Are you… afraid of the dark? (Role-Playing Teaching: Part 17)

Are you... afraid of the dark_ (2)

Summer means adventure, woohoo! Some people travel around the world, others stay home and spend time with friends. Both options are brilliant, especially when you are able to to travel without leaving your room – simply engage your friends in a session of a Role Playing Game and travel around the world… and beyond. Sometimes, however, you’re stuck alone in a place you’re not really happy with – and then you may also enjoy an RPG session just by yourself.

Here I am, writing about the awesomeness of Role-Playing Games as a perfect tool for boosting communication and relationships in the classroom. However, today I want to tempt you with an adventure you take on your own. Alone.

Alone against the dark…

Alone Against The Dark is an adventure for one player, set in the autumn of 1931, in the Lovecraftian universe of the Cthulhu Mythos (although you won’t be meeting the Great Cthulhu Himself, as the greatest mystery of the Call of Cthulhu is the fact that you basically don’t meet Cthulhu). Your friend goes missing and your goal is to solve his disappearance and ultimately to save the world from the calamity. Your journey will take you from New York City to Greece, Egypt, Germany, and Antarctica.

You will start your adventure as Louis Grunewald, a quiet linguistics professor from the Miskatonic University. You will fight the forces of darkness before time runs out — but in case Professor Grunewald is eliminated for some reason (in CoC it means a character either goes completely mad, or simply dies), you can successively assume an identity of a new investigator.

There are four ready-made investigators, enabling you to take on various roles as circumstances change in your search for the truth: Louis Grunewald, Lydia Lau, a story-seeking reporter for the New York Sun, Devon Wilson, a sailor on leave from the US Navy, and Ernest Holt, a wealthy industrialist.

I spent most of my 9-hour long train journey playing the game – I personalised the characters, prepared some sheets of paper and a pencil (making notes turns out to be crucial when trying to save the world!) and I must tell you that I think I need to follow the adventure again, only this time make different choices. My professor was lucky enough to survive for quite a long time, but well, there are things in this world elderly scholars may have troubles with… like falling down from an impressive height, physical assault or, well, supernatural creatures.

I find this adventure just brilliant for all of you who have already read about Role-Playing Games, but struggle with gathering the party before venturing forth. You can play the game in your own tempo and discover the magic of RPG by yourself. The universe of HPL and his Cthulhu Mythos are quite enjoyable for EFL teachers – imagine you wear a fashionable dress, switch on jazz music and with a cheeky smile face the unspeakable evil.

You can get the adventure in English here, only remember you might need a copy of a Keeper Rulebook (you may buy it here) to understand the rules. If you’re Polish, your life is easier, because you may get the adventure here in Polish, and instead of buying the whole rulebook, you can get a short starter.

You may think it’s a deal, but trust me, once you set on a trail of the Old Ones, you’ll spend your money on Keeper Rulebook and other adventures.

You should also buy a set of dice, but hey, you can download a free app like RPG Simple Dice.

Good luck, dear friend, and enjoy your adventure…

Costello, Matthew and Mason, Mike

Alone Against the Dark/ Samotnie przeciwko ciemności: zniweczenie triumfu lodu

Chaosium, 2018/ PL version Black Monk

ISBN: 978-156882-453-6

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The night is dark and full of neons (lesson plan for +18)

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You may not be familiar with a Polish national treasure a.k.a. CD Projekt RED, you may not even realise massive hype connected with probably the most expected game since Red Dead Redemption 2 (at least for some), but you must have heard of two names that have been coming up in trending on the internet for the past ten days – Keanu Reeves and Cyberpunk 2077.

It is not very often that I share something exclusively for adults, but this topic is more appropriate for mature learners, as it includes violence, politics and, to put it bluntly, life experience. The aim of the lesson is to make people talk and exchange their views, and as a teacher one needs to be aware of controversies of various topics, so pay attention to moderate the discussion. Also, the best level for this lesson is B1+ and above.

The whole lesson is about two important things – our future and the importance of stories, and how they blend. The base for the lesson is presentation of Cyberpunk 2077 with Keanu Reeves at Microsoft Xbox show at E3 2019. The video is quite long, but you will watch it in two parts.

Warm-up

Greet your students and explain the aim of the lesson: discussing our reality with regards to a certain literary genre, namely cyberpunk. Ask them whether they have ever heard this expression, and try to narrow down the narrative of cyberpunk (you will find a nice article on cyberpunk on wikipedia). There are chances your students are familiar with the classics, such as Blade Runner, Akira, Matrix, Altered Carbon or the works of Philip K. Dick, William Gibson or Pat Cadigan.

