Halloween is always a special time for us here at ExLT, and this Halloween is no different. We have a new adventure lesson that’s perfect for candlelit classes around the end of the month… The House!
In this Extreme Language adventure students piece together the shocking story of the first owner of The House. They then use pictures to create their own stories about the other owners of The House. What secret did they have in their past? How did they meet their end?
This is a relaunch of a classic ELT activity and it’s a great way to get students to use their imagination and practise their narrative writing. Oh, and it’s ABSOLUTELY FREE until October 31. Just head over to the House page for details.
We’re also putting English for the Zombie Apocalypse on sale again for the scary season. If you go to the store page and enter the code zombie2017 you can plunge your students into the undead apocalypse for 50% off the regular low price.
It’s been a few months since we launched our latest adventure here at ExLT, the Island. We’ve been really happy to hear from teachers who have been using it, and the reports have been great.
Our colleague Shaun Wilden (full disclosure, he is my co-host on the podcast TEFL Commute) used the Island a few times this summer with different groups. He did a great follow up to it, which he has allowed us to share. These are two animated videos made by Shaun’s students. They are giving a press conference about their experience on what they called… Bear Island!
Shaun and his students made these videos using a website called Plotagon. You can find out more about Shaun at his website.
Thanks to Shaun and his students for sharing this with us, and allowing us to share it with you!
The Island is an ExLT adventure. On the Island, students role play a series of situations as they are shipwrecked on a mysterious desert island. They create a character and go through a series of short roleplay speaking activities. These roleplays include discussions on what to do and how to survive, an expedition to make a map of the island, recovering supplies from a sunken ship and recording a distress call.
West of HouseThis is an open field west of a white house, with a boarded front door. There is a small mailbox here.
Computer game players of a certain age (or who are fans of shows like Stranger Things and the 1980s in general) will recognize the sentences above as coming from one of the first interactive text adventures: Zork.
The way Zork worked was that you would type a command to move the story along. So, for example, faced with the situation above the player might type Go west (to go into the field), Go east (to go to the house) or Open mailbox.
When the player enters the house, it yields a number of intriguing objects, including a brass, battery-powered lantern, an empty trophy case, and an Elvish sword of great antiquity. Beneath the rug a trap door leads down into a dark cellar, which is revealed to be one of several entrances to a vast subterranean land known as the Great Underground Empire. The player soon encounters dangerous creatures, including deadly grues who only prey on their victims in the dark, an axe-wielding troll, a giant cyclops who cowers at the mention of Odysseus, and a nimble-fingered thief who makes mapping the maze difficult by removing or scattering any items that the player might drop to leave a trail.
That last paragraph (and the image) are both from Wikipedia, of course. Ahh, Wikipedia. What student or teacher hasn’t dipped into its vast trove of articles to research a project, prepare a quiz or reading text or simply settle an argument about the name of a capital city or author of a famous book?
Why am I talking about Wikipedia and Zork in a blogpost for Extreme Language Teaching? Well, this week I discovered Wikipedia, the Text Adventure. This free web-based game converts Wikipedia into a text adventure almost exactly like Zork.
To play, you simply type the location you want to start in. You’ll get a description and then options of where to go next. So, for example, I started by typing ‘White House’ and I got a short description of the White House. I then typed ‘go northeast’ and went to the Executive Residence, then I went to the East Room.
In each place you visit, you can EXAMINE something for more information or TAKE something which will go in your virtual backpack. During my quick tour of the White House I ‘took’ the Jackie Kennedy garden and a staircase from the Green room.
Looking at this, I did think it could be fun to do with students but it’s summer for me now so I haven’t had the chance yet. It’s basically only text, so it wouldn’t need a particularly strong wifi signal to use in class. Maybe each student could start in the same place, and then after 5 minutes they share where they ended up and what things they took with them. If you got really creative, you could set the same starting point for everyone and challenge them to get to another, geographically close, point in a given time.
Or you could simply play around with it to scratch your 1980s videogame nostalgia itch, like I did.
There’s a new adventure at ExLT today. It’s time to set sail and explore… the Island! The Island is a series of speaking roleplays set, of course, on a desert island. There are character cards, event cards and an enhanced slideshow with images, sound and animations to really bring the adventure to life.
