10 Websites to source online games

Here’s a brief description of ten online gaming sites that have a range of possible games to adapt for use in the EFL classroom.  All these games were chosen because they are free, easily accessible, engaging and easily adaptable.  With each link there is a brief description and some advice on how to adapt the game content to the language learning classroom context.

1 Escape The Room GamesScreen shot 2010-06-02 at 12.51.26 AM

A lot of the escape games here take place in rooms within a house and so target a lot of vocabulary sets associated with furniture and household objects.  You can find walkthroughs for a lot of the games here by typing in:

“the name of the game” +walkthrough

in an online search engine.

Choose a fairly simple game for your learners to play. They can also open a word document and write down the instructions on how to complete the game.

2. Casual Girl Gamer

This is a blog that describes, reviews and links to free online games.  There are also articles about game developers.  This is a great site for finding not only fun games but also a great source for reading material.  Get learners to design their own scan reading activity.  Here are just three questions as an example:

What do you have to gain control of in ‘My little army’? (Myth balls)

How much does the Nintendo 3DS cost?($249 / £220)

Which Platformer game mentions a dessert? (Robot wants ice cream)

3. Jay Is Games

A nice website offering lots of different online games to play online and download.  Again lots of language in each games review for learners to read and extract gaming vocabulary, adjectives or just language they find interesting.  Use the navigation bar at the top to find your way around – don’t forget to bookmark the games you really like.

4. Daily Dress Up

A website dedicated to all manner of dress up games.  It’s also a great springboard to other sites if you can get round to checking out some of the links running down the left hand side.  Play one yourself and write the description for your learners to read and reproduce in the game.  Alternatively learners make their own, write a physical description, daily routines or a short story.

5.  Social Impact Games

If you would like to use games that aim to educate as well as entertain then this site is as good as any as a place to start looking.  We’ve posted a few of the games you’ll find here on the Digital Play blog (such as Third World Farmer) and no doubt continue to do so.  Using games with a real world message behind them are great for extracting vocabulary and then using as a discussion platform.

6. ks3Bitesize

The BBC are aiming games at schools here and many of them cover subjects such as English, maths and science.  The nice thing about this ks3 Bitesize is that you can be sure that both the site and the game content is young learner friendly.  Check them out and you may be in for a pleasant surprise.

7.  Gamershood

One of the earliest gaming websites I started using to find games to use in the classroom.  There’s certainly a lot of choice here and the games have been conveniently organised into genres such as room escape, point and click, adventure and over a dozen more.  There’s even a star rating for each so you can see before hand which are the most popular and the most fun.

8. Free Online GamesI’ve just looked up ‘online games’ on a search engine and this came up as the first link.  On first appearances it looks like there are a lot of games just calling for quick reflexes and not a lot of language but if you look a little further you’ll find a lot more games using the tags running down the right hand side of the page.  Interestingly enough I had this page up on an IWB and got quite a lot of language production from learners talking about what they could see, predicting the game content, discussing what kind of games they liked and so on.

9. Minijuegos

Unless you speak spanish or Italian then I wouldn’t go here as this site doesn’t have an English language option.  Why is it here then?  Well, you have to remember that for all the online searching you do you are probably forgetting your most valuable online tool – your learners.  If they play any online games then find out what they like (speaking practice) and maybe write a description down of what they’d like to see in class (writing).  You can tell them yourself what games you prefer to use (listening) and maybe even write a description down for them to take away with (reading) and find.  Get them to adapt a walkthrough to a game they like and bring it in to use in a future class.

10. Whitestick

A no frills website specialising in online text adventures.  There might be very little in the way of graphics but what is lacking in visuals in the selection here is more than made up for.  In text adventures the gamer reads the story and interacts with the narrative by typing in text commands.  There’s even a text to speech converter you can download so that the written text gets converted into spoken text.  Reading or listening practice – it’s your choice!

Escape the (Plush) Room

Level: Primary

Location: Computer room

Language Focus: Receptive – There is/ are, prepositions of place.  Productive – Short answers (Yes, I can/have etc)

Game: Escape the Plush room

Situation

My class was pretty proficient with most of language structures I used within the live listening dictation I scripted for this activity (including prepositions of place, furniture vocabulary and answering questions).  They were however having problems producing short answers using the auxiliary verb which I wanted to work on.  Ok, a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ is usually sufficient to convey what is intended but not only was the course book we were using hammering the point home with some repetitive drilling activities, it’s also a nice foundation stone for later language development especially in an area primary English language learners sometimes have difficulties in – auxiliary verbs.  A class of sixteen learners works out nicely as two to a computer (our computer room has eight computer stations).