You will watch a recent trailer for Cyberpunk 2077, a game by CD Project RED, to get the whiff of a cyberpunk world.

Part 1

Watch the video up to 3:53 which where the actual game trailer starts.

Apart from obvious questions referring to the story, its main protagonist, the plot, the possible outcome, encourage students to focus on the background. The omnipresent technology and something that is the core of the genre – body cybermodification. You may discuss the role of technology in our lives ever since we were born – it may be a great discussion if your group consists of both digital immigrants and digital natives.

If you know your group enjoys slightly more controversial topics, you may discuss the idea of body modification – a great example may be a story of Viktoria Modesta (you may read an article about her here). She’s turned her leg prosthetic into a work of art, but the controversial aspect is that the leg amputation was not something absolutely necessary – it was Viktoria herself who simply wanted to use artistic prosthetic.

Part 2

Once you finish discussing the genre and the story, and how far we are from living in the actual cyberpunk – or if we ever live there (answers may vary), you may watch a part where Keanu Reeves appears on stage to share the date of game release, but is welcomed with a thunderous applause, especially when he says I am always drawn to fascinating stories.

Have you ever tried storytelling in your classroom, engaging your students into spinning a tale? You may use various games that will help you – Once Upon a Time or simple Story Cubes may turn out to be great beginnings of fascinating tales. Introducing Role Playing Games is the best way to engage everyone in a story – but be sure to discuss why stories matter. At first your students may claim only children like stories, but we already know we are surrounded by stories from birth to death (you can watch some TED talks on the topic).

Ask your students to recall their favourite story and let them explain why they liked it so much. That will make your students open up a bit, and surprisingly other students will probably be happy to listen. That’s the magic of stories – we’re not eager to listen what happened during the previous week, but we’re more attentive when we expect a good story.

Homework

Homework is a conclusion to the lesson, and it requires some time, reflection and revision. Ask your students to write a short story, similar to their favourite tale, only set in a cyberpunk world. I’m fairly sure the results will be amazing.

Enjoy!

Roll your summertime with kids! (Role-Playing Teaching: Part 16)

Roll your summertime with kids!

Last time when I wrote about Role-Playing Games, I wrote about a great game for children, Bumbleberry Forest. I focused on more educational aspects of this system, so today I want to give you some reasons why playing RPGs with children may be a great idea for everyone involved – especially now, with summer break approaching.

Family Time

If you’re Polish you may visit a group on FB called “Mamo tato zagrajmy w RPG”, for parents playing RPGs with their offspring – you will learn far more on the subject there. It’s a lovely group full of genuinely nice and supportive people, and if you can’t speak Polish, you may try using English – they’re all quite familiar with it.

You will learn how great RPGs may be when it comes to building and maintaining relationships – not only between parents and children, but also between siblings, which may be a solution to constant quarrels. After all, having arguments with your ally is different than telling off an annoying younger brother, isn’t it?

If you’re a parent, do consider RPGs as an idea for family fun during rainy summer days, long trips or simply long and lazy afternoons!

Friendship (is magic)

One of the universal truths of the world is simple: you must gather your party before venturing forthAt the risk of repeating myself I say – nothing builds friendships better than a common quest, a party of people you have fun with and, naturally, challenges which make you rely on your teammates. RPGs have it all – and more. Players will soon share their little jokes, will refer to previous adventures and build a real team, ideally with no peer pressure, only mutual understanding.

RPGs are a great way to make children build healthy relationships, trust others and get self-confident. Naturally, we talk about kids here, so they need to be supervised, however, building of team spirit is easier than in sports: in sports there’s usually someone better and someone worse, and in RPG, in an imaginary world, we are all who we want to be.

And even when we fail, it’s because of the silly dice!

Never stop learning questing!

We all know about natural childlike curiosity – children ask questions and are interested in everything until they go to school. Fortunately, it isn’t a case with RPGs, where the heroes never just learn – they embark on a quest to gain the knowledge! And the knowledge isn’t easy to get, oh no! There be dragons, and monsters and all beasties possible guarding this powerful treasure.

And the treasure itself may be a magical phrase in English that make people do something for you (pretty please), a recipe for favourite cookies (something that needs to be immediately tested!), a mathematical formula that will reveal a path to wisdom required to understand a spell… Once you do this little mindshift and show knowledge as what it really is – priceless treasure, your kids will stay curious at least a while longer.

