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!

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How do you even play RPGs? (Role-Playing Teaching: Part 14)

How do you even play RPGs_

Recently I’ve finished a really interesting course (Teacher Trainer Academy) and I got really valuable feedback – coming from the teachers who were indeed interested in Role-Playing Games but simply didn’t know how to play. Now, during short workshops I struggle with presenting the indubitable merits of using them in the classroom and engaging people into short scenes – but how much can one share in half an hour?

I am currently planning my very first full-time workshops on RPGs with awesome materials, ideas and stuff, but before I start (and I’m a master procrastinator, I’m afraid) I want to share some places you may visit to see RPG sessions. Mind, those are just for fun, with no educational factor included (not intentionally, I mean). For those, we will have to wait for my workshops, I guess…

Below you will find five places you may take a look at to see what RPGs are about – the first sessions, how the adventure develops, the whole team-building experience, rolls, successes and fails – along with the most important factor: fun!

Critical Role (D&D)

Critical Role is a weekly livestreamed Dungeons & Dragons game. Each week, Matthew Mercer, the Dungeon Master, leads his friends (also fellow voice actors!) on epic adventures. You may want to start here, as Critical Role is one of the most popular and professional places to get familiar with RPGs.

Yogscasts High Rollers D&D Aerois Campaign (D&D)

The typical D&D campaign with elves, warlocks, paladins… and starships, because why not. You can watch the campaign live every Sunday, 5pm GMT/BST, on the Yogscast and HighRollersDnD Twitch channels since July 1, 2018, but you may just as well get familiar with their first sessions.

Dungeons & Dragons on Twitch

If you want to discover the magic of classical Dungeon & Dragons, you can visit their Twitch channel and watch a random session or two. Some of them are professional, others are adorably home-made, but if you browse through them, you will see why RPGs are so popular.

Geek and Sundry – Relics and Rarities (D&D)

D&D again (no wonder, it’s the most popular system over the pond), but this time this is probably the most professional recording ever. You can watch the first episode here, and subscribe to their Twitch channel to watch the sessions live. You may join the observers to follow a crew of bold players on a quest to stop an unholy prophecy from coming to fruition.

Baniak Baniaka – Warhammer (PL)

If you’re Polish, you might try Baniak Baniaka, a channel created by Michał Bańka, probably the most popular Game Master in Poland. Michał gamemasters various systems, but Warhammer is the oldest one. Personally, I played a session gamemastered by Michał (Warhammer of course) and it was pretty much fun – not educational, mind, but still fun. You may notice there aren’t many women playing there, but it doesn’t mean women don’t play RPGs!

Graj Kolektyw – various (PL)

A bunch of Polish RPG enthusiasts play games and promote various systems. You may visit their page here – again, it’s in Polish only to learn more about their ideas, but it’s nice to follow their adventures – they are enjoyable and pretty much show what RPGs are about.

To Ja Go Tnę – various (PL)

A channel on YouTube by fans for fans – various Game Masters and systems, always fun. If I were to recommend a particular session, it would be “Cienie Wolności” not only because it’s a Call of Cthulhu session… but mainly, aye 😉

I hope you’ll like the idea of an RPG session – mind I wouldn’t dream of encouraging you to watch whole campaigns… unless you feel like it, of course. Just take a peek and see how it rolls – a lot of talking, an occasional roll of the dice, some experience points to see the character growing… and on we go.

Until my workshops, at least 🙂

Adult students, let’s roll! (Role-Playing Teaching: Part 13)

Adult students, let's roll

I started playing RPGs when I was 15, so writing a post on why RPGs are awesome for teenagers would be an easy choice, but since games come so natural to younger learners, I want to share some aspects of RPGs that are really beneficial for adult learners of English.

Taking off the pressure of being correct.

One of my favourite activities with adult students who are hesitant about speaking is to pretend to make mistakes in their native tongue and asking them what they would do if a foreigner asked them something in broken language. They invariably answer they would try to understand them nonetheless and that’s how I try to make them see that people will try to understand their English even when their language is somewhat faulty. Then I ask them to communicate in the native language and make as many mistakes as they can. They usually have a lot of fun and feel much more at ease afterwards.

