Learny / Teachy
Here are some of the educational materials I've come up with. While these were mostly used for teaching English as a foreign language to students in Japan, these can be modified to a variety of different settings.
A computer game that presents a situation where students have to use english (their life depends on it!)
What do you want to be? When I taught English in Japan I often said to my students "I want to be a game designer". Though I didn't really have game designing career aspirations, as a life-long fan of having fun, and as I'd studied a tiny bit of programming before, I did want to have a go at making a game specifically for my students.
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In this game, the player moves to a small town in Japan and is due to start at the local junior high school. However on their first day they are somehow transported to a school in the UK, where they were 'expected' as the new exchange student. How they choose to act and how well they use the English language affects their outcome, and possibly their survival.
It's a visual novel style game, a popular style of story based game in Japan. Think of it as similar to the old Choose Your Own adventure books where one simple decision affects the outcome of the whole story. I wrote a total of 20 possible endings, but not all of them are happy.
I tried as much as possible to include things that students I made this game would know something about. The character moves to Hohoku and transfers to the same school as them. The school they are sent to in the UK is my actual old school (something that's come up a few times in classes here), and even the teacher turns out to be their actual real-life homeroom teacher. This town has a lot of windmills, and has twice rejected plans for a nuclear power plant, that kind of information also comes up. I wanted to get the students to also think about their own town, and it also gave me a chance to study a bit about the local area (as well as get some much needed Japanese language practice). At the same time, I've tried to make the English as natural as possible, including one character adding "mate" to the end of most of what he says. As such, there are sections that students just will not understand. This puts them in the same situation as the character. This is not a textbook-based game (despite me using their textbook to ensure they weren't completely in the dark), but I've tried to give them a bit of an experience of England (albeit a VERY tiny one).
I started making this in August (2012), constantly writing during most (if not all) of my free time. My original plan was to have it complete by January so students could play it and answer questions about the story (and earn Hohoku Realms XP), but reality got the better of me and I was able to have it finished in time for my 3rd year junior high students' last English class, three days before their graduation. I also wanted voice acting, and even put out an appeal on a couple of Voice Acting forums. I'm planning an upgraded version so I can add all the things I couldn't.
For the class we used this game in, we put a copy of the game on every other computer in the computer room (students were in pairs) and gave each pair two printouts. The first had 7 questions about the game content, and a space for 20 passwords (when you reach an ending it will show you the ending number, a password and your English Point score). The other sheet was simply called "Strange Japanese" ... as I said, part of the reason I made this was for my own study. The first pair to answer one of the seven questions won a small prize. The first pair to reach an ending received a sticker each. At the end of the class I gave everyone (that wanted one) a copy of the game on CD.
I've made the game available online, with a few changes. The changes are mainly about privacy, the names of the schools are different, the teachers name is different and so on. If you want to use this in your classes, feel free. I'll even send you the worksheet I'd prepared. If you want to try making your own game, it's very easy. The program I used is called Ren'Py, and making a simple game is as easy as writing dialogue. The tutorial is easy to follow
🡅The English Licence - Give Elementary Students A Reason To Remember
When I was teaching English in Japan there was no test at the end of the year in elementary schools for English (well, not where I taught anyway). So it means that students don't HAVE to remember a thing once a topic has been done and we've moved on. In my first year with the Eigo Note textbook, at least the fifth grade had that little game at the back to look forward to (though whether they played it or not I have no idea). I wanted to give students a reason to try to remember things that they've learned, so my answer was to give them a test of my own. And as a reward, they received their own laminated English Licence to show off to friends and family.
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I kept the idea as simple as possible (as I needed to sell this to 9 elementary schools). At the end of the year (ish), for my last class I would give everyone an English test using the words and expressions that they had learned in their Hi Friends textbook. The test has five simple questions which, depending on class numbers, could be taken in groups (so conferring is ok). Similar to adult driving licences (and similar to Olympic medals, since that was an Olympic year), getting a perfect 5 out of 5 would mean the group members get a Gold Licence. Scoring 3 or 4 out of 5 gets a Silver Licence. 1 or 2 will get a Bronze Licence, and any groups getting a zero would get a Blue Licence (I did this activity across about 10 schools, with no groups getting blue and only one getting bronze). Two very small classes took the test individually, with all students getting golds and silvers.
The card itself is similar to the Hohoku Realms activity; on the reverse are question words. On the front students write their names (I'm not keeping records for this activity so their real name on a real licence is nice for them), their date of birth, school name, their team name (an assigned letter from A-E) and draw a picture of themselves. They fill this in during the test itself, when other teams are answering questions. After the test the cards are gathered and I take them with me. Back at the BOE Branch Office I fill in their licence classification and give their card an ID number (three letters from the school name, current year (13), the version of Hi Friends used (1/2), a sequential number, which is followed by their team name: Eg. ABC13101A). Then I use glitter on them (colour depending on their classification, gold for gold etc), laminate them, cut them out, and then take them back as soon as I can. This is normally outside of class time, though as I usually drive to a new school during the lunch break daily, I normally pop in if I'm going past. Otherwise I go after work.
A WARNING ON GLITTER! It get's everywhere. Be prepared to clean for ... well, I can't say how long sparkly fragments will haunt my poor office.
To help each school prepare and study, I gave each class a folder with all the information about the test in English, Katakana-English as well as Japanese. This included the rules, as well as every single one of the questions that would be on the test. This also helped the elementary school teacher keep things going when I wasn't there, and also meant that students had some nice questions for me when I did visit the school after a long period away (some schools I go to less than once a month ... I'm happy to say that all of their students got gold).