Target

This escape the room game posed a nice opportunity for a more fun and seemingly natural context to practice short answers while being embedded in other language elements and in a functional interaction.  Functional being dictating to the learners how to escape from a room in an online video game.  I wanted my learners to be able to listen, understand and successfully use what I was dictating to navigate their way through the game.  They would also be required to respond to any of my questions by forming short answers (yes/ no + subject (I) + auxiliary verb (n’t).  I hoped that any problems arising within the game and subsequent interactions would be driven by learner goals within the game.  that is to play it successfully to the end.

Action

The following text below is the script for the interaction that took place between myself and my learners.  I graded the language to the level of my students and allowed myself to repeat an instruction or question if it was not heard or understood clearly.  Checking learner comprehension was easy as all the computer screens were clearly visible to me (they lined the three walls of the room).  Some ad libbing was necessary but generally minimal.  Sometimes, especially to elicit the short answer forms, I repeated and added tonal emphasis on the auxiliary verb which echoed some of the classwork activities we’d done.  Very occasionally I elicited L1 vocabulary to confirm comprehension but as the game is annotated and learners are able to see the objects the biggest problem I had with some of the vocabulary was low frequency of use in native interactions (last time I used the word screwdriver was probably to order a cocktail) or pronunciation.  I also tried as hard as possible to avoid using the word ‘click’ firstly, because it seems too much of a shortcut and secondly, the resolution not to use it generally generates a larger range of grammatical structures.  Reviewing the text I felt surprised at how much text they had to listen to and how much they had to understand to play the game successfully.  Needless to say they found the game very engaging and though they produced seemingly little language (their language production is marked in the script below in parenthesis, much like this sentence is) it was functional and, to be honest, more frequent than you are led to believe below.  A lot of language produced by learners in this activity I failed to record below.  There was the occasional “repeat, please”, the odd “can I go to the toilet, please?” and the outright strange “The door to the chicken?” (They meant kitchen which wasn’t right either).  They also pelted me with questions, calls for assistance and such which were filtered out in the script in the attempt to weave a more seamless garment.  Without further ado, here it is:

On the table there is a red book. Can you see it? (Yes, I can)
Open the red book.
On the fourth page in the book there is a fuse. Have you got it? (Yes, I have)
On the left of the room there are three cupboards.
Go and look at them.
Open the cupboard in the middle. Is it open? (Yes, it is)
Pick up the fuse inside. Have you got it? (Yes, I have)
Go back. Can you see all of the room? (Yes, I can)
On the left there is a table with a flower on. Go to it.
Move the lamp and pick up the fuse that is under it.
What’s in the vase under the flower? (a key). Pick up the key under the flower that is in the vase. (what is vase? How do you say vase in ___? )
The flower is in the vase. The vase is black.
Go back. Can you see all of the room? (Yes, I can)
Go to the television. Under the television there are three drawers.
Open the drawer in the middle. Take the fuse and the red screwdriver. “How do you say screwdriver in (L1)?”. Ok.
Go back. Can you see all of the room? (Yes, I can)
On the table in front of you there are some oranges. Look at the oranges. What is next to the oranges? (a knife) Pick the knife up and go back.
What is on the wall on the left next to the television? (a junction box)
Go to the junction box and use the red screwdriver to open the junction box. (What is screwdriver?).
You’ve got it. It’s red. It was in the drawer under the television. Have you got it? (Yes, I have?)
Is the junction box open? (Yes, it is)
Put the four fuses in the junction box. Have you done it? (Yes, I have)
Go back to the television. Open the drawer on the left. What is in there? (a CD).
Open the DVD player and put the CD in. What can you see on the television? (a number). Copy the number, please.
Now, look in the drawer on the right. What is in the drawer on the right. Under the television. (cutting plier)
Have you got it? (Yes, I have)
Go back. Can you see all of the room? (Yes, I can)
Can you see the three pictures on the wall? (Yes, I can).
Look behind the picture in the middle. What do you use to open the door behind the picture? (red screwdriver). Ok. Open it.
What’s inside? (A key). Can you take it? (No). CAN you take it? (No, I can’t)
Go back to the four fuses.
Use the cutting plier on the red, blue and yellow wires above the four fuses. Can you do that? (Yes, I can).
Now, go back to the key behind the picture. Can you take it now? (Yes, I can).
What was the number on the television? (number)
Can you see the safe between the television and the fuses? (what is safe?) It’s a secret compartment you put money and things in.
Can you see it? On the right of the fuses and up a little. Can you see it? (Yes, I can).
Put the number on the television there and open it.
Did you open it? (Yes, I did). What’s inside? (A brief case).
Can you open it? (No, I can’t). Click on the brief case. Can you open it? (Yes, I can).
Can you see a key? (No) CAN you see a key? (No, I can’t)
Use the knife to cut the briefcase. Can you see a key now? (Yes, I can).
Open the door with the key. (What door?) The door to the room.

