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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Creative Confidence – not only in your classroom

not only in your classroom

Once in a while I come across the book that changes my perspective on work or life in general. Last year I discovered SuperBetter and Jane McGonigal who seriously changed my life into a way better one. This time, I discovered brothers Kelley with their “Creative Confidence” and I thought I absolutely owe you a review of this book. However, I am only able to share some impressions, as it is quite impossible to write a review of something that made me feel like I can change the world if I only try.

Which in my case means “take over the world and become the Evil Empress of the World” but hey, aim high!

Flip! Dare! Spark! Leap! Seek! Team! Move! – all those action words are simply the titles of the chapters, but they pretty much show you what the book is like, full of action, positive vibes, and fun. You will find personal stories mixed with the research results and ideas that are meant to make you think – and they do, indeed. In my case, I had to take a break after ten pages or so to summarise ideas and switch the general concepts from the environment of an American university to a Polish edublogger and DoS… but the fact that you feel encouraged to try and think differently makes this book quite inspiring.

What makes the book worth reading? In Poland we have a saying “to let everything go and leave for Bieszczady” which globally would translate to “let everything go and leave for Iceland” (as both Bieszczady and Iceland are beautiful places but no sane person would ever start living there for good – and yes, I know Polish people are the greatest minority in Iceland which pretty much explains the Bieszczady saying thing). Anyway, the thing is – even when (or especially when) you’re a successful individual, quite well-off, with a stable relationship and a trusted group of friend, something suddenly snaps and you suffocate and feel you have to leave and start anew. This is pretty much what happened with David and Tom Kelley, brothers who had everything, except for one tiny thing: fun.

I’m not really comparing teachers to rich and successful businessmen, but the main question remains: it’s not easy to have fun once you’re supposed to be a pillar of a society, is it? As Alexander Woollcott said, “anything in life that’s any fun is either immoral, illegal or fattening.” Apart from this fact which is both sad and true, it’s difficult to have fun when you’re a teacher. You probably like your job, but the amount of paperwork, conferences and tedious routine makes it less and less exciting. That’s when you know you need joy – and creativity brings so much fun!

You will find a lot of ideas and inspirations to wake up your creativity and find new confidence. I think it’s a perfect book for the upcoming spring because the easiest visualisation of the effect of this book will show your creativity and the joy of thinking out of the box blooming like first flowers. I cannot share the ways of rediscovering the forgotten paths of creativity you will find in this book, bar one: the fragment that concerns gaming.

Author, futurist and game designer, Jane McGonigal talked to us recently about how video gaming can spark its own form of creative confidence. Jane makes a convincing case that harnessing the power of video games can have a major impact on life in real world. In the realm of video games, the level of challenge and reward rises proportionately with a gamer’s skills; moving forward always requires concentrated effort, but the next goal is never completely out of reach. This contributes to what Jane calls „urgent optimism”: the desire to act immediately to tackle an obstacle, motivated by the belief that you have a reasonable hope for success. Gamers always believe that an „epic win” is possible – that it is worth trying, and trying now, over and over again. In the euphoria of an epic win, gamers are shocked to discover the extent of their capabilities

So maybe instead of letting everything go and leaving for Bieszczady/Iceland we may simply play a game… especially a game where you can act out a person living in such a wonderfully remote place – because the best thing about it you can always go back to your comfortable room, favourite pub and, yes, the Internet!

Kelley, Tom and David

Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential Within Us All

ISBN: 978-0385349369

Teaching Cheat Day? Make it fun!

Spring Break Promo

There are days one literally can’t even. When you’re a teacher, suddenly lessons seem terribly long, material to be covered is so boring you can’t bring yourself to teach it, your students… I’m not going to continue – simply, you have a Bad/Lazy Day. You wish you had been a teacher a hundred years ago when you could’ve tell your students to sit quietly and read a book… and they would’ve actually listen!

Alas, those times are long gone, and nowadays we need to teach, nurture, mentor and entertain. Usually it’s a normal task (once you get the hang of it), but sometimes you feel like running away and a mere thought of teaching is killing you. Fortunately, you can always rely on your teaching buddies and their ideas. You can also rely on me, as I already found some great sources of inspiration:

All of the above are the ideas made to engage students and give you a moment of peace. With little or no preparation you may still give a valuable lesson where your students will learn, revise, produce and have fun. Having a slightly worse day happens to everyone, so accept it and try to have fun anyway.