Self-development

A friend of mine works as a teacher assistant for the kids with SEN. She’s an avid RPG player and decided to introduce a simple adventure to her small group of kids. She was eager to try, but she was also slightly worried about one of the kids who’s autistic and not yet ready to communicate. To her surprise, he started not only to answer her encouraging conversation starters, but he also started to initiate the conversations himself! For him, small talk itself is a waste of time, but he realises the importance of small talk in the context of obtaining the information to complete the adventure, his mission.

In her absolutely brilliant book „Superbetter”, Jane McGonigal says that scientific research corroborates the theory that games provide more than just sheer enjoyment – they provide models of better selves. What is more, she says, while we play, we focus on the game, giving it so-called flow of attention, a state of being fully absorbed and engaged, the state of total immersion in the game. It helps people literally feel better, make one’s brain relax and achieve the same results as training of mindfulness.

I don’t want you to encourage children to play games to become better selves, but think of it as added value – all you do is have fun with kids, and at the same time they grow, develop their soft skills, build relationships, learn how to deal with challenges and how to cope with failure…

Not bad for a game, is it?

7 Free Online Courses in June

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Are you already getting ready for your summer break? Gentle wind on a sandy beach, scorching sun in the mountains and nothing, absolutely nothing to do with teaching, school and EFL? If yes, please continue your bliss, but if you ever feel like there’s something you should do apart from relaxing, maybe a short online course or two… Well, here I am, ever-watchful! I’ve found seven nice and free courses that may be quite interesting for teachers… even those ready for their summer break!

1 Language Assessment in the Classroom by the British Council

Start: 03/06/2019

Duration: 4 weeks

For whom: anyone interested in understanding how language assessment works

Assessment is something a lot of teachers struggle with – from test preparation to evaluation. Fortunately, British Council has a great course, which will help you learn theoretical aspects of assessment, and then adjust it to your purposes. You will focus on practical ways of assessing language and skills which you can use in your classroom, but more than that, you will have an opportunity to swap ideas with fellow participants and receive professional guidance from course moderators (something BC is really good at!).

2 Our Solar System and Beyond: Teaching Primary Science by the Royal Observatory at Greenwich

Start: 3/06/2019

Duration: 3 weeks

For whom: primary school teachers who have an interest in expanding their knowledge of space

Before you shrug the idea off, think about it: imagine your EFL classes enriched with real-life knowledge you’ll acquire with the real astronomers at the Royal Observatory Greenwich! Wake your childlike curiosity up and explore space… and various resources for your primary science lessons. You’ll explore digital resources, museum tips, video chats and podcasts, and find out what works best for your students. Your EFL lessons will be just cosmically amazing!

3 Improving Your Study Techniques by the University of Groningen

Start: 3/06/2019

Duration: 4 weeks

For whom: anyone involved in the learning process

I’m afraid to admit, I’d have probably taken over the world already, if it wasn’t for procrastination. Do you know the phrase “Procrastinators, unite! Fighting tomorrow for better today…” – that might be my motto. And with so many distractions like Facebook or IM… it’s quite difficult to focus on actual learning (one needs to study strategies in order to take over the world!). If you (or your students) experience similar issues, that may be a great course for us! During the course you will reflect on procrastination and motivation, learn how to design a study plan and actually organise your educational life for the better.

Only you or your students best focus on conventional subjects, leave world domination to me.

4 The Art of Teaching Foreign Languages to Young Learners by Universidad Nacional de Córdoba

Start: 10/06/2019

Duration: 4 weeks

For whom: people interested in teaching foreign languages to young learners

If you’re a rookie teacher, or even an experienced lecturer who’s going to start teaching young learners, this may be a good course for you. The course will take you through the basics of methodological approaches to teaching kids, you will also learn about developmental stages of kids and young teenagers. If you feel stressed when you think about teaching kids, you should find this course – and the discussions – particularly interesting.

5 Introduction to Cybersecurity for Teachers by the Raspberry Pi Foundation

Start: 24/06/2019

Duration: 3 weeks

For whom: teachers interested in cybersecurity

We all know we all need to be careful in the Internet – students and teachers alike. It was proven that younger generation, called “digital natives”, happen to be too careless – they treat the Net as their safe haven, which couldn’t be further from the truth. This course will help you not only be more sensible when it comes to your security, it will also help you design actual cybersecurity classess. You will explore malware, malicious bots, SQL injections, and physical threats to data. You will also build your knowledge of the different tools that protect data and websites – strong passwords, biometrics, two-factor authentication, and firewalls.

