The EFL Situation
ESL/EFL teachers will immediately recognize the theme of “jobs” as a staple of almost all ESL/EFL textbooks. Even very young students in most places recognize that their parents work or that there are people in their community like police officers or restaurant workers. It is this, assumed, shared understanding that makes “jobs” a very tempting content-subject for teachers.
However, most textbooks have a hard time, or fail completely, to contextualize and situate the content – jobs – with the language use the students should be learning. The following image is a very, very typical type of assignment that language learners might get. It seems well done. It provides images that associate directly to words and contextualizes the jobs in specific places (e.g. teacher – school). How or in what situation the student should need to use the language in the worksheet isn’t even a topic of concern. In fact, the only place such a task will be useful is in the ESL/EFL classroom context itself. Making activities like the one below very hard to transfer to real-world language use, to say nothing about its use in talking about or in those jobs or places.
Better lessons might even have students imagine they are one of these workers and have them find their way on a map to their place of work. If you’re really good, then maybe you live in Finland and participate in the Me and My City activity where students are trained and then actually simulate real world occupations and negotiations such as working at a cafe. This is the ultimate way to give students situated, contexualized and motivated practice that will hopefully transfer to real-world situations.
But such an activity is resource intensive and basically undoable for most teachers. Games may provide an escape for us.
The Game Situation
With the explosion of mobile gaming, there is one specific genre of games that has seen a rise in popularity, job simulators. These games come in various styles such as the seminal SimCity, which puts the player in the position of a government official watching over and developing an entire city or tycoon games such as perhaps the most popular, Rollercoaster Tycoon, which allows players to build and develop their own amusement park, to more experiential games like Diaries of a Spaceport Janitor, which has player take on the role of a janitor in a spaceport where epic heroes stop by on their way to their adventures. You clean up after them.
Mobile and facebook platforms have however, pushed these sorts of games in newer directions in order to appeal to players who perhaps don’t want such an in-depth and time-intensive experience as SimCity. These games range in difficulty, time-requirements, player freedom and problem-solving. But, what all these games attempt to capture is some specific ideas of what it might be like to “work” in specific jobs in a rewarding and hopefully fun way.
These games then might have an answer for our problem of teaching jobs and work to ESL/EFL students. Games are necessarily contexualized in a play-space and, if the game uses its game mechanics to drive its narrative, then players may even need to use language specific to those jobs to complete in-game tasks and goals. At this point, job simulator games may be the best chance of teaching transferable job related language.
My Cafe: Recipes & Stories as a Situated Workplace
In my review of My Cafe, I noted that one of the major problems an L2 educator may have in using the game in L2TL, would be in motivating students to play the game, since its appeal is probably niche. A primary goal of this game-design enhanced lesson plan then, is confronting that problem of motivation head on. To do so, it seems to me that the primary way to help mitigate the problem of motivation is to increase learner agency. In particular, while this lesson plan will use My Cafe as an example, crucially, the lesson requires that the learners be able to choose any game in the job simulator genre.
Before we begin the lesson plan proper, I want to reference the framework that we are using here, called the Bridging Activities Cycle. The image below visualizes the process well.
This lesson plan is meant to be do-able in one or two class lessons (depending largely on how long your lessons are. I think this could be done in an hour, but probably longer). Importantly, the BA cycle can be recursive, or as I say, there can be a “grand cycle” and then daily or smaller specific cycles. This lesson is a “small cycle” that would fit in a larger Grand cycle of: discovering games, playing the game, learning the language of the game and narrative, examining the similarities to the real-life job of the game and participating in the game community.
Warm-up: Finding games to play (maybe 5-10 minutes?)
- Students will be able to navigate internet-based game stores and websites
- Students will need access to the internet, either on their phones or computers.
- If not possible, the teacher needs to be able to demonstrate via powerpoint or some other method.
The teacher will begin the class by showing a game that they really like to play (or.. could like to play). They will show where they got the game and why they like it briefly.
Then, students will think about (and examine) when and where they play games (or if they do at all). Students will then get into pairs or small groups and share with each other the games that they play and where they found them.