As with other adventures we want as many people to use it as possible at the beginning, so we are giving it away free for a limited time!
Check out the Island’s adventure page for more information here!
An emergency phone line operator isn’t the first job I’d think of that needs excellent language skills, but you’d be hard-pressed to find lots of better examples of work where your listening and speaking skills really make the difference between life and death.
I’ve been fortunate enough never to have made a call to 911 (or any other emergency number) that I can remember. So I’ve never really thought about the person on the other end of that line. Spending 7 or 8 hours with 911 Operator was therefore a completely novel experience for me.
911 Operator is a video game from independent Polish developer studio Jutsu about the difficult work of people that manage emergency lines and services. Your main task in the game is to answer incoming calls and to react properly – give first aid instructions, advise, dispatch correct number of firemen / police / ambulances, or sometimes just ignore the call. The way this works is that you hear the call and read the transcript as you listen. You then have a menu of choices to make your responses, and the conversation continues until you send help or decide that it’s not really an emergency.
On top of that, there is a strategic layer which presents you with the map of a city. You need to click on fire engines, ambulances or police cars to send them to deal with the various emergencies. In addition to receiving and fielding calls, there are other emergencies that crop up in the form of text messages on the screen. Basically, your job is to get through the night (around fifteen minutes of real time) without too many casualties or too much damage done.
So, this involves a lot of reading and listening in real time. The more than 50 voiceover dialogues in the game meant that in the time I was playing I very rarely heard the same situation repeated. And the voiceover acting is pretty good too. Of course where I think this game really could be useful is for any teachers of medical English. There are a lot of first aid instructions you have to give, medical procedures that you have to choose from and this all brings up tons of health and body vocabulary. This could also be a useful simulation game to anyone teaching the police English, and I’ve trained several teachers who have gone on to do just that. There’s plenty of crime vocabulary to read and react to as well.
Sending your units around the map gets a little more tricky. Because you have to make decisions quickly, that means a lot of snap judgement calls. Do I send one or two police cars? Do I send my last ambulance for what sounds like a minor medical emergency? This clicking around and assigning of resources kind of reminded me of other RTS (real-time strategy) games, which do involve quick assessment of a map and situation to be able to respond well, and can be frustrating for people not accustomed to the genre.
A final brilliant touch of the game is that it allows you to download a map of any city to play the simulation on. So I played a game on the map of my nearest city (Alicante) in Spain. That was quite fun, although you do have to suspend belief a bit… why would emergency officers in Spain be speaking in English? That being said, it was a nice little tweak.
I’d strongly recommend this game for any English language student or teacher wishing to work on vocabulary relating to health, first aid and crime. I can see this much more as a small group activity, perhaps with one student playing while the game is being projected – and other students helping to make decisions. I would certainly use this in a very small private class with a doctor or paramedic or police officer wishing to learn English. I can see it also giving rise to conversations as to how realistic this actually is to them.
Around 8 months ago I was introduced to a new game that I immediately wanted to write about for this site. It’s taken awhile, but here it is. You see, it’s not all digital and mobile phone games here at ExLT, this time we are looking at a board game – well, actually a card game. Teachers in search of a new extremely fun idea for speaking classes, meet Spyfall.
“Loose lips sink ships” is a saying that dates back to the days of WWII. It also represents a vital wartime principle. There were lots of things that could give spies away — rust-free staples in their documents, square-headed nails in the soles of their boots, and so on… This game offers everyone an opportunity to walk a mile in the shoes of both a spy who’s close to having their cover blown and the special agent who’s hot on the spy’s heels.
The above comes from the instructions for the game Spyfall, originally a 2014 Russian-created card game now distributed by Cryptozoic. It’s one of those games that is super easy to grasp, and very quick to set up, but still has enough depth for it to be worth replaying many times. Most importantly, it’s a game that really depends on everyone asking questions and talking, which is why English teachers could find it interesting.