6 Teaching English: How to Plan a Great Lesson by the British Council

Start: 24/06/2019

Duration: 4 weeks

For whom: English language teachers worldwide

Having a well-prepared lesson plan is a great beginning of a successful lesson. This course will help you look at various professional practices, share your own teaching experiences, and apply what you’ve learnt to your own teaching practice. If you feel like you might need some guidance with regards to classroom management and keeping your students engaged with your teaching methods – that’s the course for you!

7 Languages?

If you really think of going on holidays, you may be interested in learning some basic expressions in foreign languages that may prove really helpful.

There is still time to enroll in a course where you’ll learn the most important expressions – and who knows, maybe you’ll decide to develop your skills in more than one foreign language?

You may participate in basic Spanish classes here.

You will find a basic Italian course here.

I hope you’ll enjoy the courses – they look really interesting, and I guess it’s never too late to learn something new, even during summer break!

Have fun!

3 no-prep ideas for outdoor classes

3 no-prep ideas

I love outdoor classes in May and June –  if you look at your students, it is really difficult for them to stay in when every muscle is calling them outside. I’m not overly fond of hot summer days myself, but I’m even less fond of classrooms with no air-conditioning, so here are my top three ideas for outdoor classes, they worked brilliantly for me and I can only hope you’ll have at least as much fun as my students did.

As you’ll probably notice, my ideas are virtually no-prep classes. It’s somehow connected with the feeling of summertime laziness that rubs off on me!

I spy with my little eye… (A1 and above)

If you think elementary students can’t have fun outdoors because they get easily distracted without coursebooks, you couldn’t be more wrong. You only need to give them stimuli and have fun watching them play and use their English. You probably know the game I spy. One person, the Spy, silently selects an object that is visible to all the players but doesn’t tell what the object is. Then the Spy says, I spy with my little eye something beginning with the letter…, and players have to guess what the object is.

Now, it sounds really easy, even for elementary students, so you may play an alternative version, substituting the initial letter for an adjective such as a colour of an object or a sound (that one is fun: I spy with my little eye something that sounds like a bomb). Yet another variation to encourage using English is giving various descriptive clues, such as describing a watch as something made of metal and glass that makes a quiet noise.

Believe me, not only kids love this game, add a hint of competition (like two teams) and adult learners will have wild ideas! Why is it a great game outdoors? Because you have far more objects than in a classroom, you can play it walking, change places and literally do nothing to prepare.

Tourists attractions (A2-B1 and above)

It’s a little project that takes around two classes, with a lot of fun for students and literally nothing you have to do beforehand apart from bringing a map of the school’s whereabouts.

On the first lessons students pick some interesting places around the school and make up interesting stories about them in secret – on lower levels they may work in pairs to feel more comfortable. They should write the stories down and optionally give you to proofread (I skipped this step hoping to be surprised and indeed I was, so in case you prefer to have some control over these  particularly controversial stories – go for proofreading).

On the second lesson just go for a walk, stop in front of each landmark and let the person who made up a story about it, tell it the way tourist guides do.

Where’s the fun? First of all, stories. I listened to various tales of cannibalism in an old asylum (you’d never think of it, looking at an ordinary kebab place), a series of unexplained disappearances and eerie cults (obviously, a church), haunted graveyard (in a park, not in an actual graveyard as that would be too obvious) etc.

See the point of proofreading now?

Secondly, make your students behave like real tourists. You know, baseball caps, socks&sandals (if they’re brave enough), cameras etc. Make them listen to their “guides” attentively and enjoy the interest of the unsuspecting public. I believe my students had a lot of fun not only with their work, but also with people’s reactions. Suddenly speaking English was the easiest thing to do!

Treasure hunt (A2 and above)

Be aware: you need to prepare a few pieces of paper for this class. In each you should have 5-10 challenges for a treasure hunt. Also, this is an activity appropriate for more mature students who can behave in a safe manner when walking around unsupervised.

Divide your class into 3 groups, each gets a sheet of paper with challenges and off they go, to complete the task. The first team to return receives an award (a souvenir, good mark or an opportunity to choose the next lesson’s topic). Meanwhile you spend an hour drinking coffee and, naturally, pining after your students.