As a class, students will share what their partner’s favorite game is, where they found it and why they like it. The teacher’s job is to point out where each game is found (app store, online marketplace) and how to navigate to those spaces with the students.
Explore: Going to the Job Fair – Noticing and Collecting language
- Students will be able to choose a specific game that they are both interested in playing and think the real-world job is interesting.
- Students will be able to notice and identify key vocabulary related to the game mechanics and narrative.
- Students will need a prepared list of games that work on multiple platforms.
- One specific game the teacher can use to demonstrate/tutorial for the students.
Students will use the game source they like the most (iphone app store, play store, steam or other website) to discover games in the genre of “job simulator”. Students will work individually or in teams to complete the table provided below. In particular, students need to find at least five different job simulator games. They will need to identify a few important factors (you can help, but they can also decide on the criteria important to them) that they think will help them decide on a game to play.
For me, I would show students a game that I already like to play (My Cafe) and would put this on the student’s worksheet as a way to demonstrate the task.
(Slideshow shows step-by-step where to find the information to answer the worksheet prompts)
The purpose of this exploration is to overcome the problem of forcing a student to play a game they don’t like. Encourage the students to collaborate and share the games they find on the sources they like. Additionally, put up and link to sources of other games (such as Steam, or other websites that offer reviews of games).
Examine: REALLY going to the job fair – analyzing the job hunt in real life (20-30 minutes)
- Students will identify key categories of similarity and difference when looking for a good game and a good job.
- Students will be able to compare and contrast their game shopping experience with actual job hunting.
- Students will need access to internet sites for job hunts
- The teacher should be familiar with at least one site.
At this point, what the teacher is trying to accomplish is to tie the game the student will play with real-world problems. In this case, many students may not have done a job search and so this might be overwhelming. I would allow students to explore job-search websites in their own language, while demonstrating in an English-language site like Coolworks.com. The last stage will ask students to set specific, real-world goals to know about when they play the game.
After the students have their list of games they are interested in playing, but before they begin play in ernest, have them examine a job hunt website with you. Their goal in this stage is to examine the similarities and differences between looking for a “job simulator” and a real job. Mature students might be asked to pay close attention to the emotions they experience while in these websites. Younger students might explore a powerpoint presentation that simplifies the information for the purposes of demonstration.
Students will browse a job hunt website and use the note-taking worksheet to determine if the same categories that are available on the game websites are also there, and why or why not. After walking the students through an example, let the students explore a website, using the jobs they collected in the Explore phase as a starting point.
(Examples of how to navigate mycoolworks.com)
Extend: Reflecting on exploring new jobs and setting goals for play
- Students will be able to analyze the information they have collected using some compare/contrast organizer
- Students will be able to set goals for their game-play that relate to discovering information about real-world jobs.
- Students will need some sort of graphic organizer to synthesize the information they have collected in the explore and examine stages.
Students will first synthesize the information collected in the explore and examine stages. This can be done individually or in a small group. Importantly, students should write down their synthesis in some sort of compare/contrast graphic organizer (a venn diagram might seem too obvious, but that would work). The point of this part is to prepare the students to doing some writing. They should write down the gaps in their knowledge, in particular, about what a real life job in one of their simulators would be like.
Following their organization, have students summarize basically what job simulator they are going to play, what they know about the real-life job (using the job hunt information as much as they can and their own prior knowledge), and finally, what information they are curious about or interested in about that job.
Finally, the students will set specific and personal goals for their game play. What information are they interested in learning about that job? Do they think the game will simulate the job well or not? How will the job simulator assist them in discovering more about the real job?
This Bridging Activities cycle is one that might be possible to do in one or two class sessions. But the grand cycle (referenced at the beginning) could take an entire semester, with this specific task only barely beginning the “explore” section, where the students learn to play the game and the language of playing the game.
I have all sorts of ideas about how job simulators might be useful in a grand cycle, but this shorter, one class, cycle is a useful demonstration of how game-design enhanced TBLT can be utilized along with digital media literacy in a way that traditional ESL/EFL lessons can’t really even touch.