However, sometimes the situation is critical. In the morning you feel eager to work and suddenly you feel sick, you’ve caught a cold or simply suffer an attack of springtime blues and you need a teaching painkiller, like, now. Luckily, all you need to do is to find a classroom with an interactive whiteboard and the Internet and hurray! You’re saved, your students will have a good lesson and nobody will ever suspect you’re not your usual awesome teaching self!

All you need to do is to find Games to Learn English: it’s a great source of instant games and a lot of fun. From matching words with pictures, revising comparatives, guessing an animal (my favourite exercise) or even choosing an IWB activity. You need something to make your students interested in English for 90 minutes without you speaking a word? Just click on the link and let your students experiment with all the games they may fancy!

The games are aimed at a relatively low level of English with pretty much all the content being around elementary or pre-elementary level. But why is this page such a great solution for a virtually-no-teacher-class? Because, as Owen Dwyer (the author of the page) explains, the games are intended to be the resource that language learners can use independently.

Which means, you can introduce the website to your students, ask them to have fun in the classroom by experimenting with various educational games… and then encourage them to continue the fun at home! After this I don’t think anyone will suspect you’ve just had a slightly lazy teaching day…

Enjoy!

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!

7 Short and Simple Cool Down Ideas

short and simple cool down ideas

It’s the middle of winter, so if today isn’t the best day to share my favourite cool downs, I don’t know what is! I think warm ups are far more popular, but the exercises at the end of the lesson are equally important as they help students remember the things they’ve learned that day and close the lesson in a friendly, relaxed and enjoyable manner. Below you will find my favourite cool down ideas – maybe you’ll find them as useful as they were for my own students.

The good thing about the ideas below is that you only need pen and paper – and that’s it, enjoy!

Picture dictation

It’s a very simple activity, where one student draws a picture and then describes it to the other student… who has to draw whatever he hears, but without looking at the original picture! It’s really funny, creative and boosts not only memory (if you ask your students to include the words they used during the lesson), but also communicative skills.

Visual vocabulary

One of the funniest activities I know. Ask your students to make some visuals for the words they’ve learnt during the lesson, for example:

This will boost their long-term memory, but you may collect their pictures and use them for the next classes, maybe as flashcards or maybe as warm-ups.

20 Questions

It’s a very simple game, where one person thinks of a word and the whole group has to ask questions (maximum 20) that will help them determine the thing the first student thinks of. You can enjoy this activity in the whole classroom, smaller groups or even pairs. Apart from practising communication skills, you may give an extra challenge and ask students to include some grammar constructions they have learned.

Chain story

This activity is perfect to revise the vocabulary and create the story at the same time. You start the story (e.g. Once upon a time I met a talking cat.) and the students, one by one, have to continue the story, but they need to include any word they’ve learnt that day. It’s one of the funniest activities as it requires quick thinking (after all the story has to make sense). It’s also useful when it comes to developing communication skills and practising grammar and vocabulary.

Quick scrabble

We don’t have time for traditional scrabble, but we may create our own game. Here students work in pairs. One student starts by writing a word horizontally, and the other writes another word diagonally, but needs to use at least one letter of the first word (just like in the crossword). You may use it later in the classroom and ask students to write clues to their words (and then, during revision, use it as an exercise for another group). It’s a great activity for practising vocabulary,

Miming

It’s a brilliant activity for younger students, but I’ve met quite a number of adults who were also enjoying this exercise. You need to ask students to mime a word or a phrase they have learnt during the class, so that other students can guess it. The student who guesses correctly gets a point. You may also divide your class into two teams and make it a competition. It’s a nice game to revise vocabulary, but also practise some abstract thinking.

The longest sentence

Ask your students to write on the board as many of the words they remember from the lesson… and then ask them to work in pairs and make a sentence including as many words from the board as they can only think of. It’s a nice exercise to work on vocabulary and writing skills, but the sentences you’ll read will probably be quite funny.

As you can see, these simple exercises are short, easy and definitely funny. They are great not only as nice class finishers, but they help your students relax and have fun before they leave your enjoyable classes and move on.

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!