Results

I was pleased but a little tired at the end of the activity.  It had been quite intensive and I had been on my toes reading the dictation, paraphrasing to their level, assisting on technical problems (“Teacher, my mouse doesn’t work!”, “That’s because you’re using the mouse track ball to throw at a classmate.”), class control and behaviour issues and keeping an eye on their game progress on the 8 computer screens.  Numerous other teacher multitasking skills were in play but I had felt it had been a very productive  class.  or do I meant receptive?

Another Interactive Text Adventure : Spent

As Chris Roland showed us with Inanimate Alice (Part I & Part II), there is a lot of scope for language learning and teaching in Interactive fiction.

Spent is a very different type of text adventure. It’s not interactive fiction – firstly, because it deals with a very serious subject : poverty. It is also primarily composed of written text, unlike Inanimate Alice.

Here’s a handout for Advanced students to support the game in class (If you prefer, you can download a printable version here)

http://playspent.org/ is an online game that hopes to raise awareness about what it’s like to be extremely poor in the USA.

Before playing the game, let’s look at the premise of the game.

A) Before playing

1) What do you think will be the most difficult problems of your month of poverty? How will you solve them?

2) Find expressions in the text above that mean the same as these:

  • the condition of being extremely poor
  • a building protecting you from danger or bad weather
  • less than the minimum level of income necessary for an adequate standard of living
  • not having enough money or food
  • own very little or have little money

B) While playing

Now let’s play the game. While playing, tick any of the following words and phrases that are used during the game. If you don’t last a month, try playing again and changing your choices.

fast-paced     warehouse worker     take-home pay     opt-in     monthly premium     yard sale     throw a curveball

lottery pool      fitness regime      field trip      keep you afloat      root canal     road-legal    pulled over     pitching in

landlord     loan     numbing gel     paid by the piece     expired registration     impounded     a physical     speeding

dent     bumper    taillight     harangue     take the edge off     venting     IOU     paycheck     telltale      lets you go

C) After playing

1) How do you feel about your answer to question A 1) – were your predictions right?

2) Which of the words and phrases did you come across while playing? Do you remember how they were used and what they mean? Try to explain the meaning to your partner using other words

Answers

A) Before playing

2) Expressions

  • the condition of being extremely poor = poverty
  • a building protecting you from danger or bad weather = shelter
  • minimum level of income necessary for an adequate standard of living = on the poverty line
  • not having enough money or food = in need
  • own very little or have little money = have $1,000 to your name
  • Game Tester Job

    Learners watch a short video on game testers and then write a job application to be a game tester.

    Level: Upper intermediate

    Location: Connected classroom/ Home

    Language focus:  Vocabulary of games / Formal language in an application letter

    Skills Practice: Listening / Reading / Writing

    Maybe you have looked at formal language for writing a job application letter and you would like to set a writing task but the post in the coursebook doesn’t sound very interesting or stimulating.  Being a Game Tester might appeal to your learners and also give you some insight into how involved they are with gaming.

    Preparation

    • Make some Bingo cards by using tables (3 by 3) in a word document.  Print enough copies for each learner in your class.  Alternatively get them to draw one in their notebooks.
    • Print off a copy of the Kygra Game Tester job advert.

    Pre-watching task

    1. Write ‘Game Tester’ on the board and ask your learners what this job might involve.  Answer – Playing video games.
    2. Tell them they are going to watch a short News report on Game Testers and you want them to predict what words they will hear.
    3. Hand out the Bingo cards and tell your learners to write their word predictions down (I told my class nouns only to prevent them writing a, and as well as other high frequency words).
    4. The rules are that if a learner finishes their card they raise their hand and you collect their card (try not to let the activity interupt the video watching).
    5. Play the video

    Reading task

    Games Tester Job

    1. Tell your learners they are going to read a job advert to be a Games Tester.  In pairs they brainstorm qualities they think would be good for a Game Tester to have.
    2. They read the advert to see if any of the qualities they mentioned are mentioned in the advert.
    3. Check learners understand all the language in the job advert before asking them to highlight interesting language elements (game vocabulary, areas they have abilities or experience in, etc).

    Writing task

    1. Learners make notes on what language they will use (including formal letter language from the coursebook).
    2. Learners then write their job application letter out either in class or for homework.

    Post Activity

    Learners read a selection of job application letters and decide which three would be asked to come to a job interview.  Ask them to explain their reasons.

    All About Alice – Chapter 1


    We are pleased and honoured that a colleague of ours, Chris Roland, has written our second guest post, all about Inanimate Alice, an engaging digital fiction project for learners.

    What is Inanimate Alice?

