer room activity earlier than their class mates.  Setting aAvalon as a reading task means that they do not disrupt the computer room activity for others and they are also getting reading skills practice.

3 Online dictionary work – the Avalon text contains a lot of examples of language used for dramatic effect.  As a result a lot of vocabulary may be unfamiliar to your learners.  Learners can read the text with the help of an online dictionary to help them reach a deeper understanding of the text.

4 Recording language – Learners can record useful language themselves making a note of the word(s), marking the stress, the word form (adjective, verb, noun etc), example sentences using the new word(s), and a definition in English.

5 Recorded language activities – Any language that has been recorded in the game can be used in classroom activities such as word formation (recording other forms of the recorded word(s) i.e. its verb form, noun form, adverb form etc)

6 Diary keeping/ report making – Learners can keep a diary or make reports (possibly posted on a class blog) of the choices, direction and progress they have made in the game.  This is helpful if learners wish to exchange help, tips, advice and game observations.

7 Presentation – Learners can give class presentations on their in game progress using any game notes they have made.  This can serve to help others, or gain help from others and makes the reading experience more interactive, interesting and integrated.

8 Periphery reading – There are a number of online sites that offer information about the game including a wiki which includes links to lists of in-game creatures, characters, places, potions etc, as well as other resources.

A Game With Teen Appeal

Level: Intermediate

Location: Computer room

Topic: Prepositions, describing things in a room

Skills Focus: Live Listening

Game: Obama Guantanamo Escape

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Teenagers sometimes like to play games that have a slight rebellious nature and that pokes fun at authority figures.  The game referrences a few iconic film characters including (in order of appearance) Rambo, Jack Sparrow, Yoda, Spiderman and The Terminator.


Play the game yourself once to familiarise yourself with the game play.  Use the walkthrough to help you.  When you play this with your class either have the walkthrough up on a teacher’s computer screen but so that no-one can see it OR print off a copy of the walkthrough.


1 Get all learners to the start of the game.  Let them watch the short video sequence at the beginning to set the scene.

2 Ask learners “where is Obama?” and “What can you see?”.  If there is a board which everyone can see then brainstorm vocabulary onto it.

3 Ask learners “what do you think you need to do to escape?”  As learners answer this keep monitoring as someone is always a little restless to play.  If you see anyone progressing in the game ask them to stand up and tell the class what they did using any elicited vocabulary.

4 Using the walkthrough direct learners towards the answer.  A typical start to the game could be:

Teacher: “What can you see above him?”

Learner: “A Baseball.”

Teacher: “Well, you need that.  How are you going to get it when your hands are tied?”

You may see a learner figure it out and if so ask them to stand and tell the class how they did it.  If not continue asking questions towards the answer:

Teacher: “His hands are tied so what could he use to get the ball?”

The answer is he kicks the wooden frame a couple of times and knocks the baseball to his feet where he can pick it up using his feet.

5 Continue using the walkthrough to direct learners through the game and getting fast players to stop and explain how they are getting ahead.

NOTE A game can be quite distracting so switch of a learner’s screen and don’t turn it back on until they have described how they progressed in the game to the class.  You may find that you only use the walkthrough occasionally when everyone is stuck and your role becomes ‘screen switcher offer’.  Remember this is fine as long as language is being produced.  Learner’s may get frustrated but remain calm as this is what should be happening.


Just before the end of the computer room time comes to a close (ten minutes or so) tell your learners to “stop playing for a moment”.  Get them to open a new internet explorer page and direct them to the walkthrough.  They can play the last 5 minutes of the class playing the game using the walkthrough.


Using the walkthrough they finish the game.  Ask them to think of another film character that they would like to have been in the game.  Ask them to write the walkthrough for their character clearly explaining where he/ she would appear in the game, why and how the game would involve the character. Next class ask them to explain their choices and walkthrough and ask the class to judge which was the best/ most original/ funniest/ stupidest etc.