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!
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7 Useful Websites for Teaching Kids

7 Useful Websites for Teaching Kids

Being a teacher is never boring, especially when one changes age groups they have got used to – for a while now I’ve been more focused on teaching young learners which is quite an adventure. While my main interest lies with Disney English I try to include some magic into regular courses – and it’s easy to bring a wee bit of magic by using IWB in the classroom, provided the materials you want to share are carefully selected. When teaching children, it’s important to use technology responsibly – we may watch a video as an encouragement, but let’s not spend the whole lesson on using IWB tools.

I am absolutely sure you can recommend a nice collection of websites and applications useful for YL teachers, but I also want to share my top seven:

iSLCollective

You probably know this website as it’s full of goodies – printables, of course, but also video materials and more. You can find more than 200 videos with lesson ideas for children here, and fun activities with songs and nursery rhymes here. I don’t think you’ll ever get bored with this website, a lot of materials that you can use the moment you enter your classroom and see your students somewhat less lively than usual.

twinkl

I have already written about twinkl here, here and here but I still find it one of the best sources of inspirations and classroom help (speaking activity based on a photo of benches? why not!). Why, if I could I’d gladly take a whole course of twinkl-inspired classes! You can find something even for the youngest babies, and the best thing about it is that you can use twinkl to introduce CLIL classes from the very beginning of kids’ education.

LearnEnglish Kids

I love websites by the British Council – and the one dedicated for kids is just adorable. Visually child-friendly, but easy to navigate for a teacher. You can find nice songs (for example about superheroes) along with matching activities and games, various exercises etc. But what I really love about this site is the speaking part, where children supported by their parents or teachers can practise proper pronunciation. I also appreciate the fact that there are guidelines for parents who want to practise with their children but don’t really know where to start.

Fun English Games

I find this website a charming mix of some old-fashioned activities along with interactive games. You may find lovely tongue twisters here and then move to the alphabet game. The only drawback is that it takes a while before the page loads, so you must be prepared for this – better have it ready before you start your class! You can pick a letter matching game for those who start learning their letters or play a poetry game with the older students.

ESLGames+

This website is a lifesaver for all those teachers who either feel Mondayish or simply still think of their holidays. You enter the classroom, find a topic your class is about and boom! – you can choose a video, a game (I appreciate games divided into lower and higher classrooms) or simply choose a topic (like school supplies) and see what options the site gives you. There is no place for boredom and I’m sure your students will love the games.

Super Simple

If you have ever taught kids – or talked to anyone who taught kids – you must’ve heard of Baby Shark (and its variations). If not – welcome to Super Simple, the world of songs, videos and lessons for the youngest students. Starting with the ABC, up until short videos (Milo’s Monster School Vlog is just adorable) – you can be sure your students will have a lot of fun.

Yeah, you too. Only be careful, as Baby Shark will never leave your mind. You have been warned.

Teach Children ESL

You may be surprised why I decided to include this website as it’s not so IWB-oriented as the previous ones. However, what I love about this page is the variety of games for different holidays, song activities and other awesome projects (I love classroom dice!). And with technology one thing is certain – you need to have Plan B. In an emergency situation – you know, what to do: prepare a nice activity and hope for the best, but be prepared for the worst.

I hope I managed to show you some websites you haven’t used before, but if you know other useful pages please, leave me a comment, I’ll be more than happy to try something new!

Enjoy!

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…

500 Activities for the Primary Classroom – when you look for inspirations (book review)

Feline Fact_

We all know that teaching kids requires not only knowledge and patience, but also wild amounts of ingenuity and creativity – the younger the learner, the more creative the teacher must be! And since I’ve professionally come back to dealing with young learners and teens, the book I felt like browsing through really carefully addressed the needs of the youngest learners – especially knowing the author.

I met Carol Read when I was a rookie teacher in a primary school – she was invited by Macmillan, visited Rzeszów and clearly wanted to observe a typical English lesson. I was only happy to deliver – and I found her one of the nicest people ever; also, she was the first native speaker my students had seen and they loved her.

What is the book about?

