I’ve been using RPGs in the classroom for some time now and have begun to share my experiences with other teachers in the school. To deflect the innevitable “But isn’t it just a game?” comments, I had prepared this handy skills met through RPGs document. I thought I’d share it here for other teachers to use and add to.
I am teaching in the U.K and we work from the national curriculum. Most of the spoken language skills are met through playing social RPGs. I have listed the skills below and have commented on how these are met by roleplaying:
Pupils should be taught to
Listen and respond appropriately to adults and their peers.
As your collaborative stories unfold, the children will be engrossed by the story. They will listen for the clues you give them or to the Non-Playable Characters you introduce them to (silly voices are encouraged). They will talk with each other about their plans, not just in the game but in the playground too, this shared experience will spill out from the classroom and become a topic of conversation for all the children involved in the adventure. There is a dialogue happening both in and out of the game.
Ask relevant questions to extend their understanding and knowledge.
The investigative elements of RPGs are all about questioning. The pupils ask so many questions whilst in character as they try to find out more information about the world they are exploring. By linking your RPG worlds to the texts you are reading in class (and the rules and characters of their world), you are also building on their comprehension of the text.
Use relevant strategies to build their vocabulary.
By linking your games to a class text you can introduce book specific vocabulary in an engaging and contextual way. Students may find words dificult to understand when reading them in the text but if they have already encountered these words used in your game they will have a pre-knowledge of these words when they come to read them in the text.
You can also ask students to describe their actions in detailed ways, by sharing their own extended vocabulary your students will share and learn new words from their peers.
Articulate and justify answers, arguments and opinions.
RPGs allow you to present your players with difficult decisions and to justify their decisions when they make them. By asking them why they chose to do something or about how their character feels about a situation you are getting your students to think not only from their perspective but from the perspective of their character.
Give well-structured descriptions, explanations and narratives for different purposes, including for expressing feelings.
RPGs give you an opportunity to model imaginative, descriptive language. Students can describe their characters feelings in different situations as well as how their characters look. As the storyteller or Games Master you will be describing what the players see and this lets you really go into detailed descriptions of locations and characters. These desriptions could also link to the class texts.
Use spoken language to develop understanding through speculating, hypothesising, imagining and exploring ideas.
A large part of playing in an RPG is problem solving. Your students will have to work togeher to overcome the problems you put in front of them. They will have to discuss their ideas with each other about the best ways to approach the challenges you present to them within the game. Allow them time to discuss strategies so that they can decide on the best course of action for their characaters. Let them talk through each problem you present them with.
Speak audibly and fluently with an increasing command of Standard English.
When playing in a large group, it is important to allow each player to have their turn and to be heard. The students will want to get their ideas and plans across to you and the rest of the class. This promotes audibility and fluency. By roleplaying through the world of your class texts this will also give children more experince of the vocabularly of the text, this really helps with the fluency of their reading. Roleplaying often helps to build on the confidence of each student. In my experience, they will feel empowered to use their voice and this helps them to speak loudly and proudly about their ideas.
Participate in discussions, presentations, performances, role play, improvisations and debates.
Improvisation can be a difficult skill to teach in the classroom, but RPGs put the spotlight on this skill. The students will have a much better understanding of how to improvise from playing the game. The best moments from our class games have come from the improvisation of the students. Often, this will be in social encounters that their characters will experience. Playing in an RPG is a performance. Whilst not a theatre show, each of your students will have a moment in the spotlight to shine. Roleplaying itself is a skill in the national curriculum!
Gain, maintain and monitor the interest of the listener(s).
I have noticed that some children find it much easier to converse in character than they do in real life. I have had in-character conversations with students who often find it difficult to communicate in their day to day life, however they have held eye contact and been much more responsive to questions and answers of the characters they meet in the game. Students can feel a sense of safety when pretending, they are acting as someone else and find a comfort in pretending to be more confident than they perhaps feel usually. This may not be the case for all of your students but even if it gives just one student an opportunity to hold a conversation more easily than they are used to then I believe this is a very positive experience for them. Holding that eye contact, knowing that they will be listened to and that the charater they are talking to might have something important to say helps them build on the conversational skills they may not feel as comfortable to practise as themselves. For the more confident students, they have an opportunity to speak more publicly in front of their peers and hold the attention of their classmates.
Consider and evaluate different viewpoints, attending to and building on the contributions of others + Maintain attention and participate actively in collaborative conversations, staying on topic and initiating and responding to comments.
Again, by presenting your students with difficult decisions to make in the game you open up a forum for them to discuss strategies to overcome these problems. By letting whichever student player is next in the turn order make the decision of how their character will deal with the challenge you can also give them the opportunity to listen to the viewpoints of others on why their decision may work or may not. They can consider these contributions whilst still having control of their character’s decision.
Select and use appropriate registers for effective communication.
This skill is met on a daily basis but can be reinforced in game by encouraging players to roleplay how they would talk to the other characters they would meet in the world. If they are trying to break up an argument between two characters, then how would they talk to them. What would be the appropriate register to calm the situation down? This will let them really think about how our voices can have an impact in real life situations and this is a skill that can be carried over from the game.
As I’ve outlined here, all of the U.K National Curriculum standards for Spoken Language skills are met through roleplaying in your class. This can help give the required ‘academic value’ to these sessions in your class if you are attempting to pitch running RPG sessions with your students. By linking your sessions to a class text you are really helping with the comprehension and vocabulary linked to the text, whilst by running your own sessions you are still providing excellent roleplaying and problem solving opportunities.