Monthly Archives: November 2010

Is a WebQuest Digital Play?

What is a WebQuest?

A WebQuest is an inquiry based online learning activity in which learners are given the task of finding out information on the internet. A WebQuest can last for quite a short time (for instance a half hour computer room session) or for a long time (a long term course project, for instance).  A common format for a WebQuest is:

  1. An introduction to what the webquest is about and the expected outcome.
  2. What the learner is expected to do.
  3. A list of what to do and how
  4. A list of online links to follow to achieve the outcome.

Are they suitable for Language learning?

The answer has to be a definite ‘yes!’  Many sites cater for both language learners and language teachers and cover a wide range of general language webquests for the ESL and EFL classroom.   If you like using authentic material with language learners then check out lesson planet, which has webquests graded from pre-kindergarten to 12 grade (17 or 18 year olds).

Is a WebQuest digital Play?

By reading the answer to ‘what is a WebQuest?’ above you would have to say no.  However, as most or all of the information comes from the web you could argue it’s digital and because learners are engaged and enjoy doing webquests you could argue there is an element of fun too. But does fun make it play?  Is the fact you ‘do’ a WebQuest rather than ‘play’ a WebQuest just semantical nitpicking?  Answers on a postcard to . . . hang on! Why not just add a comment here? If a WebQuest involves playing a game is it digital play?  What about WebQuests that are on video game playing?

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Take The most dangerous video game and the Video Game WebQuest.  Both about video games with the latter looking at the difference between what we see as a ‘good’ video game and a ‘bad’ video game, both cover the subject of digital play?  They are, however, about digital play and not actually digital play.

Which have a digital play look and feel?

Screen shot 2010-04-23 at 1.30.23 AMThe Da Vinci Code looks a little like a game – it has a narrative, some visuals and even has a soundtrack.  There is also a short story walkthrough. Unfortunately it still doesn’t boast great graphics nor many of the principles that make a game fun.  Game challenges such as hand eye co-ordination, time constraints, territory gaining, power projecting or object hunting are lacking.

Treasure Hunters involves some of the principles behind both point-and-click games and WebQuests.  You use your mouse to find objects, solve puzzles and follow clues to other websites to find information.  It has some nice visuals and some online searching too but the level is probably too high for most of my young learners.

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The Rule of Four WebQuest opens with a puzzle that looks very much like a video game and has some challenging puzzles. I did find the second puzzle quite frustrating – I kept running out of time – until I realised I didn’t have to complete it but solve enough to be able to click the right answer.  Frustrating too was the fact that once you lost all your lives you had to start right back at the beginning again.  It certainly has a digital play feel to it.  But is it a WebQuest?

Then of course there are some games online that can be used as a WebqQuest.  Take the game Peace Doves for example.  It’s a really a quiz about the proliferation of nuclear weapons thinly disguised as a game.  You read information about a non identified country, identify it by clicking on a world map and then launch a peace dove to the destination from the orbiting space rocket.  You have two chances to get the answer right but as there is no time limit its great for higher levels in a computer room to look up the information on the internet and then answer the questions.  Fastest team to win and with the least mistakes wins.   So maybe it’s just possible to make digital play into a WebQuest.

So, there are probably a few digital games or quizzes hiding online out there that can be used as a WebQuest.  It seems for a webquest to be ‘digital play’ it needs to have some visual interactive elements, or at least have a video game look to it.  Does anyone out there know of anymore out there?  Maybe that’s a WebQuest in itself.

Princess Natasha – An Action Reader

This game actually has a built-in walkthrough and lots of text to challenge your learners. There are also some nice reading puzzles too.  The content and look of the game also makes it very child friendly.  I also like this because the main character in this game is a James Bond like character but is female rather than male.

Level: Upper Intermediate

Location: Computer room

Skills Focus: Reading

Game: Princess Natasha: No Vacancy

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What preparation is involved?

This game needs little or no preparation.  You may like to play the game yourself first and make a note of some of the more difficult language items within the game but I have found it’s nice to have this one as a back up game for this level when something that you planned to do can’t be done.  You can then deal with learner’s language issues reactively as they happen.

What is the game about?

At the start of the game you get a Screen shot 2010-05-26 at 9.24.36 AMmessage on a mobile from a king like character.  This character sets the scene and tells you what your mission is.  The nice thing about a lot of text in this game is that the gamer has to press the next button to move on.  That means they have as long as they like to read the text, ask you any questions if they want to, before moving on.  If you are playing this game in the computer room then learners are quite autonomous.  You may choose to control the game a lot more and use it in a connected classroom.  If you do you can allow your learners time to read the text (as well as yourself) and then ask comprehension check questions about language or context based on what you predict your learners may have difficulty with.