You would probably say – it’s 500 activities for children… and you’d be almost right, because it’s far more than this – each chapter starts with really useful methodological content that will help you understand the approaches behind various activities along with “reflection time” – section where you can think over your ideas. Moreover, each activity is followed by comments and suggestions, and with years of experience Ms. Read has a lot of useful tips to share!

Who is the book for?

As the dedication states – the book is for every teacher who tries to bring out the best in every child. If you’re a fresh teacher who hasn’t ever taught a kid – it’s for you! If you’re an experienced educator who has spent more time with the adults and now wants to start again with younger learners (like your truly) – you’ll find it a great source of inspiration!

Contents

The book is divided into ten sectionslistening and speaking, reading and writing, Vocabulary and grammar, Storytelling and drama, Games, Rhymes, chants and songs, Art and craft, Content-based learning, ICT and multimedia and Learning to learn. Each activity goes with an awesome description reminding me of my favourite book ever – level (from A1.1 to B1.2), age, organisation (groupwork, pairwork etc.), aims, language focus, materials and procedures. So, apart from mere ideas you have a lot of material you can adapt to your own groups and their needs.

My favourite activities

Naturally, the first part I read was the one focussed on storytelling – and the first exercise is called “words in the story” where kids create a story about a Kraken. My cthultistic heart appreciates such an excellent beginning! I really enjoyed the exercise “story stepping stones” where children learn to identify and use key episodes in the story – a very useful skill when it comes to storytelling.

But there are more activities than this – you will find activities you may use in a classroom on a regular basis – listening grid, follow the route task or wall dictation. I’m sure you’ll find something you’ll love.

Recommendations

This is one of those books I can recommend for everyone – even if you don’t teach children it may still prove useful; perfect when you need to cover for a colleague… or when your own (or your friends’) kids want to have fun and expect you to come up with a creative idea – 500 Activities is a great help, as young learners develop their skills unconsciously, simply having fun.

And having fun is something not only kids like!

Read, Carol “500 Activities for the Primary Classroom: Immediate Ideas and Solutions”

Macmillan Books for Teachers 2007

ISBN 978-1-4050-9907-3

 

Role-Playing Teaching (Part 8 – making classes SuperBetter)

Role-Playing Teaching

It’s a really strange feeling, when you read a book in April and you realise you’ve just read your Book of the Year. Also, it’s hard to believe I hadn’t heard of Jane McGonigal before my Prince Consort picked her book during our monthly book hunt and said “You will love it”. He was right, naturally.

If you wonder why I would write a book review in my Role-Playing Teaching series, you need to watch a TED-talk by McGonigal herself who says things that make my little, black, rotten heart swell with happiness:

If the video hasn’t convinced you, you should read McGonigal’s bestseller “SuperBetter: A Revolutionary Approach to Getting Stronger, Happier, Braver and More Resilient – Powered by the Science of Games”. I’m not a fan of self-help books (I read Faber and Mazlich’s How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & How to Listen So Kids Will Talk, tried to use it while communicating with my parents and failed miserably – I was 13 by that time and lost faith in such publications), but I cannot describe SuperBetter as a self-help book, and one of the reasons is the emphasis on cooperation and social relations helping us grow.

The book begins with a moving story of Jane’s happy life, misfortune and final success in overcoming obstacles and reaching a happy, yet full of challenges, life. Frankly, so many books written to inspire others follow the similar pattern, so being the Villain I am, I was somewhat sceptical – but what followed the personal story, was a flood of data from various research – and this was something I love (yay, research!). Have you heard of Snow World, a game used in burn centres to alleviate the pain using phenomena called spotlight theory of attention? And that’s just the beginning of the motivating story where you create your own game-like life in which you can assume a role of a superhero to overcome any obstacles.

How do games help in our development?

Playing video games releases as much dopamine as an injection of a drug. Why is it useful apart from sudden exhilaration? Simple – the research show that dopamine “shots” while we play games make us more determined to achieve goals and less frustrated in case of the failure. It was proven that players are more dedicated and resilient, moreover, games help you try out various tactics and approaches without real-life consequences which encourages you to be more daring, open and ready for opportunities. Playing games also help you learn proper prioritising your own goals.

How to wake up a gamer in oneself?