    The best thing to do, in all honesty, is to go to the Inanimate Alice website yourself, load up one of the episodes and have a look. If you ask me for a description in words I’d say something like: the Inanimate Alice stories are digital readers, combining text, images, sound and interaction to take you with Alice on a number of her adventures as she moves round the world with her parents. But it’s more than that. The overall effect of IA certainly adds up to more than the sum of its parts. The screen’s all black, the text flickers with static audio or dark drum n’ bass style rhythms that exacerbate the tension, very real photo images and the hard edges of architecturally precise building plans contrast with childish doodles and musings. As you can see, talking about IA is quite fun, especially as it blurs the line between various medium types, between the reader/viewer paradigm and when used in a language classroom, between text as vehicle for language and text as vehicle for story for its own sake.

    Who wrote it?

    Inanimate Alice is the brainchild of Ian Harper. He enlisted crack digital artist Chris Joseph to give the story the powerful screen presence you see and novelist Kate Pullinger to put words into Alice’s mouth. Ian’s vision for Alice is really something and goes far beyond the four episodes you can currently find on the site. There are 10 planned instalments and a number of possible projects that may branch off those too. One nice touch is that in each of the episodes, Alice is a little older, so we’re actually watching her grow up as the episodes progress. She begins as an eight year old girl with an interest in gadgets, imaginary characters and stories. As far as I know she will become a successful fashion designer, but we’ll have to see what surprises Ian has in store for us there.

    So who are you?

    Good question. I’m an English teacher, teacher trainer and materials writer. I got involved in the project a couple of years ago and have written the blueprint for an adapted ELT version of the first episode ‘China’ consisting of 3 separate graded versions, for Pre-Intermediate (A2), Intermediate (B1) and Upper Intermediate (B2) which include graded language, specific exam practice, language games and extra features like scoring and dictionary functions – all designed to increase the effectiveness of IA in the CALL room. As I say, this is a blueprint and there are no fully working versions of ELT Inanimate Alice at the moment. I’m also one of the moderators on the Inanimate Alice Facebook page, set up by Laura Flemming.

    Does IA have a place in the traditional English classroom?

    I think so. Have a look at this:


    You may look at this photo and wonder what it has to do with a state of the art digital literacy programme like Inanimate Alice. Well, featured in the picture is a group of 20 Spanish secondary state school teachers on an intensive teacher training course that I gave at the British Council in July of last year. The course was provided by the Council for the Ministry of Educational of Catalonia and I called it ‘Getting the most out of your materials.’ In the photo we are busy preparing paper based visuals for conversation activities, cutting and pasting from magazines in the old fashioned way.


    The point I’d like to make with this is that blended learning packages and digital resources can co-exist quite comfortably with more traditional teaching methodologies, paradigms and mindsets. On this course we did this cutting and pasting images from weird pseudo-scientific magazines one day and the next my teachers were cutting and pasting from Google Images to simulate student made picture dictionaries on a screen. I would go further and say that given the limited access to computer rooms that many state school teachers experience, and the variety of contexts teachers find themselves in, then more than a question of being able to co-exist, it’s a question of needing to. The day before this picture was taken, the very same teachers you can see here were up in the computer room following Alice’s exploits across China, Italy, Russia and the UK

    How can I make sure lessons with Inanimate Alice work?

    Many teenage students will seize the opportunity to do something new like go to the computer room and work on Alice with appetite and enthusiasm but a few will seize the same opportunity to test the teacher’s classroom management skills by ‘playing up’. A third category, and perhaps the majority, will be neither overly enthusiastic nor disruptive and their participation will really depend on how tight the teacher’s lesson plan and task design has been. For this reason, when setting up an Inanimate Alice, or any other, activity – be it digital, paper based, spoken groupwork or out of class assignments – my motto is ‘Structure. Structure. Structure’.

    Now the first things your average teenager will ask themselves (often on a subconscious level), when given a language learning task in school, are: “What do I have to do? What’s the easiest way to get it done? What will happen if I don’t do the task? Will the teacher know and what will be the consequences? Is there a system of evaluation in place with actual marks (grades) awarded? Are all my friends getting down to work? Are we ‘having’ this as a group?” So what we need is a tangible task for the students with obvious checking points with regards their participation. This is what I call structure for the student.

    We also need structure for the teacher. By this I mean that however ‘wow’ an activity, it has to provide the teacher with information such as grades or evidence of task completion or learner production, that they can add to their term grades, records of work or class portfolio.

    Next week I’ll tell you about a specific activity you can do with IA.

    Chris is based at the British Council Barcelona. He teaches young learners, adults and business classes and gives as many conference sessions as he can on top of his regular contract hours. When he isn’t doing something teaching-related he’s probably training for marathons, walking up hills or shooting billiards. His own site: www.regandlellow.com has powerPoint stories for very young learners, including Reg and Lellow themselves and also Humphrey Bogin. Please take a look!


    All About Alice – Chapter 2

    Last week I told you about Inanimate Alice.  This week I’d like to tell you about how I’ve used IA in my classes.

    Can you give me an example of a specific activity you do with IA?