The test itself is also simple, and much more of a gameshow than a 'test'. One person from a team (other teams are writing their cards) chooses a number from the board. These numbers correspond to the questions in the file. I ask the question and the teacher starts a timer. The team can talk about the question and how to answer it as much as they want but they only have 45 seconds. Also the student who chose the number must be the one to answer. If it's incorrect and there's still time on the clock, they can answer again (you can give gestures to help, thats up to you) but if they haven't given a correct answer by 45 seconds, then that's a wrong answer. This is where the teacher has power. If they know that they team is seconds away from a correct answer, they can lie about the time and give them a little longer. The next team them chooses a number ... and so on. On the second round of questioning, ensure that a different team member chooses a number. As there is quite a surplus of question numbers, at the third round of questions I eliminate some of the easier questions to push the more challenging ones (students will generally notice my pattern in question numbers, so this is to throw a spanner in the works).
During the gameshow ... uh ... test, students have fun cheering each other on and comparing scores.
Similar to Hohoku Realms this has taken, is taking, and will continue to take a lot of time. After the test is done and the cards are brought to be laminated, there's often the case that you don't have enough cards to fill a laminate sheet. So rather than be wasteful I wait for another schools test so I can laminate them at the same time (this is another reason for the ID number, I know what school and year group each card needs to go back to). There's also a lot of pressure not to mess up the cards, laminating 21 cards at once with glitter on them is terrifying! One wrong move and there's glitter everywhere. One wrong move and cards overlap. One wrong move, and you've got to explain to your students why you screwed up (use tape to hold the cards in place, that helps lower the threat).
Generally the English Licence has been successful, and the junior high schools that don't use Hohoku Realms have spoke about how they wouldn't mind using it. So even though I made it for the early end of the English Education scale, there's no reason it couldn't be used beyond elementary schools.
🡅Hohoku Realms - The 1 Year Real-Life RPG
Largely inspired by Lee Sheldon's work and the idea of gamification, Hohoku Realms is a game that rewards junior high students for using English outside the classroom, with prize rewards of prizes for winners.
Every student in school (at this particular school over 180 students) creates a 'character' and has an ID card. We made these in the first lesson of the year. On the front of the card students write their character name and draw a picture/symbol. I gathered their cards and then assigned them a team (four to five members of the same class in a team) and a clan (ten or so people from all three year groups), this is also written on their ID cards. Also on the front is a level indicator, but I'll get onto that shortly. On the reverse of the card are some useful question words and their Japanese equivalent, so the card itself can be a study aid.
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Whenever a student uses English outside of class, their character is rewarded with XP (Experience Points) and gets stronger. If they see me and speak to me they know they'll get some points. Not only this I gave students a folder of point-getting ideas and activities such as translating favourite songs, writing blogs/letters, Googlewhacking and so on. Even if they use English outside of school (say they bump into an English speaking foreigner ... and what I was living that was very unlikely) and tell me about it, I'll give them points. I don't think anyone's lied, oh well. Students get points for effort, rather than attainment. Though I'll correct anything submitted, I want them to try using English. So a stonking great mess of a long letter will easilly get more points than a perfect single-sentence one.
Every character has four 'Strengths': Reading Strength, Writing Strength, Speaking Strength and Listening Strength. These strengths are measured in Levels (from 1-10, with 10 being a maximum level). Everyone starts with all four strengths at level 1, therefore their character is also level 1. In order to level up your character, you must complete a special level up challenge for each strength (as well as have the required amount of XP). Level 2 activities are very easy, where as level 10 are incredibly advanced. My level 10 reading activity for the third grade students provided a lovely challenge for a couple of teachers whose main topic was not English.
To keep tallies on points and levels, I had a thick notebook with every characters information written in. I also keep an excel file with the same information as a back up. This is one reason I forbid students to use their real names as character names, the last thing I want is a list of my students names on my personal computer. I take that notebook everywhere (mainly in case students bump into me when out and about), and because it looks like an old magic book students think of it as a mysterious book of secrets ... it also has all of the information about the level up activities, and most importantly, the answers!
At the end of each semester, the character who has increased in strength the most (in that semester) is awarded with a nice prize (normally a plush toy or something funny). Level increases are more powerful than XP, so a character who has increased 3 levels and only has 30 XP will win over someone who has not leveled up and has 100 XP. A smaller prize is given to each team member of the top team from each year group, and a small prize for the best clan in school. The idea behind clans and teams is that students would help each other if they know the end of semester prize is worth it! I also throw in random challenges for students to get extra points or level up, such as a hidden treasure chest. I've also offered prized challenges, for example the first three students to reach level 2 was given a Chopper (One Piece) toy. I'll point out that I pay for and get the prizes myself.
My original plan was to also have a villianous team called The Demons, who would mysteryiously play alongside the students. Initially I'd asked for a group of teachers to fill this role (as it would present a chance for them to also practice English), and also toyed with the idea of secretly selecting a group of students to be demons without them knowing. But you see ...
Negative Points - When I did this activity I was visiting 14 different schools, so I'm not always available to come to the school for kids to do the activities (or even to do clubs etc), as such it was almost impossible to keep students interested all the time. It also meant that I couldn't be available to help the cheating ... um ... extra activity ... yeah that sounds better, of the Demons. I did go into school as often as I could in my own free time, but despite a killer presentation that fired everyone up at the start of the year, this is an activity that needs regular visits, at the very least once or twice a week I think. On the upside, the few students that stuck it out genuinely (seemed to) enjoy it. They were really interested in getting better at English, so I'm glad I was able to provide some extra challenges ... and I don't think the prizes were too bad either.
One other negative point is that it took a long time to get set up. Writing all the activities, getting the website done, cards designed and so on. I was on a non-stop stretch throughout the preceding Spring Vacation while working at my BOE Branch Office (much to my annoyance I was told the textbooks were changing three days after writing all the activities). Once the cards were made by students they then needed laminating and cutting out, it just takes time.