Role-Playing Teaching (Part 12: This is for the Players)

 

Role-Playing Teaching (4)

It’s been a year since I started writing about RPGs and ways they could be used in the classroom. My blog is written primarily for the teachers, especially the EFL ones, but today I won’t write for the teachers, but for the RPGs players, as I think they deserve some explanations without the didactic background which is quite obvious for the teachers, but not so much for the rest of the world.

I spent last weekend attending one of my favourite fantasy fans’ conventions ever, Imladris. I participated in a discussion panel “Let’s Talk About RPGs” and was busted as a Person With an Idea – hence my post, where I’ll try to explain why exactly RPGs in a classroom rock, why EFL teachers are ready-made Game Masters and why using RPGs for teaching won’t make them dull.

Educational values

I know there are teachers who introduce RPGs sessions as extra-curricular activities, and I know there are schools that teach the language by playing RPGs – I’ve even heard of teachers who think of creating their own system designed to teach English. I want to incorporate RPGs in the classroom and that’s why I need to show how RPGs may support learning. And when it comes to learning English as a Foreign Language (EFL) role-plays are natural elements of the classes.

Think of all the “act out the dialogue, you’re A and your classmate is B” – this is something you may work on and create a pretty neat exercise, just imagine that person A is James Bond and B is Marie Curie. See? Just a little bit of role assignment could create a far more interesting and creative dialogue, offering the opportunities for a way more engaging communication.

Moreover, it’s easier to communicate when you impersonate somebody else. You get more open, more creative and instead of thinking about which personal information you want to hide, you may go with the flow and use more complex structures and words.

And RPGs are so much more that this! Team building, making friends, making common background, learning how to make friends and deal with conflicts – it’s all there, RPGs have it all to improve not only learning the language, but also improving communication. Here all the shy 15 year old kids may experiment with various registers and learn the fun way all those things they really shouldn’t say.

Fun

RPGs are primarily source of fun. Believe me or not, a lot of teachers want to make their classes fun – but sometimes it’s quite difficult, as nobody teaches young teachers how to do it. We are taught how to plan our classes, how to follow the coursebooks and how to explain grammar – rookie teachers may lack a lot of practical knowledge, distance and chill. Imagine that after years of classes full of “your students have to respect you!” and “no respect, no teaching” you’re faced with a group of kids…. and don’t know how to start. Now, RPGs may bring a lot of fun, both for the students and for the teachers.

Why is fun important? Because we learn better and faster, when we connect education with fun. Jane McGonigal presented an awesome TED speech and wrote a great book (“Superbetter“) proving that playing games may save the world, least make education fun.

Ready-made Game Masters

I’ve been a teacher and a Game Master and I must admit both roles are only too similar. Group management, encouragement and support, creativity and planning – it’s all there, ready to put in another use.

I’m not encouraging teachers to get their copy of D&D and start an epic campaign in the classroom of 25 students. No, it’s okay if we start with small steps – some communication exercises (including character building and game mechanics, why not?), some problem-solving activities. Everything in moderation, and to be honest, there is so much goodness in RPGs that we can use and adjust many ideas in various situations.

Aren’t games only for fun?

This was a very interesting viewpoint I’ve heard – RPGs are made to be fun, and using it in a school environment will make it by default boring. The classic tale – when a teacher tells you something is awesome, a rebellious student will immediately hate it.

The thing about RPGs is that people are born ready to play games. We do this as we grow, we emulate others, we experiment and ultimately learn to have fun. Naturally, everything should be taken in moderation, including RPGs – but looking at gaming industry and various uses of games like “Snow World” we can easily observe that this part of our humanity that loves games is being finally noticed.

No, I don’t believe education may make RPGs boring. On the contrary, I believe RPGs may make education more interesting.

All we need to do is try.

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Teach’em with Rhythm

Teach'em with Rhythm

Rhythm of the language is crucial if you want to speak fluently. And what’s better to learn a rhythm if not implementing in in the class? One may think playing with rhythm is something only the youngest students will enjoy, but recently I’ve discussed this topic and I want to share some ideas even the most adult and mature students will find amusing.

Provided you, as a teacher, enjoy it, of course 🙂

Chants

I myself remember chants as slightly boring (dreadful one potato, two potatoes, three potatoes, four, five potatoes, six potatoes, seven potatoes more), but you can add a little bit of zest to it and create your own chants, or even better – engage your students into creating them!

In one of my favourite board games, Mystery of the Abbey (perfect for EFL classes, if you enjoyed Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco, you’ll love it!), there is a card that makes all the players chant literally everything they want to say, and as the plot is set in a medieval monastery, the chant is supposed to resemble church chants. Now, people I’ve played with forget the winners, the plot and the rules, but they never forget chants.

What I mean, pick a simple tune and make your own chant. It may a list of irregular verbs to the tune of Baby Shark – something your students would find amusing (silly, but not too silly). And maybe, one day, they’ll turn out to be new Al Yankovic?

You can find more on jazz chants on onestopenglish.com

We Will Rock You

One of the scenes in the new film Bohemian Rhapsody shows pretty much what the power of rhythm is about:

I’m sure if you start the beat, pretty much everyone will know which song it is. You can use it in your classroom as a warm-up activity, but you can do more than that. For example, give the rhythm while reading key vocabulary for the lesson and ask your students to repeat after you to the same rhythm pattern. Then change the pattern to a quicker one, asking them to catch up, then slow down.

You may ask one student to give a pattern while the rest of the group follows it repeating the words. If it’s too easy, prompt another student to change the beat so the group has to readjust.

This way will help you not only make your students remember the words better (connecting word repetition with rhythm boosts long-term memory), but also help them open up a bit. It’s easier to repeat the words with others, especially when you have fun at the same time! This is a big step for all those shy students who are afraid of speaking aloud – if you practice speaking with others, in a friendly atmosphere, it will be a great encouragement to start speaking on their own.

Body Language

Clap! And stomp! And shake it! Learning a language comes with mistakes, sometimes embarrassing – and it’s important to create an atmosphere of fun, where all the students can feel safe and free to make silly mistakes. Make them move a bit, so that they relax, clapping and stomping while repeating vocabulary is a nice idea.

The process of learning a new things is a very childlike experience, and usually adult learners want to seem serious, dedicated and focused. Engaging them into activities requiring using body language releases tension and makes people more open. They may feel quite embarrassed at first, but after a while they will feel more relaxed.

As to children and teens, it’s a great idea to include some body language while listening to songs or repeating vocabulary – they need movement and some jumping and stomping will be a great activity for them.

If you want to read more about the rhythm of English, try this article on fluentu.com.

Enjoy!