The game is played in rounds. At the start of each round, players receive a secret card letting them know where they are. There are 30 different possible locations – a casino, space station, pirate ship, circus and more. All players receive the same location card, except one player receives the SPY card instead of the location. The Spy doesn’t know where the location is, but wins the round if she can figure it out before the others guess who the spy is! Players then start talking during the intense 8-minute rounds.
How do you learn who is who? Everyone asks questions, the favourite grammar of the conversation class teacher. On your turn, you can ask one question of any other player. Try to ask a question that would be difficult for the spy to answer without revealing her ignorance. For example, if the game is set in a primary school you could ask: “Who is picking you up today?” If the other person says, “My husband” that might be a red flag.
At the same time, the spy should ask questions that will provide her hints about the game’s setting without being too obvious about it. For example, “Are you worried about anything around here?”
Non-Spy players want to ask questions and give answers that prove to the other players that they know where they are. But here’s the thing! If your questions and answers are too specific, the Spy will easily guess the location and win, so you need to practice a bit of subtlety. If you are the Spy, you need to listen carefully to the other players, and hope you’ll be able to come up with a plausible question or answer.
This game is part of a popular new genre of games, called ‘hidden role’ games. If anybody here has heard of Mafia, or Werewolves, then you’ll know what I’m talking about. The hidden role mechanic of these games means that players have to talk and listen carefully to find out who is lying. It makes for a good information gap too, and provides a reason to communicate.
I’ve played Spyfall a couple of times and really enjoyed it. I’m planning on trying it out with a class, once I have a group that is B1 level or higher (my current A2 students might struggle with this). The other thing that I really like about SpyFall is that once you know the rules of the game, it’s probably easy enough to make your own version if you don’t want to spring for the whole thing. You can find a handy pdf of the rules at the official site here.There is even an informal digital version that’s free to play! I haven’t tried it yet, but you can see it here https://github.com/evanbrumley/spyfall. You’ll need to nose around a bit to get an idea of how to set up a digital version, the instructions aren’t very clear.
Spyfall is a game for 3-8 players, but I can see myself stretching it to 10 players if need be. So it’s best for your small conversation classes. Or for a games night with fellow language teachers (why not?). So, get your trench coats and best evening wear out. The game’s afoot!
So begins the hit mobile game Lifeline, an innovative kind of interactive fiction published by Big Fish Games. Since its first release in 2015 the Lifeline game and its sequels have become wildly popular, reaching the top 10 paid apps in the Apple app store and earning rave reviews from critics. We at ExLT came across Lifeline thanks to a tip from teacher, writer and conference speaker Paul Driver and thought this was a perfect game to use with students.
The original Lifeline is the story of Taylor, the only survivor of a spaceship crash, who gets in contact with you. You read messages from him within the app, and are presented with choices of what you can say back to him at certain intervals. Basically you are Taylor’s only means of support, his lifeline to the world. And your job is to help him (or her, it’s never really clear which is quite clever) survive. As you communicate with Taylor, sometimes he/she will go and do things and you’ll have to wait a certain amount of time for Taylor to come back and talk again. So, you interact with this in short bursts throughout the day.
I’ve played the game through twice now, and lost each time. You lose when Taylor dies as a result of your advice. I once let poor Taylor freeze to death, and another time I sent him/her on a wild goose chase across some mountains. Taylor kept questioning my decisions, but I insisted that he/she keep going. I felt pretty bad about it, to tell the truth.
The great thing is that you can talk to someone else who is playing the game and compare choices you’ve made. This is where the game could be useful in the language classroom. Students could each get the app and begin the story the same day (perhaps in class). They then interact with Taylor throughout the week, and when class reconvenes they share experiences. Who can keep Taylor alive the longest? (In fact, this is what Paul Driver told us he was doing with his students).
The Lifeline series now has four games: Lifeline (where you communicate with the astronaut Taylor), Lifeline 2: Bloodline (a fantasy theme in which you communicate with the sorceress Arika to help her find her brother), Lifeline: Silent Night (Taylor returns!) and Lifeline: Whiteout (the character here is called V Adams, and the game is set in the arctic).
Lifeline games are available on IOS and Google and cost around €1.99 each, although they sometimes go on sale or on free offer. For more details, see the Lifeline Game Website.