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How do I play the game?

In the bottom left hand corner of the screen there is a question mark.  Pressing this at any time during the game gives you a pop up hint window.  This is essentially the walkthrough and tells the player or hints at what they need to do at this level of the game.  Again the language stays on the screen for as long as the gamer wants.  They can close it by clicking on the cross, see the next hint for that level or view them all again by passing through all the hints at that stage and clicking on the ‘?’.  If they close the hint window and reopen it, the hints continue from where you left off.

What reading puzzles are there?

Screen shot 2010-05-26 at 9.24.21 AMOf course, the hints mentioned above don’t always tell you everything but may just hint at what you need to do.  ‘Review the parrot handbook . . .’ is one such hint and the gamer is directed to find a book, find the relevant section in the index section of a book and then read and understand the information within the book to then continue playing the game.  I encourage learners to ask each other about different language items, to ask me or to use an online dictionary.

Follow up activities

  • Finish the game at home if it wasn’t finished during class time.
  • Note taking on any interesting language items (check out the password options at the big metal door).
  • Write a walkthrough using their own language.
  • Write a Spy’s report on the mission.
  • Write a story about one of the scenes in the game (outside the house, in the house, under the house).
  • Write a review of the game.

'Type 'Em Up' Spelling Game

Level: Beginners

Language Focus: Spelling letters of the alphabet

Skills Practice: Pronunciation

Game: Type ‘Em Up

This works great as a warmer.  Use the space bar or enter key to move your ship up and down and type in the letters on the keyboard to shoot them down on the screen.

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Sit your learners in front of the board.  You may want to clear some space first.  Then divide the class into three teams.  Get them to decide on a name for each team and write them down.  I then usually get this game up on the board and ask a learner to tell the class how to play the game.  It’s a simple game and one of them can usually intuitively guess how its played.  I let them use their own language for convenience sake.


  1. A learner from the team that is about to play comes to the front and stands on the right of the keyboard.  Their role is to press the enter button on the keyboard to move the ship.
  2. Teams take it in turns to call out letters while you type in the letters they say on the keyboard.
  3. When their game ends make a note of the points they scored.
  4. It’s the next teams turn.  Repeat from step 1.


A disadvantage of this game is that the spaceship controls are not too good.  You have to move to the top before you can move down.  So you can move in small degrees but only in one direction.  However, your learners simply learn that this is part of the game and play on.  It’s also a little fast for my liking but that’s why it works great as a warmer.  Just be warned that your learners will be a bit hyper after this game – channel it into a ‘moving the furniture back into place’ activity from when you moved them at the beginning of the activity (LoL).

7 ways video games reward the brain

Thanks to @cheimi10 for drawing our attention to this inspiring new TED video by Tom Chatfield, a longtime gamer, the arts and books editor at the UK current-affairs magazine Prospect, and the author of the book Fun Inc.

“We’re bringing gameplay into more aspects of our lives, spending countless hours — and real money — exploring virtual worlds for imaginary treasures. Why? As Tom Chatfield shows, games are perfectly tuned to dole out rewards that engage the brain and keep us questing for more.”

Playing with words

Play Twist Our Words

This is a fun activity to do in the computer room.  Check out one we made here – Digital Play Twist.  This ‘digital toy’ is on the British Tv Channel 4 site.  You click on the words and make sentences (the sentence you are making appears in the bottom left hand corner).  You can edit what you write by clicking on your word so that a dotted line appears behind the word you are interested in.  You can also move that dotted line by using the arrow keys.  You can also delete words (use the delete button) and add new ones (from the selection of words you have on the site).  If you want to delete all the work you’ve done then click on the ‘clear all’ button on the bottom to the right. Here’s what it looks like:

I’ve even added a dramatic pause in the middle, which is one of  four options – look on the bottom right at the end of all the words.

When you’ve finished making your sentence then press the play button that’s just after the sentence you’ve made.  You’ll then see various British personalities saying the sentence one word at a time.

Twist Our Words

If you’d like to see some examples then click here.

How did I use this in a class?  In the computer room I just got students to play on the site and show me and their classmates the sentences they made.  I monitored and pointed out and language mistakes and encouraged them to correct them and make them as long as possible.

You can then get students to vote on the best and explain why they thought a particular one was the best.

Thanks to Nik Peachey for making us aware of this digital toy.

A Downloadable Game – Nearly Departed

Sometimes access to the internet in a classroom or computer room may not always be reliable or even available. Here is a very visual and humorous point and click adventure game that you can download and play on a computer without an internet connection.