Even if you haven’t played for a good while you can recall the mentality of a gamer – think of your obstacles as challenges or quests, whether it’s a visit to the dentist or becoming an entrepreneur. From the neurological point of view, McGonigal explains, there’s no difference whether you feel “real” excitement or “make-believe” feeling, your brain is ready to go! If you read the book, you will learn how to “power up” positive experiences and build your inner game-world (for example, by giving names to the obstacles – if your goal is getting fit, your main enemy might be a Scheming Local Pizza Place, where they seem to have great deals exactly when you’re hungry and passing by… coincidence? I think not!). You will also learn how to plan your aims realistically and how to avoid procrastination (to which some of us, like yours truly, are really susceptible).

Quests!

Apart from theory, the book includes three quests: the first is for those looking for True Love (which, as all of us fans of The Princess Bride know, is the best thing in the world except for cough drops), the second is for people who want to become ninjas (or at least Mulan), and the third one is created for those who feel their days are too short and want to work on time management.

Why should you read it?

You may sensibly ask: so far so good, but what does it have to do with teaching? Well – everything! With games, you have the perfect tool to make yourself and your students motivated, ready for a challenge (because Dreadful Grammar Drill looks like a perfect name for the obstacle on our quest to Purrfect English!) and, first and foremost, to make all the educational process fun, even within the strict framework of public educational system.

I believe in games and teaching complementing each other to make education fun, so if you’re a member of a facebook group of Polish Teachers of EFL and you’re interested in this topic, you will have an opportunity to attend my workshop on RPG and TEFL as well as take part in a RPG session during Zlot this summer.

I hope to see you there!

Jane McGonigal: SuperBetter: A Revolutionary Approach to Getting Stronger, Happier, Braver and More Resilient – Powered by the Science of Games

Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (September 13, 2016)
ISBN-13: 978-0143109778

Role-Playing Teaching (Part 7: For Those About to Roll)

Role-Playing Teaching(Part 7_For Those Aboutto Roll)

The following note is a rough translation of the post Erpegi na pierwszy raz available here. The author, Michał Laskowski, kindly agreed to me translating and sharing his work. It is originally meant for people who are already familiar with RPGs, so I believe you already know enough of theory and it’s high time to start playing on your own!

Two important things before you start reading: I took the liberty to shorten the original post, so if you’re Polish and want to read more, go to the original page. Also, some of the games presented by Michał are in Polish only and I didn’t share them here, so if you’re Polish… you know what to do.

Bored, ain’t you? Wanna play a game?

(…) One of the methods of introducing new people to the hobby is persistently telling stories about it, sending links to texts and videos entitled What is RPG?, and finally making an appointment specifically for the RPG session. (…) However, you can take people by surprise, with the game that is small, free and easy to use. Suited to a social meeting over a pint, the long train ride etc. Either way, it’s important to choose the game according to the interests of people who we plan to engage into playing RPGs:

For the travellers: the game suited perfectly for chilling out and worth every recommendation is Luna by Marta Kucik Kucińska, which won Polish Game Chef Award in 2014. Attractive (for a DIY) and recommended to try for the first time before it gets too dark. Once you get the rules, you may try playing under the starry sky to experience an even greater fun. (…)

For those who enjoyed Stranger Things (and Netflix shows in general): Outstanding Heroes and Extraordinary Threats (…) that will bring you great fun with colourful yet cliché adventures. (Something many people are surprisingly fond of, me included)

For those hungover and jet-lagged: the irreplaceable Norwegian game by Tomas HV Mørkrid Stoke-Birmingham 0-0. The game where you play the most average European ever. I do not want to spoil surprises here – this is the ultimate RPG!

Time to rock!

If you already managed to break the ice in speaking on behalf of your character (I have a feeling that this is a big challenge, even for the fairly outspoken people), we can try with more games. I believe that only then can one theorise on what RPGs are? and start playing more typical systems with character sheets, dice, and a typical Game master – Players structure.

Another RPG worth testing is Lady Blackbird. It’s already reached the status of one of the canonical classics. One of the best choices for a quick RPG (there is no character creation) (…).

