Автор: Елена Пересада
Previously, we talked a lot about what makes a good educational game. Ian Schreiber, a game designer, calls educational games «broccoli in chocolate», because educators care too much about their pedagogical goals and pay little attention to game goals and players’ goals. For teachers active vocabulary and grammar are often more important than game mechanics. So, we disguise our aims with chocolate but students still taste broccoli.
When you bring a boardgame with a dice to the classroom and students move along the board rolling a dice, making grammatically correct sentences, this is what we call «broccoli in chocolate.» Unfortunately, English teachers quite often have a more limited game experience than their students. Experienced players don’t like games where the only game mechanics are dice rolling and giving correct answers. Making meaningful choices and working out their own strategy is what our students want from the games.
What makes a game alive?
So, a good game mechnics is the backbone of any game. Hangman, Memory, Tic-tac-toe, Battleships, are examples of games where students make meaningful decisions. There are 2 games in the list, which stand out: Hangman and Battleships. These are the games with a particular setting. When students play Hangman they try to escape an execution. In Battleships they fight with the enemy fleet in a sea battle.
If the game mechanics is the skeleton of the game, than the game setting is the soul of the game. Game setting creates the atmosphere, arises feelings and emotions which stay with our students when the game is over. And in some cases it might even save the game with poor or zero mechanics.
Tell a story
Not long ago my colleague from StudyCraft, Irina Mudritsyna, came up with the idea of making a Spelling Pack for primary students. Her pain as a teacher was doing spelling drills to prepare kids for Starters exam. Every teacher knows that writing lines is a useful activity, but you can hardly engage your students with it. So teachers download numerous worksheets with crosswords, wordsearches and other spelling activities to make spelling practice vivid and lively.
We took the first topic Transport and prepared a number of intersting spelling activities. But along with it we added a story to our Spelling Pack. A naughty alien, Moondzy, took us to a deserted island. We must do his tasks if we want to escape from the island.
So, the first thing you can do to make your game alive is to tell the story. People like stories. We tell fairy tales to babies before going to bed, we tell horror stories to our friends in summer camps, we make up stories when we play party games.
To make up a story think about a hero and an antihero, and what kind of conflict they have. Make the conflict as epic as possible. In our story Moondzy was the antihero and he imprisoned the students on the island.
Another thing to think about is the antihero’s motives. Why does he do harm to the heroes? When the antihero has his character and background, it helps students to be emotionally more attached to the game. In our story Moondzy was kind, but he looked gloomy and did naughty things as he was lonely and bored. Every time students did his task correctly, they received a sticker with Moondzy’s happy face. Every sticker they put on marked spots on the map to trace the path to the escape.
The final task was a crossword. When students solved the crossword they could read the word boat. So, they found a boat and could sail away.
How to set the scene
Teachers often worry how to set up the story. They think that it will be time-consuming as they will need to prepare a lot of props to put students into the game atmosphere. The truth is that the largest constructor of atmosphere is the player’s imagination. You start telling a story and your students see it in their minds.
Think about some elements and details: pictures, small objects, sounds and music to help you.
Moondzy game went on with minimum preparation: a picture of Moondzy, stickers with his happy face and the map.
It is very important to make the onboarding phase of the game memorable. We put some sea pebbles in a bag and asked our students to put their hands into the bag and guess what was in the bag. When they guessed correctly, we turned on the sound of the sea and switched off the light. We were by the sea. At this moment the teacher told the story and imagination did all the work.
To add extra thrill and excitement we did all spelling tasks in complete darkness using only one flashlight.
Every lesson students waited for the spelling part of the lesson. They had to touch pebbles to be brought from the classroom to the island.
So, as you see, you don’t need a lot of props. The combination of imagery, sound, music, story, one object as the symbol of the story — and students are immersed into the game.
So, next time when you are going to revise grammar tell your students that, they are starship troopers and fight with a hostile species known as Arachnids. Use a movie trailer to set up the scene. Every time a student makes a grammar mistake put a red sticker on him to symbolize a wound.
To learn how to identify key words in a sentence, take your students to a strange forest. If we touch poisonous plants, we start seeing hallucinations (non-key words). Also, there are berries to cure us (key-words). You can get cured if you restore the sentence by key-words. It is easy to turn every lesson into an adventure. And the only thing you need is your students’ imagination.