I had no idea what I was getting into when I decided to ask my students to help me create games. All I had was an objective in mind: improve and check comprehension not by memorizing the story but by actually creating a space for it to be discussed. A space which wouldn’t be boring to them and they could be actively seeking understanding and making use of the language as the mean to achieve a goal.
Here is a bit of background about this game from a post where I introduced a talk given by Jeff Kuhn last July in Brazil. You can read the post, here.
One thing Jeffrey addresses in his presentation that reminded of this experience is the fact that designers draw ideas from other games. That’s exactly what happened with one of the groups (3 students). We had played earlier this year a game-like activity (running dictation) where instead of giving them the dialogue, I printed the lines of the characters, cut them and stuck the lines around a second room next to ours in a random order and all kind of places (on the desk, board, wall, window, etc.). If there were enough students, I’d make them play in pairs. In this case, only 3 students so they played by themselves against each other. In one room they had a sheet of paper. They would run to the other room, choose a line, turn it upside down so no one would try to write the same sentence, go back to the first room and write it down from memory. Depends on the length of the sentence, they would go back more times. Once they were finished, they would call me (the referee) to check the sentence and if correct they would run take that slip of paper with the line they had just written and choose a new one. The activity ended as soon as there were no more lines to be read and copied. The winner was the one who collected most of the lines.
To read about Game #1 follow this link!
The students that designed the game didn’t know what to call it. Then, after playtesting themselves, one of the students pointed out that it was more like a torturing chamber. Finding yourself in a room searching for the right answer within a certain time does feel like that. But then, another student thought it was too creepy and it could affect people negatively so he came up with “CHOOSE IT RIGHT”.
Students wrote the basic instructions for the game, I worked on how to present them to players, and added the vocabulary “chicken out”. I also used it as reading material and expected them to organize themselves to play without much of my interference. Here is the instruction of Choose it right.
19 students played and evaluated the game:
As happened with Game #1, the results seemed positive with all groups. I was curious though to find out how students felt as they assumed the roles and played the game on their own. In one of the groups with 4 students, I participated just as an observer. Each one assumed one of the roles. Two players against each other, one was the judge (or referee) with the task of checking the answers and the other one was the score/time keeper. After playing 3 rounds where they swapped roles, I asked them some further questions.
Q1) How did you feel as the score/time keeper? What are the disadvantages of being the score/time keeper?
Q2 & Q3) What is the role of the judge? How did you feel in the role of the judge? What are the advantages of being the judge?
Q4) How easy or hard is it to remember the story and be able to answer the questions in the game?
Q5) Is it easy to organize yourselves to play? Do you think there is a need for the teacher to participate? or even be present?
Q6) How would you describe the game? Choose words from the list or your own words: exciting, thoughtful, calm, interesting, boring, frustrating, fast-paced, slow-paced, agitated
While they were writing down their answers, I was also thinking about the questions. At first glance, a clear disadvantage as a score/time keeper would be not to participate in the game. But by prompting them to use English during the game, the score/time keeper learns words/phrases that are essential to communicate with other players in the game and have a time to repeat them over and over. However, they do spend more time waiting than actively engaged with the language. On the other hand, being the judge gives them access to the questions and the answers. Although they had access to them, by decreasing the time to 30 seconds it made the game move a bit faster not leaving much time for the student in this role to read Q&A carefully. I decided with another group to limit the time to 30 second because we thought the game was moving too slow. I thought it was still not really fast though. I even thought that they would say that the game was slow-paced for them. Their responses to Q6 surprised me.
A summary of their responses:
Q1) They all felt good and one even said important. They were all aware that the score/time keeper does not have contact with the language used in the game and is also not able to learn how to play, but they recognize the roles as important for the game to work.
Q2 e Q3) They all understood the role of the judge well, that is, check the answers. They also pointed out the advantage of being the judge as having access to the Q&As and learn them before playing.
Q4) The ability to remember details of the story for some of them wasn’t easy and they focused on the vocabulary in the questions to help them match to the answer. For others, it wasn’t a problem.
Q5) Whether they could play without a teacher, they showed mixed feelings. Two of them said the game was well organized and there was no need for a teacher while the other two thought there was always the chance of the judge cheat by favoring someone.
Q6) They all chose positive words to describe the game. I had added to the list fast and slow-paced to check whether their perception as players were the same as mine (the observer). For me, it was slow-paced because my idea of fun seemed to be kids shouting, laughing and running around madly. But my perception couldn’t be more off. They felt the experience as fast-paced and it made me think again. In fact, looking back they did seem to be quite focused on the game.
Were learning objectives met?
When I asked students to design a game, the learning objective I had in mind was to check their comprehension. I thought it could also improve it; However, in order for that to happen, learners have to gain vocabulary and structural knowledge which the game provides. It was common during the game for lower-level learners to check the meaning of a word or words, or the whole question in L1 with their peers before they were ready to run to the other room. As they improve knowledge, they also become able to recognise them automatically when they meet them again and build understanding of the whole question or answer fast.
According to what they answered in the playtest questionnaire, this is what they can learn or practice by playing this game:
- gain more knowledge and understanding of the story
- Recall details and important events
- Learn new words and practice them and others they already know
- Develop fluency as one has to read and comprehend the question fast to find the right answer.
- Practice comprehension
- Practice questions and answers
- Four students mentioned memory
- Think fast
Suggestions given by 7 students to modify the game
- 2 said that we should add more questions
- if the competitor came back with the wrong answer but still had time left, they could go back to the room and try again. This student also thought that there was not need for the chicken out as one doesn’t lose points 🙂 So, he suggested to eliminate that.
- the judge should not compete in the game because they had access to the Q&A.
- 2 said that the time keeper should warn the competitor when time is near to the end.
- the timer starts when they run, one thinks reading should count.
- whoever chickens out must lose points.