This is exactly the case with RPGs. By assuming a role it’s easier for adults to make mistakes – after all it’s not real them who say something incorrectly, it’s just a character. By distancing themselves from the role, they are more open, courageous and eager to communicate, even at the cost of making a mistake.

Making friends.

It’s not easy to make new friends once you’re an adult – workmates, children, everyday duties and responsibilities take so much time one doesn’t really have time for friendship. But trust me on this, you can meet new people and make actual friendships. Playing RPGs means making decisions, doing things together, working on plans and experiencing adventures – and it may sound funny, but our brains don’t really see the difference between imaginary experiences and the real ones. That means we start to feel the sense of belonging with our “team”, common responsibility for decisions (the good, the bad and the silly ones).

What does it have to do with your classroom? Have you ever worked with a bunch of friends? The relationship between your students – and you, of course – gets stronger and you become far more supportive. People feel more comfortable and we all know learning in a comfortable environment in a company of friends sounds like a real adventure!

Mindshift.

When it comes to adventures, RPGs are a real gift to your brain. It will happily play along being deceived, being offered a quest of fun, not a mundane duty of learning. Think of a brain of an adult person, tired of dull routine – and suddenly facing new challenges! And even better – those challenges are still an element of the game, so potential failure will not result in stress.

In her book “Superbetter”, Jane McGonigal presents the results of the research which clearly shows that people playing games are more daring, ready for a challenge and less prone to stress. By playing RPGs our students not only practise English, but also develop their mind.

Regaining childlike curiosity.

How come children are so thrilled when it comes to learning new things and yet we lose this natural curiosity once we start formal education? Our brains too soon get used to the familiar and boring ways of school subjects, tests, exams, papers etc.

No wonder learning quickly loses its charm and becomes yet another duty, but with RPGs we may conceal the educational goal behind the pretence of fun and playing games. It makes our brains catch its second wind and actually start enjoying learning, as it comes in a form of entertainment, not another dreary lesson.

Uncovering new areas to study.

Playing RPGs makes your brain wake up – and wake up hungry for new knowledge. You won’t even realise when your students will start looking for new words and idioms to improve their communication – after all everyone wants their voice to be heard in the game!

More than that, if you decide to pick a system set in a somewhat realistic world, your students will suddenly try to scavenge for information they would normally be quite uninterested in. I remember when I started reading on various things I wanted to learn just to make my character more realistic and credible.

Means of escape.

This might be a bit tricky, just like with computer games. On one hand, RPGs may be a lovely way to relax a little bit and learn something new. On the other hand, one needs to be aware of the potential danger of escapism – and it’s ever so easy to run into the imaginary world!

Nonetheless, it’s a great fun and adventure for an adult learner to experience something unusual, take a bunch of new-made friends and go on an adventure… and learn a language, communicate, still grow and regain this childlike attitude to new things.

So let’s add some RPG into our classes!

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.

Role-Playing Teaching (Part 11: Abominable Terror as Means of Entertainment)

Role-Playing Teaching (2) I love autumn. The days are getting shorter, the evenings longer and the general feeling is that it’s so cosy to stay in with a cup of hot tea (or hot chocolate). The only thing to make it better is to add some more fun with free educational value. Aaaaand here we are with my next article on Role-Playing Games and how it can make your life easier and your classroom funnier.

Today we’ll discuss horror, terror, unspeakable doom and abominable fun they bring, and also why you could spend money on something nobody pays me to advertise.

I have written quite a lot about different role-playing games, various worlds and ideas, but today I want to encourage you to try on your own. And since we’re all dealing with English, the system I would recommend most is Call of Cthulhu. The greatest advantage of CoC is that you may choose your favourite period, from 1890s to… well, technically to the future as there are systems like Delta Green or CthulhuTech that are more future-oriented. Still, let’s start with the classic CoC and by classic I mean the USA in the 1920s. Fun, mystery and all that jazz. The players take the roles of more or less ordinary people – detectives, doctors, criminals, artists etc. and the adventures always start innocently, in a realistically described world, where the one of the few subtle differences is that we can visit Arkham with its Miskatonic University and infamous neighbourhood. It’s easy to create an ordinary character in a world that you pretty much are familiar with. The great benefit of this setting is that it encourages players to do a bit of reading on the period and if there’s any period of the USA history to be studied that’s certainly the 1920s! You could watch a film (film noir is great, even if it’s a genre about the 1940s, the atmosphere of gloom and doom suits CoC marvellously, but Chicago will also be great) or read some articles on the Net to get the grasp of the realia of the times. Now, in order to realise what unspeakable terror may await you (remember, your character will not know anything of the menacing shadows) – you may familiarise yourself with HPL’s stories.