    Sure. So a clearly defined task, teacher monitoring and evaluation are paramount. With this in mind I divide the class into pairs. I feel that three at a single computer is too many. Many schools do not have a terminal for each student however. When students are sharing, I insist that they swap the person controlling the mouse every 5 minutes. Less dominant students will say they don’t mind and cede the mouse to their fellows. They do mind. They want a go on Alice really – and it’s the teacher’s job to see that they get it. So, each pair watches an episode of Alice. The existing episodes of Alice are of unequal length, so I tend to work with either China and Italy together (which are shorter) or Russia and the UK.. The episode each pair watch is specified on their worksheet, which I’m not including in this article because it really is better if each teacher thinks through the exact micro-mechanics of the activity for themselves and produces their own handout accordingly, which will be best suited to their own specific context.

    Full instructions are provided on the worksheets to supplement my initial explanation of the task. Students will often ask the teacher rather than refer to their worksheets but some students will read the instructions so I always say it’s worth putting them on. As they watch their episode, each pair write down 10 difficult vocabulary items appearing in the story and afterwards write the definitions of these words on the same worksheet (I allow them to use an online dictionary but the moment I see their own Facebook accounts opened, that’s it, the stack of paper based volumes I have as standby comes into play).

    This is the first task. When each group have their vocabulary lists and definitions checked by the teacher they proceed to the second task which is to watch their respective episode again, this time writing down 10 comprehension questions about the episode. For example, those watching China might write: How old is Alice? What colour is the painting that her mum does? What’s the name of that machine she plays with? They also write the answers but this time on a separate sheet. The ‘worksheet’ for this one consists of a paragraph of instructions and the numbers 1-10 in the margin.

    Again, each group have their questions checked and receive a group grade. This gives the teacher chance to clear up any ambiguities in their questions. Each member of the pair needs to have their name on each sheet – no name no mark – and the questions need to be written in two different styles of handwriting to show there has been equal participation.

    After this each pair swap questions with another pair who have viewed a different episode. This involves having everyone finish as close together as possible and occasionally a quick photocopy of one set of questions may be necessary if there is an odd number of groups and thus more people doing one episode than another. Students then work through the new story, answering their colleagues’ questions using the vocabulary lists produced by the other pair to help them, so each pair is simultaneously teaching and testing, and being taught and tested by the other. Finally the answered questions are returned to their creators for correction and are handed in to the teacher for final marks collection. A lot of work for the teacher? In actual fact, the more individual marks a teacher takes in, the less work they have to do come the end of term evaluation.

    Sounds good – how well does it work?

    It works beautifully and I like the fact that students play these 4 roles of lexical investigators, analytical question makers, task achievers and solution finders. You can see that there’s a lot of structure here, but this is the type of structure that is needed and appreciated by front line teachers if we are to envisage using materials like Alice alongside regular materials and methodologies. It’s very difficult for any online programme to provide all of this structure by itself, so this is where teachers come in and why their role in an Inanimate Alice class is essential. As you can see, I’m a big fan of what I call ‘micro-mechanics’ – the nitty gritty of task design – and I think it’s on this that a class lives or dies.

    Is there anything else I can do to try to make sure things go well?

    Whenever we’re dealing with the CALL room, I would advise going in there before the class, turning on all the computers and making sure you have done everything you are going to ask the students to do. That way you will find out if all the terminals are working okay and if everything is loading up fine. It will also prime you for any procedural ‘hitches’ students might encounter. The second thing to do, if you have time, is actually load up each episode on each terminal, so students are ready to go. If not, write up where they go and which episode to watch very clearly on the board – so that they have instructions there and on the handout.

    So where’s the play?

    Recently I’ve been deconstructing my classroom activities and asking this very question, prompted by the realization that my students often find or introduce a game element into activities that was not what I had imagined they would find fun about it when I planned the things. At recent teaching conferences I’ve been bringing up my little play symbols (made with the help of the aqua ball font at www.flamingtext.com) to help make the point more visual.

    Another very useful thing to do during planning is to go through the episodes you are going to work with and script them, actually writing down all the language they contain yourself. This will give you a good idea of what level the language is and help you predict any difficulties your students will have lexically.

    My point is that if there isn’t an element of play, students will invent one. They need it to survive. If their ‘play agendas’ can run in parallel to the teacher’s lesson aims then great, they’ll normally be happy with that. But if there’s no other way, their own need for play will come at the teacher’s expense.