From an old player’s library…

I wanted to mention a few published games that were released some time ago. Many of them may seem quite forgotten. Sometimes they may require chipping in a few dollars from the players (…):

Blood and Honor by John Wick Now a classic, made for all lovers of Japan and the Samurai. One of the most interesting elements is contributing to the storytelling – test results do not indicate the success itself, but the person who determines the consequence of the action. It’s a very engaging game for the whole team, especially that you start with creating own clan.

Dogs in the Vineyard by Vincent Baker. This alternative western story about young Mormons with just a hint of fantasy. Something that you want to show your friends from a drama club to show them that your kind of fun is also “real art”.

The Extraordinary Adventures of Baron Munchausen. Another classic (…), perfect for chatting and sipping beer, and looking at the fireplace during long winter evenings.

Let’s roll!

As you can see, most of these games challenge the typical image of a Game Master as a guide followed by the players. It’s not because I despise the mainstream games. It’s a matter of pragmatism. After gamemastering a few sessions in Warhammer Fantasy Role-Playing Game, you will still be the one who knows all the rules of the fight, you’ll be an authority in matters of the world and the main creator of a plot during the adventure. If the players learn how to co-create the plot from the beginning, as well as using game mechanics, they will take the initiative much more easily,

Children Learning English: A Guidebook for English Language Teachers (book review)

www.thatisevil.wordpress.com

The best thing about teaching children is that you’re working on unspoilt minds that are so eager to learn and have fun. While teens seem to be at least slightly nonchalant when it comes to their educational process, while adults are so self-aware and need to get feedback on every step, children are wonderfully easy to please and literally only ready to grow and flourish. Some claim childhood is the only period when we actually acquire knowledge with ease, others believe childhood should be mainly fun and parents encouraging their offspring to learn another language can end up as innocent victims of the predatory educational market only fishing for easy money.

As usually, I find myself somewhere in the middle, believing children should have fun being kids, but at the same time we should encourage them to learn, especially when classes include games, songs and a lot of fun activities. Trying to broaden my horizons on the topic, I read a book by Jayne Moon “Children Learning English: A Guidebook for English Language Teachers”. As the author mentions in the introduction, “the book will help you to build on the knowledge and skills you already have, become aware of your beliefs about children and about teaching, re-assess your practice in the classroom, provide fresh ideas and new insights (…) and deepen your commitment to and enthusiasm for teaching children.”

You will find various topics discussed, starting with students’ attitude to learning English, managing the learning process, introducing effective teacher-pupil interaction, creating, adapting and evaluating various activities, planning, organizing conducting and assessing learning and teaching etc. Apart from the book itself the bibliography looks really inspiring, as it leads you to more publications on the topic (and each chapter has its own set of books).

What I really appreciate about this book is that it not only discusses the areas I mentioned, but also provides strategies for potential difficulties and actual procedures to deal with various issues (e.g. action plan to find out how raised expectations affect children’s behaviour and attitude to learning English). One of my favourite parts is the whole chapter focused on introducing and carrying out pairwork and groupwork (as mixed-gender pairing happens to be quite problematic at a certain age) which gave me a lot of ideas and activities on how to deal with this particular problem.

Yet another useful chapter I enjoyed was on creating own resources. Apart from practical ideas, the author encourages teachers to answer some questions first, like setting up and organizing educational and developmental criteria on preparing resources, which makes it easier to not only create own materials, but also adapt the ones we observe during other teachers’ work. We are surrounded by so many online resources now, that I really loved the short checklist to make sure the material we’ve chosen is not only fun, but also appropriate and suitable.

The book is a great source of information for all those who have just started their work with children, or who have had a longer break and return to educating this particular age group. I found myself nodding approvingly over some details I once knew but now forgotten, having been teaching mostly teens and adults for the past decade. I really enjoyed revising the basics and learning new things, that’s why I believe all of you who might be in a similar situation, will find the book equally useful. After all, children and their education is the area that gives many opportunities and possibilities for all teachers, so we shouldn’t neglect it just because it’s easier to work with the adults.

I’m sure you’ll find the read quite interesting, regardless of your present teaching groups – some ideas are relevant for all ages, and being a teacher means you can’t be too sure as to what groups you’ll teach next time.

Enjoy!

Jayne Moon, “Children Learning English: A Guidebook for English Language Teachers”

MacMillan Books for Teachers

ISBN-13: 978-1405080026