#Sleuths in my class – Teaching through games Vol.1

Most, if not all, of the material I use in my classes is decided upon after the first three or four lessons. It’s very important to me to know my students’ tastes and interests, so I can provide them with an easy-going and uplifting learning process. I want my lessons to be meaningful, powerful and fun and I want them to be remembered!
I try to incorporate a variety of materials in every course, from music and poetry to newspapers and social media, but I’ve discovered only one thing can guarantee success: games. Regardless of age and level, all my students have shown a great interest in gaming as a way to learn. Being mad about games myself has been very helpful, as I have a wide selection to suit all tastes. Have a look at some of my favourites on List.ly.

ND_Silhouette originally from http://www.herinteractive.com/

Silhouette originally from http://www.herinteractive.com/

The first ever game homework I assigned was back in 2008, while teaching a group of five 13 year-old girls at level CEFR B1. We were about half way through our coursebook when they asked me if we could ”skip” the unit coming up, or at least the reading and speaking sections, as they were about computer games. ”That’s not for us”, they informed me. My immediate – but suppressed – reaction was to talk that idea out of them. I think I mumbled ”why?”, sotto voce, which thankfully went unnoticed. Instead of going into a fiery lecture defending pc games, I decided to agree to skip that unit, under one condition: they would try out a computer game. I let them moan and protest, as the idea had already taken shape in my head: it was time for the sleuth to come forward.
I still remember the two weeks that followed that lesson; we dedicated them to Nancy Drew and her adventures and they were the greatest lessons we’d ever had as a group. It wasn’t so much that those girls were now hooked on what they used to call a ”boys’ thing”, or that they actually learned through a game. That is a fact in my mind.
What I loved about this the most was that they learned to think twice before they dismiss an idea and I got to see first hand the results of an alternative approach to teaching.

These days, Nancy Drew still finds her way through my lessons in lots of different ways, depending on interests, needs and time available. I use HerInteractive games throughout my courses and have a set of three main activities for each ( listed from most to least time-consuming):

1. Finish a chapter ( set of five or six tasks) in the game and present your mindmap (how you solved it) in class
Goals: Revise vocabulary & functions / practise communication & presentation skills / explore & use digital tools 
2. Finish a task in the game, explain why it was/wasn’t easy and try to predict what will happen next
Goals: Revise vocabulary & functions / practise speaking-giving explanations / storytelling – making predictions
3. Finish an online mini-game. Can you remember at which part of the original game it’s found and what happened after that?
Goals: Practise timed activities / memory training / using Past tenses

I also usually assign three follow-up activities that work well either as individual tasks or as group projects (for groups of two or three students):

– Who’s Nancy Drew? Create a presentation for your family/friends/schoolmates
(Practice: effective web search, decision-making, story-boarding, use of English, editing, digital tools, presentation skills)
-The Nancy Drew Challenge. How many of the #Weekend Puzzles have you solved?
(Practice: getting social, testing skills, using English)
-The Idioms Hunt. How many English idiomatic expressions can you find in the [game title]? Make as many sentences as you can using them.
(Practice: identifying, learning and using English idioms)

I normally suggest several different websites and tools to help out each student, but always let them choose what suits them best. So far, their favourites include Oxford Dictionaries, Wikipedia, Google Cultural Institute, CoggleMindomo, Zoho Docs and Glogster.

Gaming plays-and will continue to play- a big role in the future of ELT and I’m always excited when educators around the world discover or re-discover ways of using games while teaching and then share their experience. To keep up to date, I usually refer to Gamification Wiki and Learning through Digital Games, as well as to great posts by ELTJam and ELT Sandbox (If anyone knows of other relevant blogs or pages, please leave a comment below with a link!). I can’t say I’m using game mechanics fully yet, but it’s an idea truly worth exploring.

*Update: two of my lovely girls shared some of their work (Annie used Chrome’s MindMaps and Marina chose Coggle), have a look:

The lucky pig

The first post of 2014!
Last time I blogged was on Christmas Eve for #Eleven Random Facts, tagged by Theodora Papapanagiotou, and her question on lucky items or traditions was somehow glued to my head; probably because it made me realise how eager I was to get my lucky charm for the new year, lovingly handcrafted by my mother. I had been sneaking in the workshop all through the holiday season, but she had it well hidden and made me fear that maybe I wasn’t getting one this time and everything would go wrong.
Touch wood, I’m not superstitious…

But New Year’s Eve came and there it was, wrapped in its shiny sachet, under our festive boat. My new little…pig.

MyLuckyCharm2014

I hope this little one will assist me all through 2014 to get where I should be – even though I’m not certain as to where that is yet. I hope it will provide some good fortune in fulfilling goals, facing new challenges and acquiring new knowledge.
For the Chinese, the pig is a symbol of honesty, tolerance, initiative and diligence and I’ve been told Schwein gehabt means Good luck is at hand. In any case, I’ll rephrase the quote attributed to Niels Bohr and say that a pig will bring you good luck whether you believe in it or not!  How can one argue with such logic?
I got the lucky coin from our vasilopita, so it’s already showing promise!