    In Inanimate Alice, the play starts with clicking. I maintain that IA isn’t something you should show your students – ever. It’s something they should do. Watching somebody else click their way through Alice’s screens in definitely not play. Alice doesn’t work as a class movie. That’s why, as I mentioned above, I make sure that everyone is regularly clicking. The most successful play element of the episodes themselves has to be the doll catching game in the Russia episode. Here, on regular screens, students have to find a hidden doll then catch it as it falls from the top pf the screen, using a little Brad character on a skateboard at the bottom. I always specify that they can play this episode with the game option on. There are also the flower photographing, clothes grabbing and derelict building maze activities in the other episodes but with the dolls, Chris J. has really captured a retro computer game feel which takes me back to the days of the Spectrum 48k or the Commodore 64.

    These are elements of play intrinsic to the episodes themselves. Then there is play that the guiding activity gives the opportunity for. Students making up their own questions can allow them the chance to try to catch out and confuse their classmates. If you have few students, then dividing them up and sending them off to work at different computer terminals in different physical locations, different rooms, can provide that element of ‘adventure’. There are also elements of play that involve the students’ imaginations in a positive way. A number of teachers, reporting on the Facebook page, have recently had their students write their own episodes of Alice, or to fill in the blank time periods of Alice’s life in between episodes and this can take a number of formats such as written work, PowerPoint presentations and class video clips of roleplays with students acting out Alice, Brad, Ming (her mum) and John (her dad).

    And then of course, there are the elements of play that you will never see coming but that you can observe if you watch carefully. What is it about an activity that seems to animate your students most? Some of these play elements may horrify you; others might provide the inspiration for future activities. Many, many thanks to Kyle and Graham for giving me space here and all the very best to all DP’s readers!

    Chris is based at the British Council Barcelona. He teaches young learners, adults and business classes and gives as many conference sessions as he can on top of his regular contract hours. When he isn’t doing something teaching-related he’s probably training for marathons, walking up hills or shooting billiards. His own site: www.regandlellow.com has powerPoint stories for very young learners, including Reg and Lellow themselves and also Humphrey Bogin. Please take a look!


    Gamify your classroom with Chore Wars

    Gamification

    One definition of gamification is the use of features usually found in games in areas of life which are usually game free. Only time will tell if this buzzword becomes the next big thing as some people are predicting, but meanwhile, sites such as Chore Wars can help you make a game of some of the most uninteresting but necessary tasks of life.

    Chore Wars

    Although Chore Wars has been designed to turn housework into an adventure game, the site is flexible enough to let you customise adventures, which means it can be converted for use in the classroom.

    Let’s look at this through an example.

    I have a class of teenagers studying for the Cambridge First Certificate in English exam and in order to prepare yourself for this exam, you have to do a lot of practice tests. The problem is that doing these tests frequently becomes routine and repetitive, which is where Chore Wars can help.

    Getting Started

    I started by setting up an account on the site and creating a number of adventures. You can then create a number of adventures from scratch, which is what I did. I

    I made each part of the exam an adventure that when claimed, earns the player XP (experience points) , gold coins and the possibility of finding treasure. The learners (players) can see the scores of the others too, which adds an element of competition to doing practice tests. I also made the rewards on the more difficult parts of the exam higher to motivate the learners into doing them.

    Introducing Chore Wars to Students

    The idea is to encourage the students to do more exam practice tests by making it fun. After I’d set up the adventures, I introduced the learners to the concept in the classroom and then we went to the computer room.

    There, they created their characters, choosing what they looked like and giving themselves a name.

    Joining the Party

    They then joined my party of adventurers. The best way to do this is to give them the link to join on a simple webpage. I used http://pen.io for this, which lets you create a webpage instantly, without any need to log in. You can see the page I set up here: http://chorewars.pen.io/.

    Adventuring

    Once they’d joined the party, I asked them to start doing some practice tests on a site called Flo-Jo, and as they finished, they claimed the adventure on Chore Wars.

    Student Reaction

    Another reason why I chose to use Chore Wars was because I have a number of students who play online adventure games, and so the concept of XP, collecting gold coins, etc was familiar to them and they needed no introduction to the idea of turning the FCE exam into an adventure. It went down well with them and they happily ploughed through a number of practice tests and started to claim the adventures.

    There are other students in the class, however, who do not play these games, and it was more difficult for them to see the point of the game. They seemed a little bit bemused by the concept, but I hope and trust this will change in time, as they become more familiar with it.

    Managing the Adventure

    I am the Dungeon Master (the game controller) of the FCE Ninjas Chore Wars adventure, which means I have control over what adventures to set, etc. I can change the number of XP, gold coins and possibility of treasure of each adventure. I’d do this to encourage the students to do part of the exam they are reluctant to do.

    It’s early days, but I have already seen a potential problem that I have to deal with that could spoil the game if I am not careful: cheating

    Cheating

    Chore Wars is based on a trust system. Players claim an adventure and this relies on their honesty. However, I could see that some of the students were very interested in knowing how the game worked, and have just spotted that one in particular wanted to see how it was possible to increase his level and XP.

