Playing games, both low and high tech, has long been an element in my FSL classroom. Sometimes, “game day” was something I used as a reward for hard work and good behaviour or the occasional change of pace; however, more recently, I have been experimenting with self-directed and centres-based learning and games have become just one more opportunity students can choose from.
Games fit well with learning a new language. Multi-player games require oral interaction and the conversations are fairly predictable, structured and repetitive. With some vocabulary pre-teaching and sentence frames, students can be set up for success.
I’ve also recently begun to think of games as an opportunity for high-interest, low-vocabulary reading. I struggle to find reading materials that are truly engaging and the right difficulty level while not being cheesy or babyish. For a long time, I think I was “stuck” on the idea that text meant paragraphs and books. Lately, I try to remember to look for text in everyday situations: grocery store fliers, movie theatre schedules, product packaging, games, etc.
While I will never abandon books and more traditional reading completely, I always want to keep reminding myself that the goal of Core French is not to create French scholars. While I will still have high expectations and keep pushing my students to grow and learn, the majority of Core French students will never need to write an essay in French or read a peer-reviewed journal article in French. (I studied French through university level and I never did and have only just recently read chapter books in French.) I want my Core French students to enjoy French, to be motivated to continue to learn, and to be able to interact socially in the language. With this in mind, using games as reading material doesn’t seem so odd and actually seems more practical.
While digital educational games and low-tech commercial board games were already commonplace in my classroom, for the last week of June, I decided to take things one step further and took my WiiU into school. I figured it would be a good way to keep weary students engaged as we headed into vacation. The experiment was encouraging and has me considering making it a more regular part of my program. While we tried a few games, my students’ favourite, by far, was Mario Kart.
I quickly realized Mario Kart is a perfect way to practice using ordinal numbers (1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc.) as the students seemed to constantly “commentate” the race experience during gameplay (e.g., “Who’s in first?”, “Go, go, go.. you’re in 3rd now!”, “Mario is last”, “Ah, I was in 2nd but now I’m 7th!”, “I think Bowser is going to be 4th”, etc.). Providing a real reason to need to use the language is so much easier than trying to “construct” some kind of scenario and I hope it makes the language more memorable.
At first I thought Mario Kart would not require much, if any reading. When I paid closer attention, while it is short and sweet (perfect!), I realized there’s actually more reading involved than I thought. Here’s a sample of the gameplay text:
The default inclination of the students was just to mash buttons and not read what was being said, but they quickly realized if they did so, the default options did not necessarily get them back to game play in the most efficient manner (or at all). With some encouragement, they took the time to read options aloud and decipher the text together.
This upcoming year, I look forward to attempting a game like the Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker that requires you to talk to a lot of characters and do a lot of reading to gather clues about what to do next. I have a feeling it may be too much text for my Gr 4s and 5s – but we will try – it may be great for some shared reading to practice some reading strategies together. We’ll see how it goes!