This is something I find adorable – people who wouldn’t spend ten minutes on learning vocabulary would pore over the dictionary just to understand HPL’s alliterations and grammar (you may find some fine Future Perfect uses in his works).

The next advantage of CoC in general is the abundance of adventures, so you don’t have to trouble yourself with creating new stories (which can be overwhelming), but just get a sourcebook and follow the plot, adding some personal events. Game mechanics is as easy as can be – characters’ skills are defined by percentage (the higher the skill, the better your ability) and tests are basically determined by a 1d100 roll (which is a roll of two ten-sided dice where one is tenths and the other units). If you roll within your skill limit – you generally pass. I don’t encourage you to bring a RPG system to your classroom with more than fifteen pupils if you haven’t played a game before. But if you’re an English teacher – get yourself a copy of the Call of Cthulhu RPG and try to play a simple adventure with your friends. You will have a perfect entertainment for an autumn evening, you will experience the fun, the educational value and the possibilities you may include in your classroom. With the world that is easy to revive (especially for EFL teachers, honestly, I find them way more into the world than other people!), characters so ordinary that impersonating them isn’t difficult, and ready-made adventures – you can play a game on your own. Enjoy!

Role-Playing Teaching: IATEFL speech transcript

Role-PlayingTeaching

Introduction

Hi and hello. My name is Monika Bigaj-Kisała and I’m a teacher of English, a worshipper of two cats, a socially awkward extrovert and a gamer. But first and foremost I am a storyteller and during the next 45 minutes I will take you on the journey where I will share my stories and you will spin yours, with superheroes, coffee and the Great Cthulhu.

Brene Brown says we all are born storytellers and by the end of our meeting I want you to discover your potential as a super-hero of your own story.

21 years ago I was 15, waiting for my diploma for reaching the finals of the regional English language contest, which was quite a big deal at that time. Fun fact, I had started learning English properly only two years before. I started attending English classes when I was 11 and for 2 years I had classes with an Ukrainian teacher who would start with lessons focused only on pronunciation drills like “hit-lit-wit” to be followed the next year by translation of English jokes. No grammar, no communication. Then we got a less unusual teacher and she would start with Present Simple and the verb “to be”, and pretty soon she discovered I actually know some English and can communicate quite decently, although I had no appropriate education. So she started to hone my skills and two years later I turned out to be a pretty good student.

The reason behind my linguistic abilities wasn’t a great teacher, nor was my natural talent. The two aspects responsible for improving my English were Cartoon Network and computer games. I spent my free time watching cartoons in English and that helped me develop my receptive skills, but playing games – Elvira, King’s Quests, Alone in the Dark – was what made me produce. I had to understand the meaning and act accordingly. There were no online games as it was ages before the Internet and in order to get a game you had to catch a dinosaur and ride it to the nearest game dealer, but still, games were communication. A game ordered me to do something, I had to understand and react, and the game judged whether my understanding was correct.

But then I didn’t appreciate the educational approach of the games, I only found it a source of fun.

One of the things that have set me on the quest of finding Holy Grail of the RPG in TEFL was the tedious environment of the coursebook-oriented curriculum. After years of using the same scheme of lessons, I started to dream of a course where changes would be part of its curriculum. And what gives RPGs such allure is certainly their variety – declaring actions (as acting out is not really a necessity), following the plot and building a story is similar everywhere, differences are in the worlds – and those are aplenty.

Jerzy Szeja explains that narrative Role Playing requires a person leading the game (GM: Game Master) and at least one player who impersonates a character (PC: Player’s Character). The world is described in a particular system of a narrative RPG along with the rules and mechanics.

RPG may be compared to children’s games where participants play different roles (e.g. cops and thieves), but a GM is the person who makes all the difference with outlining the proper plot and acting out other interactive characters.

The basic semiotic model of communication in RPG, looks rather simple:

GM describes the setting and NPCs actions.

PCs declare actions (sometimes after discussion to decide the way of behaviour).

