I have used text adventures in the classroom before, with grade six students. I didn’t really think my grade 3/4 students would enjoy or benefit from playing text adventures: I thought they might not understand a lot of the words, or have a lot of difficulty with typing commands, or be able to grasp the idea that the player must discover the world within the game with no images and zero guidance. Once again, my students have blown me away with what they have achieved. I stand corrected.
Text adventures have been around for years. Like, 30 years. When I introduced Zork I: The Great Underground Empire to my grade I led in with “this game is older than me”. After recovering from the responses of “woah, that game is OLD” and “really? Did they have computers back then?” I loaded the game on the IWB and asked them what they thought we needed to do.
After almost a year in my grade my students know that we need to take risks in games and have a go, because what’s the worst that can happen in a game? “Click on the black square!” “Press the up arrow!” “Google it!” None of that got us anywhere in the game, so I asked them to close their eyes and I read the text to them, asking them to visualise themselves in the open field, with a white house to their left and a mailbox nearby. Several pairs of eyes sprang open – “open the mailbox!”. I asked how to do that – “Type it!” So we did.
“Why is there a leaf in the mailbox?” “No, it’s a leaflet”. “What’s a leaflet?” “You know, you get them in the mail, like junk mail. They are ads for stuff”. “Yeah, they are persuasive texts you get in the letterbox!” “Can we read it?”.
The conversations sparked by this game were amazing. Students were sharing prior knowledge on items and places in the game, reading words to each other and discussing the meaning of what they were reading. The grade quickly got used to the verb-noun pattern for typing commands and started exploring the game.
They had soon ventured to dimly lit forests and discovered jewel-encrusted eggs. They stumbled upon a white house and explored the rooms, encountering hidden creatures.
The grade worked in pairs or groups of three to play the game but mapped the world within the game individually as the game unfolded for them. They were challenged by the lack of images in this game, as some needed assistance in visualising what they read, but as they got used to the game they became thoroughly engaged and really excited by it, cheering whenever I announced we would be playing it at school and choosing to play it at home, too.
I think the fact that players cannot save their progress in this game and that they must restart if they die in the game helped students to develop persistence and problem solving. Students collaborated with each other to provide advice on how to advance in the game (don’t jump in the kitchen…) but, as we practiced a lot in grade 3/4B last year, they never just gave the answer to the problem, instead encouraging their peers to have a go, because “what’s the worst that can happen?”
Zork 1 presented a wonderful challenge for my grade 3/4 students, and was a vehicle for learning in vocabulary, verbs, nouns, adjectives, spatial awareness, visualisation, mapping, directions, team work, collaboration, risk taking and problem solving. I would recommend it for grade 3+.
Zork 1 was incorporated into our Literacy program as a GBL rotation activity using school netbooks. It is available for free online and does not require downloading. I usually access the game here. Recently I have experienced difficulties in loading Zork due to an issue with my browser blocking Java – I have heard this is not uncommon and have been directed to this alternative site.
This year I am again a grade 3/4 teacher, but this year I am teaching my grade part time and teaching ICT to the whole school part time. A fun new challenge! Also 2013 was my last year as Miss Barr – from this year on I am Mrs Camm, one of the teachers of The Mighty 3/4CC, who will most likely feature in future posts.