Gameplay: You wake up to discover you are a zombie with a bad case of amnesia, who needs to find out who you are and how you died.

Size: 20.11 MB

OS: Microsoft or Mac

Download site: John green art

Comments: This is a demo version and so it’s not a complete version. However you get quite an extensive game just doing the demo and by the end you can pretty much say who you were, stuff about your personal life and make an educated guess at why you died.

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Level: Intermediate+

Location: Computer room

Skills Focus: Reading


Download the game onto a hard drive/ hard drives (and transfer to a disc if you want)

Learners open a word document and write the title ‘Nearly Departed’.  Brainstorm predictions on what the game is about.

Dictate the following walkthrough for learners to type up in the word document:

  1. Pick up the sheet with mud all over it lying in the grave.
  2. Go round and pick up the shovel.
  3. Use the shovel on the headstone to wipe the earth off it.
  4. Put some of the mud in your pocket.
  5. Walk up the path towards the cemetery gates.


Learners access the game in pairs and use the walkthrough you dictated to start the game.

When they complete the dictated walkthrough they should continue playing and write the rest of the walkthrough as they discover it.

If they don’t know a word in English they can draw a line and list the words* they don’t know on a separate piece of paper.

Learners save their walkthrough when you choose to stop the activity.

Post Play Activity

Learners look at lists of words* and look them up in a dictionary for homework and copy them into the walkthrough.

Learners read and peer correct other learners walkthroughs.


Learners expand on the walkthrough and change any repetitive language (‘click’ etc).

If your learners reach the end of the demo they can write out their theory to what happened to the central character.  You could help them by supplying these questions:

Who is he?  Where did he live?  Who did he know?  Where did he live?  What was his job?  Where was he murdered?  Why was he murdered?  Who murdered him?

Most of these questions are answered but not all of them.  However, an educated guess can be made and it’s interesting to see if any different theories come up.  Any differences of opinion make an excellent opportunity for debate.

Alternative activity

Learners play the game in the computer room and in another internet explorer page read the Nearly Departed Walkthrough.  By reading the walkthrough they can play the game much quicker and easily.

Jane McGonigal TED Talk

Games like World of Warcraft give players the means to save worlds, and incentive to learn the habits of heroes. What if we could harness this gamer power to solve real-world problems? Jane McGonigal says we can, and explains how.

Relative Clauses with Grow Cube

You can use this activity to practice both relative clauses and other grammatical areas.  The relative clauses task comes in later in this activity and targets non-defining relative clauses.

Level: Upper-Intermediate

Location: Connected classroom with IWB

Language focus: Defining and non-defining relative clauses

Game: Eyemaze GROW games

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Top left to right – Grow ver .3, Grow cube, Grow tower

Bottom left to right – Grow ver .2, Grow RPG,  Grow ver .1

The secret to finishing these games is finding the correct order in which to add the objects and make the game grow.  If you get the right order the game grows to its fullest potential.  A bit unclear?  Then find a walkthrough and play one of the games.  By the way, the number of icons at the side is a good indication of how many stages to the game there are.  After each stage finishes the game usually pauses until you click something – use this to your advantage (students can produce language in this pause).


1 Choose one of the games and find and make a copy of its walkthrough online by using a search engine and typing in:

“name of the game” +walkthrough

2 Play the game and decide what language is going to scaffold the writing activity.  Think about using a conditional, sequencers, narrative tenses or how you can adapt the game to a grammar point you have recently covered in class.

3 Make a note of how many different ‘game stages’ there are to the game and think about how to scaffold the language with each ‘game stage’.  How will you use a different language item at each ‘game stage’. e.g. stage 1 = first of all, stage 2 = then, stage 3 = after that (sequencers).

4 Do you need to make a worksheet/ presentation?


1 Connect to the internet in class and have the game ready to play on the IWB.

2 Have a flipchart ready or word processing document open to write the text you aim to produce.

3 Orientate learners towards the language (via worksheet, learners looking in notebooks or coursebooks).

4 In pairs learners write down a sentence for each stage of the game (you play it and pause to allow them enough time to wrote it down) using the target language.Screen shot 2010-04-28 at 11.05.50 AM

5 Learners compare and decide on the best and dictate it to a volunteer who types it into the word document on the IWB.

6 Learners discuss in pairs where a relative clause may go in the text and take it in turns to come up, place a dot where they would place the Screen shot 2010-04-28 at 11.06.23 AMrelative clause and then tell the class the relative clause they would place there.

7 Try and encourage a wide range of relative pronouns (that/which, who, where, when, whose etc) by pointing out the opportunities to use them in the text and eliciting them.