    Look at the screenshot below and you’ll see that this student (abaairenjy in the game) logged in and continued playing after class. I know that by looking at the times he claimed the adventures. We were in the computer room for 20 minutes, from 6.00-6.20pm and he did two practice tests while we were there. But, he also logged into Chore Wars at home, at 10pm and played the game, increasing his XP and level from level 1 to level 3. I know that it’s impossible he did 9 practice tests in this time (10 minutes!) and so will have to call him on it next class.

    The good news about this activity is that he’s interested enough to do it at home to see how it works, but this will destroy the game if his cheating is allowed to continue. This is what I have decided to do now:

    • I will draw the class’s attention to the cheating next time we meet. I’ll do this and ask them to decide how to deal with it. We’ll do this through negotiation and it’ll make for an interesting class discussion on honesty and what everyone thinks about cheating and of obeying the rules of games.
    • I have left a comment for Alejandro, so he knows I am onto him (see screenshot below)
    • I am going to suggest that all the class does what Alejandro has claimed, in the same order. That way, they too can claim them too, and they will get similar XP, treasure, and advance in levels. If they don’t like the choice of exercises, they have Alejandro to blame!

    I hope this strategy will work. There are other things you can do, as Dungeon Master, to allow you to manage your adventures, which are particularly interesting if you want to manage the adventures in the classroom.

    Classroom Management

    You have various options with characters, giving players permissions to create their own adventures, etc. I have changed the role of the players’ characters to NPC (non playing character) which means that I can claim adventures on their behalf (see screenshot below). This means that the learners won’t have to log in to be able to claim XP, etc. When we do a practice test in the classroom, I can quickly run through the character list and claim points for everyone there and then. I am also planning to claim adventures only for those students who actually pass a particular practice test.

    Final Thoughts

    How successful Chore Wars is with my class remains to be seen, but I think the potential is there to increase the interest my students have in FCE practice tests, turning the completion of them into a game, and hopefully motivating them to do more homework (not just the tests I assign them). Whatever happens now, it’s already proving to be an interesting adventure for the teacher!

    I 'Adam & Eve' it!

    Level: Primary

    Language: Narrative devices

    Skills Focus: Reading or Listening

    Location: Computer room or Connected classroom

    Game: Adam & Eve

    Adam & Eve

    This is a simple point and click game with a simple story and basic repetitive language elements.

    Preparation

    Either:

    Download a copy of Adam & Eve

    or use and

    Online electronic version of the Adam & Eve story

    Be Warned – there are 5 pages.

    A lot of simple point and click games have a nice little narrative story running through them. In this case our hero, Adam,  leaves the safety of his cave and heads out on a journey to go and see his girlfriend, Eve. On the way he meets various creatures, faces numerous obstacles and has to solve a few tricky puzzles and all in a day’s work.  I decided to play the game and instead of writing a walkthrough I wrote the story of Adam’s journey to Eve.

    I don’t consider myself a great story writer but I thought if I could identify a few rules for writing based on my own experience of what kids generally enjoy reading I could write something that would be enjoyable, understandable, challenging and doable.  What I came up with was this list.  Feel free to suggest any other points in ‘comments’.  I can’t say i’ve identified all the one’s I’ve used nor ones which I’m sure would have made the story better if I’d included them.  Anyway,

    • Graded language – that learners understand (colours, prepositions, animals, clothes etc where possible).
    • Recycled language – see above (but also prepositions, directions etc)
    • Language elements that are higher than the readers language level – to challenge them.
    • Repetitive language elements (Particularly at the beginning and end of each stage) – to provide a little structure.
    • Some examples of direct speech – for opportunities to put on those theatrical voices.

    Once I’d written the story of ‘Adam & Eve’ sI thought about using it in a number of ways:

    Writing – That is, a group of learners who I judged would understand the majority of the written text.  Learners read the story and identified nouns.  They then made their own dictionary for the words they identified.  They then took the story and their dictionaries to the computer room where they played the game.  Because there was quite a bit of intensive reading and writing here I divided the complete text into different sections – enough for groups of two learners to work on (writer and researcher) – and also did it with a more mature level of low level language learners learners (mid teens).

    Listening – Play the game at the front of the class and read the story and get learners to raise their hand when they identify the part of the story that tells them what to do in the game (how to play it). That learner can then come up and do that action. Repeat part of the story if they get it wrong and continue the story if they get it right. Continue until interest wanes (yours or your learners).

    Reading – In the computer room learners play the game using three internet explorer windows.  They have the ‘Adam & Eve’ story open on the first one, an online dictionary/ translator on the second and the game itself is played on the third.  You could think about using an online image search engine (say Google images) but be careful when doing this and make sure you use ‘advance search’ options and set it to ‘strict filter’.  I could regale you with stories of teachers who didn’t and have yet to live it down but I won’t.  Hopefully you won’t be adding to those anecdotes.

