How should we react? Be glad they are reading anything? Write it off – along with Blyton and Sweet Dreams – as escapist relaxation’ Stay away from an adults-keep-off private preoccupation`’
David Hill took a close look at role-play adventures and decided to invite the Orcs into his classroom.
The scope offered by these books for classroom work, oral and written, with top junior and lower secondary children is enormous. Taking part in a role-play adventure involves children in a aide range of activities: planning, collecting information. asking questions. weighing up evidence. predicting outcomes. giving and receiving instructions, note-making. recording. developing empathy. The kinds of phrases I realised that keep cropping up in discussions about developing skills in the English Curriculum. Fantasy games arc essentially exercises in problem-solving. decision-making and working in groups. All bonus points. But I could see opportunities for more than just developing skills. Through the fun and excitement of the game I hoped to open up possibilities for imaginative experience which could be shared and deepened through talking and writing and to prepare the ground for a wider range of literary experience. In particular I hoped to open the door to contact with the myths. legends, folk tales and fantasies which I feel hale so much to offer.
I tried three ways of incorporating Adventure Gaming books and Solo Fantasy Gamebooks into the English lesson.
1. With the help of a different pupil each lesson I took on the role of Dungeon Master using the gaming book as my scenario for the adventure, with the class taking on the role of one adventurer. I could enter into the spirit of the adventure and also control the situation without seeming to do so. Everyone got involved and we all shared in the excitement and atmosphere created.
2. The class divided into groups. Each group represented a corporate adventurer. With me as Dungeon Master see now had a small group of warrior adventurers setting forth. As each obstacle and monster w a, encountered the class decided which group warrior should tackle it. Making the decision involved taking into account the stamina. skill and luck levels of each character – even assessing probabilities!
3. The class divided into groups with a pupil from each group acting as Dungeon Master controlling the adventure game within the group. The children need to be very familiar with the game for this method to succeed. The teacher is less personally involved (not so much fun!) but freer to circulate. observe and help where necessary. With smaller groups some children of course find it easier to participate and contribute to the discussion.
Before embarking on the adventure:
Make sure that you are full au fait with the rules, especially those linked with combat situations. Have a run through with the class using the combat rules before you set out on the adventure proper.
Ensure that pupils know host to draw a plan using compass directions — N. S. E. W. NE. SW etc. to carry straight on, turn left, turn right etc. and can put the instructions on a plan. Time spent nosy will prevent headaches and frustration later on.
The whole exercise of learning the rules, taking the task slosh, is an excellent exercise in personal self-discipline and patience.
Devise a rot a for taking the part of Chief Dice Shaker. At times the fate of the hero is in the Dice Shaker’s hands – a situation to revel in It is also useful to track down and make the acquaintance of your colleagues in Maths and Geography. They might like to know shat you are doing ( Integration at last’ ) and you will need graph paper and a compass fir keeping a plan of the route travelled by the adventurers.
Buy a couple of extra copies of the book you are using so that the illustrations can be cut out for wall display. Root out the budding artists in the class and employ their talents by making them official picture correspondents with the specific task of providing a pictorial record of the quest. A wall frieze stretching around four walls makes an impressive visual display and can be linked with written stork being done once the adventure is underway.
Suggestions for follow-up.
1. A diary based on each days journeying. (One lesson constitutes a day. An ongoing piece of work.)
2. Individual mapwork based on what children think the land looks like. This giles a free rein to both artistic and inventive imagination. Some of the place names they invent will often rival those of the fantasy authors themselves.
3. An accurate plan on graph paper of the route taken as the quest progresses. This needs careful monitoring at all stages. The less able pupils. especially in the early stages. will find difficulty in transferring oral directions onto paper.
4. Discussion work on the above will ensure that the pupils know how to read street plans, follow directions and give directions themselves.
5. Children to write their own stories’ scenarios revolving around the hero. A few will even write their own computer adventure programme.
6. Children working in pairs become newspaper reporters interviewing the adventuring hero. It can be extended to a cassette audio recording radio nest’s item, or a video film – a T.V.
7. Composing a front page of a newspaper based on the homecoming of the hero. (Hopefully not an obituary:) A good exercise to show how different newspapers lay out their front page.
8. (a) The hero writes his autobiography or someone iv rites a biography. A dustjacket for the cover is designed.
(b) ‘This is Your Life – Drama work.
Themes of work which flow naturally from the above activities include:
1. Discussion work on the themes -‘What is a Hero’.’ ‘What is a Quest?’
2. Discussion stork on the theme of leadership and the qualities possessed by a good leader. Groupwork first.
3. Journeys and quests in myth and legend – Heracles. Theseus. Odysseus. Perseus. Jason. The Grail Quest. (Ideally the teacher should tell some of the stories and not read them. The oral tradition is even more important now that ire have entered the video and computer age.)
4. Monsters of Myth and Legend with a special reference to the store of Beowulf.
5. Project work on armour and swords.
6. Work based on The Silver Sword by Ian Serraillier. The combined theme of hero and quest in a real life situation provides a fine balance to the fantasy aspects of Adventure gaming.
Finally because there is such a forged link between role-playing and fantasy it is essential to have a large selection of books available: fantasy novels. myths. legends and folk tales. These should be on the classroom bookshelf or in the school bookshop – preferably both.
You kill soon find that one of the greatest spin-offs of adventuring is that children, and especially the reluctant reader. clamour for books which tie-in with the theme. One pupil once said to me. ‘I likes this. You don’t have to be good at C.S.E.’s to kill a hydra.
The potential for learning based on adventure gaming is enormous. I’ve even done lessons on direct and indirect speech based on the hero relating his adventures and then haying them reported in a newspaper: the class actually enjoyed it. Adventure gaming makes learning fun and anything which does that can only be applauded.
It also gets pupils of all abilities wanting to read and to enjoy reading. This for all teachers is surely the real name of the game.
David Hill is Head of English at a comprehensive school in Plymouth.