Post Activity

Learners copy the text from the board and include relative clauses where the circles are. Encourage them to try and remember the original relative clause said by the person who put the dot there but stress that the exact same words are not necessary.

Stop disasters – Start taking note!

A computer room note taking activity leading to a writing for homework.

Level: Upper-Intermediate+

Location: Computer room

Skills focus: Note Taking

Game: Stop Disasters

A disaster simulation game in which you choose a disaster scenario (tsunami, hurricane, wildfire, earthquake and flood) and “try to build upon an established community; providing defences and upgraded housing to prepare for the inevitable disaster.”

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Download a copy of the Stop disasters note taking worksheet and make a copy for each learner.


  1. Play hangman for – ‘Natural / disasters‘ and brainstorm scenarios.
  2. Write ‘tsunami‘, ‘hurricane‘, ‘wildfire‘, ‘earthquake‘ and ‘flood‘ on the board and check comprehension.
  3. Pairs choose one of the disaster scenarios and as each other questions using who, what, where, when, which, why, how (x2)
  4. Handout the worksheets and learners write one of the disaster scenarios at the top and predict what might go in the spaces.
  5. Put learners in pairs and allocate roles 1) Surveyor 2) Official


  1. Learners take the worksheet to the computer room and work in pairs.
  2. The Surveyor plays the game but listens to the officials advice who also notes down the information on the worksheet.
  3. Change learners roles every 5 minutes from the start of the game (the short game takes 20 minutes unless the player initiates the disaster.
  4. Back in class learners learners report on their game.  Encourage groups that played the same disaster to compare and discuss how they could have done better.

Post Play

Learners do a writing for homework.  They can do:

  • A letter from someone in the community to their local politician.
  • A letter to the newspaper from the person in charge of the budget.

Inside the Haiti Earthquake

This is an incredible web based game which uses original footage, photographs and real life stories from Haiti as you experience the aftermath of the Earthquake from the viewpoint of either a survivor, journalist or aid worker.

Level: Advanced

Location: Computer room

Skills focus: Reading

Game: Inside the Haiti Earthquake

This is a very serious and hard hitting game with a very strong message.  After you have chosen your character (survivor, aid worker and journalist) you hear an extended account of their situation before you get a chance to read the same account as a summary.  You also get presented with a choice over a course of action to take which in turn decides the characters future in the game.

You can read more information about the game Inside the Haiti Earthquake here or play the game itself by clicking the link above.  This is a great way to encourage learners to read while raising awareness of Haiti’s plight in the aftermath of the earthquake.  How can you use it?  Here are some ideas:

1 Playing for pleasure

Either with the help of an online dictionary (or a teacher if the game is played on-site) learners play the game by choosing the character they would be most interested in playing.  The play for pleasure with skills practice being supplied by both the audio elements and the written text as well as using an online dictionary.  This could also be encouraged for homework though a short presentation of the game in class helps to introduce the game to learners.

2 Playing to discuss

  1. Divide the three in-game roles (survivor, journalist and aid worker) equally amongst your learners.   In same role groups learners predict what their characters experience will be like (what they may suffer, obstacles they may face and emotions they may feel.
  2. They then play the game.
  3. After the game they return to their groups and compare their predictions with the actual gaming experience.  It’s a good idea at this stage to encourage learners to makes some notes on common group findings.  You can then give the groups the task of discussing how their character may wish to interact with the two other characters from the game.  Finally place learners into groups of survivor , aid worker and journalist.  They can then role play the scenario where all three of them meet thinking about what they want from each character, how they could best get what they want and in what way they would get it.

3 Playing to write

Once learners have played the game ask them to write about their experience.  The writing could be from the view of the in-game character though it is equally interesting to find out about the learners’ own personal reaction to the game.  This could in turn reflect what they have learnt, how it emotionally effected them and what they thought of it from a gaming experience.

4 Language focus

If your learners are using an online dictionary to help with the language used within the game then get them to record some of this language.  Vocabulary items (nouns) can be recorded in isolation and translated but it’s a good idea to note more complex language structures in chunks both to record the context and to raise awareness of collocations and more complex language structures.  If learners can do this then it presents a great opportunity to look at some of that language in the classroom.  Learners can teach each other the language, create their own sentences (personal questions, true/ false statements etc) using the language they have recorded from the game.

Remember too that by playing the game yourself you can also become part of the tasks and activities that take place outside of the game.  Learners can be just as interested in your opinions and on an interaction level the discussion or writing can become more authentic and personalized.  ‘Real people talking about real things’.