When it comes to challenges, I decided to pick similar instructions for each group, but give them varying details, for example:

  1. Go to *various cafés* and ask for *vegan muffins/vegan ice-cream/gluten-free cakes* in English
  2. Go to *McDonald’s etc.* order a coke and a straw for each person in team (in English) and take a selfie. Send it to me.
  3. Go to the nearest *fountain* and ask a stranger in English to take a photo of you mid-jump.
  4. In English, ask a stranger *ginger bearded man/a mother with three kids/ a couple in love* to take a photo with your team.
  5. In English, ask someone for directions to *theatre/school/tourist information”. Ask if you can record them as you keep forgetting directions.

The obvious question is, how did I make sure my students were speaking English? Simple – the person speaking was recorded by another team member. After the hunt, obviously, recordings were deleted. The best thing about this hunt is that students have an opportunity to practice real-life skills and still have a lot of fun!

I hope my ideas sound interesting, so do not hesitate to adjust them to your need and enjoy your outdoor classes! Remember about parental consent if your students are minors, especially when it comes to the treasure hunt!

Take your kids to Bumbleberry Forest! (Role-Playing Teaching: Part 15)

Take your kids to Bumbleberry Forest!

It’s time for the next Role-Playing Teaching article! We’re done with theory. Today, I have a really nice post for all of you who want to try Role-Playing Games with their nearest and dearest. Bumbleberry Forest, a mini RPG game created by Kamila Zalewska-Firus, is a perfect start to the world of RPGs, designed to be family entertainment – starting from three year old children!

Imagine a relatively safe world of wood sprites or pixies (it’s not totally safe, there has to be some space for adventures, after all). Main characters are pixies, living in a small village deep in the heart of the woods, far from humans (they are huge and scary creatures!) and enjoying their everyday life. Helpful and friendly, they happily help one another by foraging for herbs (you need to be careful as there is a family of foxes nearby!), exploring the unknown (e.g. wreck of a car, maybe there is something pixies may find useful) or helping a baby bird get to its nest (and trees are really high for such a small folk as pixies).

The main idea is that the role of the Game Master is taken by an adult (parent or teacher) and the children are meant to assume the roles of pixies. Characters are created by rolling casual six-sided dice and when they’re ready, GM generates a quest for them, starting with simple ones and moving on to more dangerous adventures.

You can get the ebook here (it’s a pay what you want option, so you can get it even for 1$). You will find here detailed description of the Bumbleberry Forest and its inhabitants, character descriptions along with a nice character sheet, quest generators and a simple adventure.

I find Bumbleberry Forest simply adorable, not only for kids. If you ever experienced the feeling of homesickness thinking of the Tolkien’s Shire, it may be a good place for you to visit. It’s a simple and yet entertaining way to take your family on a nice adventure. Family… or students! At the cost of repeating myself I’ll say that Role-Playing Games are a great teaching tool.

Naturally, with toddlers (Bumbleberry Forest is designed for children aged 3+) you won’t be able to play the whole game in English. So, how can you incorporate EFL into the quests?

Who are you, stranger?

There’s someone new in a village! A strange pixie from another forest who speaks a foreign language. Maybe he’s trying to learn something about your village, maybe she’s lost – anyway, they cannot communicate in your native tongue. Our players’ pixies will need to  understand the stranger who will speak English, of course. Game Master will need to remember to use simple words and a lot of body language, but this kind of encounter may be really educational – maybe local pixies will ask a stranger to join their village for good?

The quest for magic words

You may organise all your quests as means to find magic words that will be simple words in English – just add a little magic to them! The first magic word may be *please* – it makes everyone you ask for help be more willing to comply. The next ones may include *thank you* (make others more appreciative), *sorry* (others don’t get angry at you), and so on. You will probably experience kids trying to use those magic words in everyday life to coax something, but that’s great, since that’s the main purpose of communication, right? You may create nice cards with the words children find on their quests, it will be really motivational!

If you want to pass the test…

…you need to roll the dice. But, if you want to incorporate English, you may add some linguistic challenges, like “you need to pass the test and tell me three colours in English” or “remember that if you want to talk to an animal (which is easy for pixies), you need to call it by its English name”. Such trivial ideas may be a source of repetition, fun and – first and foremost – creating positive background for vocabulary revision.

I will elaborate the topic of RPGs, EFL and kids soon, but for now I hope you’ll find my ideas helpful and get yourself a copy of the Bumbleberry Forest – take your kids on an adventure and you may discover a new world of fun, education and building positive relationships.

Enjoy!