Role play games can be fun learning tools for developing language. They give you an opportunity for free expression and great speaking practice. Yet because you are not being yourself, it also allows you to create a completely different character which helps to take away any fear of speaking and lets you perform as someone else! This can be very powerful especially if you are shy or worried about making mistakes.
I often use role-play games in the classroom and as well as practising speaking, we always have a great time! It isn’t surprising then that a role-play game was the first collaborative exercise I wanted to have on my E-learning site Gapfillers. We are currently running our 3rd game and each time there is a lot to learn both as a materials developer and a teacher! Each game is very different and very surprising.
I’d like to explain something about the game, how it works and how it helps with English language learning.
Our Gapfillers murder mystery game – The Art of Murder – revolves around the murder of an Art Gallery owner. The players are all connected with this man in some way and it is their individual relationships with him which form the substance of the story and provide the clues. The investigation is led by a detective and a criminologist acts as moderator. The players are given role cards and other information. The detective will then send out clues and the players have to send each other messages to find the answers and solve the murder. Players can also build relationships with other characters and use these to make it more difficult for other players to get information. We ask that if information is requested it is given out but how this is disseminated depends on the individual group of players. If anybody gets stuck then they can go to either the detective or criminologist for help. These two (they are teachers) are also in the game and will message, encourage and provide a commentary where appropriate.
The game has been written by a writer/poet connected with Gapfillers and not a teacher so the language is not modified or graded. There is a deal of irony and sophisticated language included in the information so the players have a lot to contend with while playing the game. The game is further supported by a series of newspaper articles, a vocabulary and grammar bank of useful language and a weekly blog post which follows the progress of the game.
The very first time we played the game we were expecting players to use the opportunity to practice their reading and writing skills and also to explore topical vocabulary. We also hoped that they would discover some of the nuances in the language of the game and above all have a good time. What surprised us the most about this first game, and also subsequent games, is the way in which the players ‘clothed’ themselves in the personality of their character!
The characters include a countess, thwarted lovers, a journalist, art dealer and artist all of whom have, each time, taken on fully rounded personalities in the hands of our student players. I have collected some of the messages to give you a flavour of this.
These are in no particular order.
- I have no idea who this ‘guitarman’ is (why can’t he give his ordinary name, like anyone else?), but I find the suggestion we might meet again sinister. Call me hyper-sensitive, but that’s how it strikes me.
- After a good night’s sleep I’m thinkking I’d be glad never to see any of you again in my life…….
would that be a good nights sleep… in jail?
- I guess you are right – i am stressed out
- no i arent accusing them of murder, just that they dont reply to mails
- i shall go have a glass of wine and calm down
- i so wish this was over 😦
- Hello everybody– I am somewhat late with my introduction but hope you don’t mind under the circumstances.
- My name is M T Hart and I am (was?) R T Guy’s girlfiend. We’ve been in a relationship for 3 years now and was hoping something will come out of it:) What now?
- Oh dear! Poor you. You must be feeling very unhappy at the moment we all feel for your sadness.
- Thank you for your condolences. I’ll try to stay strong
- We all understand.Youwill need take thimgs slowly
- Yes, I have already asked Gugenheim about the cat but he told me that he had never heard about a cat…..So one of you is lying…..I want the truth!!!!!!!! and quickly!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I’ve just sent an email to him, so if I learn something I’ll let you know…..
- I am shocked! I thought I was trying to help. Why do yiu think I’m lying and not Gugenheim after all he sold you the forged painting. Hasn’t he proved that he is a liar?
- its very strange that i was unaware of this phobia of his, especially as we were so close
- were you working in the office on the night of the murder?
- did you LOCK the door?
- or worse, did you let someone in?
- or perhaps you were IN the office with R T?
- well, Trudy, everyone is a suspect!
- many are accusing me of killing him, i dont understand why, i would not benefit from this at all
i would only benefit from marrying him, which never happened
- strange you mentioned his temper, it got worse and worse leading up to the murder
- any idea why that would be?
- I´m sorry there must be a mistake, in fact I hate pets.
- Well, well, well!!! Gugenheim finally show he’s capable of keeping information from us. You know who you can trust in this game, don’t you?? Maybe my dear wife Tik would now like to look to her conscience and come clean about her infidelity, and with whom!
- Funny, isn’t it? I worked with so many of you for so long, including Guy, and now discover I didn’t know you at all. Than kgoodness for the friendship of MT Hart; she has been like a breah of fresh air compared with the rest of you rogues, and she’s lost more than the rest of us!
- So, Gugenheim, what ELSE are you keeping from us??
- Shouldn’t you be more interested in publishing your knowlegde than in trying to make moneay out of it – and possibly landing on the murderer’s “unwanted” list???
- So, what do you know, and what is your price?
- Obviously, I’m extremely interested in your extra information.
I was just wondering what you mean for ‘price’…
Anyway we can arrange a fair barter…
- I’d be really grateful if you kept my lover’s name secret.
- I’ve just to stop for a moment and think quietly about it.
I need to collect my evidence. Right now my I’m quite confused.
- I’m waiting for result, too. No one has already found out the killer. Probably they are afraid. In reality, I think we should be careful. At this point, everyone is likely to be involved in this murder.
Let’s wait and try to find the solution.
- I have come back – any news??? Holidays without my wife were great…
- Haha very funny!
Hope the hols were good. I thought you’d taken the money and run away!
- Been talking to your lovely wife – she’s as confused as the rest of us!
- People kep going away & then coming back very strange!!
- You are joking – I had thought the murderer had already been found and guillotined…
- Dear Mr Wragg,
Much as I would like to help you, I´m afraid that I know little more than what you have already published in your newspaper. As far as I know, the Tofts’ relationship with Guy was simply a business one.
Sorry I can’t be of more help.
- Dear Mr Wragg,
I’ve been doing some thinking since my previous message and I think that I MIGHT be able to help you somehow.
Of course, this will cost you nothing but it could help if I got to know the name of the victim of a certain “incident” in which Gugenheim was involved.
I’m sure you will understand that, like you, I want to get to the bottom of this hideous affair.
- Thanks for your message. I’m not skipped town. I have been ill with problems about ciatic nerve. I will grateful your offered information. Bye.
- Lies lies lies, I do not know which paintings you’re talking about – surely La Scala knows the paintings she has hanging on her walls!
- It seems that you want to know more about my grandparents…. first you need to know that they are of great importance to me, I love them more than anybody else and I don’t want them to be involved in this scam. So please don’t write anything about them in your articles… They are pretty old and they deserve to live peacefully. I trust you…I hope I’m not mistaken…
I hope that this demonstrates the kind of language that ‘comes out’ when students are playing such games. They become involved and engrossed in the game itself and somehow the language flows more naturally. They also feed off the language of the other players and the language involved in the game itself which results in very real and sophisticated usage. Admittedly the players here have quite an advanced level of language but the ability to take on a character and then sustain that throughout the game (which lasts about 5/6 weeks) is not an easy thing to do. As everything is written then there is time to consider and correct but the language being used and learned by our players is amazing!
Games, far from being frivolous, allow students to push their own language to its limits but also, and more importantly, give them the opportunity to draw from the language around them (other players and the language used in the game) to develop and enhance their own.
Gapfillers The Art of Murder is played twice a year within the Gapfillers site. It is open to all members. Our next game will be in spring 2011. (register on Gapfillers for free, see our special Christmas offer available until Dec 31st 2010)