    Learning Quest

    Learners Listen to Audio plays, solve clues collaboratively while exploring a virtual world

    Level: Intermediate or Advanced

    Location: Connected classroom/ Home

    Skills Practice: Speaking/ Listening

    Game: Robin Hood Learning Quest

    It’s not often you get a fun game which is aimed at more than one Language learning level but this one does.  You first join Second Life (a free virtual world) which both you and your learners will have to do.  When you have finished making your avatar you log in to Second Life and then click on the SLurl above the picture.  Your avatar will then be teleported to the start of the Robin Hood quest.  It may be a little tricky moving around the first time you arrive there so a little orientation video doesn’t go amiss.

    Preparation

    There are a few system requirements and you will need to check that you can play audio if you are using the audio plays and have working headphones and speakers for each learner if they are using voice.  Of course, if they are in the same room they won’t need to use voice but if your learners are connecting from different geographical locations then voice can be very useful.  Try and establish some ground rules for taking turns to talk though, otherwise it can get confusing.

    Arriving

    There are a few things you should do when you arrive there for the first time:

    1. Make friends with the other people there by right clicking on them and choosing ‘add friend’.
    2. Chat using the public text box that runs along the bottom of the page.
    3. Talk with them by using speakers and a microphone and clicking on the speak button that is just on the right of the public chat box.
    4. Make someone responsible for keeping everyone together (the one most comfortable in this new environment), another responsible for remembering the clues and another for making decisions.

    You are now ready to start the Quest.

    Intermediate

    For intermediate language learners there is a crossword they can download and complete while playing.  Here’s how they play:

    1. They can find the Robin Hood crossword by clicking on the sign on the tree with the arrow in it (see the picture above – it’s the tree behind the fire).
    2. They discuss what they should do to complete the crossword.
    3. Then they find and read colour coded clues which tell them where to look next and what to look for.  They can surf the net to find the answers if they want.
    4. As they journey through the quest they fill in the crossword.
    5. Finally at the end there is a puzzle to solve which will gain them access to the dungeon where Maid marian is being kept prisoner.  They open the treasure chest and get a prize.

    Advanced

    For advanced language learners there are a series of audio plays they listen to.  In each play there is a clue to where they should go next and what to look for.  The Robin Hood crossword is optional but it’s a good way to keep them on task and encourages discussion.  Here’s how they play:

    1. They listen to the audio play and discuss where they think the next clue is hidden and how to get there.
    2. They also discuss what they need to look for (and complete the crossword when possible).
    3. They then follow steps 3-5 in the Intermediate section above.

    The audio play tape scripts can be useful.  Here’s a quick video introduction to the Robin Hood Quest:

    By the way the final clue to open the dungeon door at the castle is:

    1228/ Move aside for me please

    If you are playing by using just the audio clues then you will need to tell your learners the password at the end because the last puzzle of the quest is a quiz to make sure they have completed the crossword.

    Remember at the end of the day that the sole purpose of the quest is to provide a challenging and engaging task in which a lot of English is spoken.  I’ve spoken to a teacher who did the quest and said that the amount of English produced was great – unfortunately they only got through 3 of the 9 quest locations because they ran out of time.  Oh well!  Extra but fun homework I suppose.

    Spotlight on Digital Play Innovators #5 Michael Gibson

    Michael Gibson is a filmmaker and serious games expert.  He is a member of the North American Simulation and Gaming Association which is an online network of professionals dedicated to the design, implementation, and evaluation of games and simulations to improve learning results.

    Along with co-founders Allan Stitt and Frank Handy, he runs the online game company Zap dramatic.  The games at Zap Dramatics site consist of interactive simulated adventure games that focus on the art and science of negotiation.  They tend to be text heavy and aim to educate as well as entertain.   The Canadian New Media Award for Excellence in Learning (Professionalism and Ethics simulation) was awarded to Zap dramatic in 2005.  In the same year it received the Vortex prize at the McLuhan International Festival of the Future for the adventure game ‘Move or Die‘.  Four years later the company became an official honoree at the 2009 Webby Awards for the game ‘Sir Basel Pike Public School’ which deals with the issue of bullying.  You can see the promotional video for this game here:

    Recently Zap dramatic has released the engaging real life drama game ‘Inside the Haiti Disaster’, which places the gamer at the scene of the Haitian earthquake.  At the beginning of this simulation you choose a character and play as either an aid worker, a journalist or local victim of the disaster.  The game is particularly hard hitting in it’s use of film, photos and audio recordings of the actual event and people concerned.  You can read an interview with one of the team members that worked on this game here.

    I think the games we’ve mentioned here are best for high level language learners and they are particularly attractive not only because of their high language content but also because they aim to educate the gamer in real life skills as well as raising awareness in some important issues.  They are definitely worth a look into even if it’s to have fun and educate yourself.