GM describes the result of the actions (often based on mechanics).

And the whole cycle repeats itself.

Continue reading “Role-Playing Teaching: IATEFL speech transcript”

Role-Playing Teaching (Part 10:Why RPGs Rock in the Classroom)

Role-Playing Teaching (1)

So far I’ve written 9 articles in my Role-Playing Teaching series and I’ve just realised I didn’t write anything about why RPGs are so cool when it comes to teaching! So here we are, a list of seven main reasons you should take your class into one of the Never-Never worlds.

1. Communication

I wrote about it in Character Creation part – with RPGs you start communicating before you even start playing. You create your character, you establish relationships with other players and then you spend hours talking, communicating, arguing, convincing and making people see your point of view. You don’t practice communication, you simply communicate and learn on the way, that if you speak to a police officer the way you talk with your best buddy, it may affect the communication. Which is a lesson worth learning before you meet an actual police officer and start talking rubbish…

2. Fun

I know some people believe proper learning requires solemn approach, study books and a lot of copies with grammar drills. I agree with this perspective when it comes to introducing grammar constructions (surprisingly, I guess that in order to understand the Reported Speech you need to produce a certain amount of drills) – but my primary goal in teaching is fun; this is the main reason I teach, honestly. And when you can teach, play and have fun at the same time – how could I resist the temptation?

3. Friendship

For years I’ve been attending fantasy fans’ conventions and spent hours talking about RPGs, systems, world, adventures and sessions – if you’re a teacher, imagine attending a teachers’ conference and discussing with a random teacher of another subject and from another part of your country your issues with a particular group of students: it doesn’t sound probable, right? Yet that’s what RPGs fans do, we share our adventures, epic stories and even equally epic dice rolls! Why? Because RPGs connect people – you start talking about the last edition of Warhammer, go for a pint, it turns out you have some common interests apart from RPGs, then you meet more people like this, have a great time, you meet them again on another convention and boom! suddenly you have friends all over the country.

Very useful from a tourist’s point of view.

4. Research

I remember, when we started playing my presently favourite system (Delta Green) we did quite a lot of research on American governmental organisations (as you usually play an FBI agent, or a CDC official, or maybe even an NRA representative, and you even might playing a CIA agent if you’re risky enough). Likewise, when we started playing Call of Cthulhu in 1920, we had to do some research on laws, politics, pop-culture, social code etc. I’m planning to take my teen students on the journey to the USA in the 1920s and that will require them to do some reading and learn things they otherwise wouldn’t even bother to think about.

5. Memories

Imagine meeting people after five years and trying to find a common topic after you’re done with the small talks. Sometimes it causes awkward silence, but never for the RPGs fans! Our chats are full of “do you remember” – “do you remember when you killed that giant demonic slug with one hit?” (don’t ask…) or “do you remember when we had to solve the case of the missing hen?” (4 hours playing). Taking part in various “after years” meetings I must say the RPG-related ones are the liveliest and the funniest. No English course will give you memories similar to those when you go on an adventure with a group of people who ultimately become your friends.

6. Team building

I live in Poland. Poland is a lovely country but the social trust is terribly low. As a nation, we don’t really trust people – and something I’ve observed and been told when I worked abroad is that we’re not really team players. And that’s true, even when you look at the way we’re working, starting from primary school. Team-work is important, being teachers we know that collaboration and cooperation are vital. Now, RPGs teach you team building. You have to work as a team, otherwise you won’t complete the quest. Communication, negotiation and the awesome ability of taking the blame sometimes and not blaming others – you learn it all here.

7. Teacher’s laziness

I know there are hard-working teachers who enjoy lesson-prep, copying materials and cutting-out visuals. Regretfully, I am not one of them. If you read my blog, you probably know the best lesson for me is when my students do the work and I am a mere counsellor. RPGs work like that – you prepare an adventure, define the area of the language your students are going to practise (“today we focus on the passive”) and make notes of new vocabulary they will want to revise after the session… and then you basically have fun! Especially when you see your students having a blast, not even realising they’re learning the language.

To be sure, I could give you more examples of RPGs being awesome in your class – and I probably will, as this year I’m starting a mini-course of English based solely on RPGs. Adventures galore, a group of teenagers, Great Cthulhu and English – what can possibly go wrong?

Well, we’re about to see quite soon…