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Exploring identity with “The Quiet Year”

In this cooperative storytelling game, students act as a post-apocalyptic community trying to rebuilding their settlement. Cards, drawn from a standard deck, trigger events such as new problems, delayed projects, good omens and visitors for students to deal with. As the game progresses, students create a map of their community which is kept as an artefact of their successes or failures.

I originally wrote this article for publication in a certain TESOL-related book, but I missed the deadline (whoops), so I am adding it to the website here. I am a big fan of The Quiet Year, and can see it being a fantastic game for the L2 classroom. Here is my consideration for how one may teach intermediate (and above) level students.

Source: https://buriedwithoutceremony.com/the-quiet-year

Levels: Intermediate and above
Aims: Use English to explore new identities, as well as develop speaking, listening and discourse skills
Class Time: 60+ minutes
Preparation Time: none
Resources: The Quiet Year PDF, a deck of cards, paper, pencils, dice. OPTIONAL: a smartphone for recording game audio
Cost: $ ($6)

Introduction

In this cooperative storytelling game, students act as a post-apocalyptic community trying to rebuilding their settlement. Cards, drawn from a standard deck, trigger events such as new problems, delayed projects, good omens and visitors for students to deal with. As the game progresses, students create a map of their community which is kept as an artefact of their successes or failures.

Whilst the overall context is a post-apocalyptic struggle, the game is unique in not presenting students with a specific theme (fantasy, historical, sci-fi), or specific student characters which allows students to explore their own English self or other context-appropriate identities. As a result, then, the game offers the opportunity for:

  • Community-building amongst students.
  • A critical exploration of other identities.
  • Situated English practice in a collaborative, meaning-focused activity.
  • Introduction to genre-specific discourses.
  • Development of language skills at the word, sentence and discourse level (transitioning, narrative voice, etc.).

Procedure:

  1. Learn how to play the game beforehand (This can be assigned as homework or as done as a collaborative reading task prior to playing).
  2. Assign learners to groups and hand out materials.
  3. Decide the theme of the game and create the initial map collaboratively
  4. Play the game (consider recording the play session either with smartphones or digital camera)
  5. Debrief the play session and consider transferring the skills learnt during gameplay to either another modality (spoken → written) or context (gaming communities, Twitter, YouTube, Reddit, etc.)

Caveats & Options:

Like any pedagogical intervention, instructors should know how to play the game before introducing it in class. That is, instructor game literacy is paramount in determining the success of a game-based teaching context. The game should also be connected to contextually relevant pedagogical approaches. Options for further activities are presented below. Some are specific to The Quiet Year, but most can be done with any game used in language classrooms. See York, deHaan and Hourdequin (2019) for a detailed description of three unique game-based teaching contexts and more ideas on how games to implement games into the classroom.

Pre-play options

As mentioned in the procedure section, learning the game itself is an invaluable reading activity that resembles a pre-task or the priming stage of a TBLT approach to SLA. It could be done as a collaborative classroom activity or as homework depending on the level of the students and time restrictions.
Consider asking students what they consider to be “post-apocalypse.” Is there anywhere in the world that they consider being post-apocalyptic or close to it in terms of quality of life? Asking such questions may promote learners to connect the game to real-world social issues as they play and develop their map.

Play options

  • The theme of the game can be decided based on the context of the class and learning goals.
    • Typical (fantasy, sci-fi) themes may be used to introduce learners to the tropes of those genres.
    • More atypical themes may be utilized to confront learners with new identities or communities (think real-world: conflict zones, social or cultural minorities, or demographics of different gender, sexual orientation, or age to the students).
  • As this game is turn-based and proceeds at a comfortable pace, there is ample opportunity for students to keep notes during gameplay. Suggests are to create a worksheet which guides them towards the following topics:
    • New vocabulary
    • Interesting things other students said
    • Things I wanted to say in English but couldn’t

Post-play options

Smartphones may be used to record the session and then later transcribed for post-play debriefing activities such as critical reflection, focus on form, or other consciousness-raising activities.

  • Create a play report as a way to transfer skills from spoken to written modality. This could be done publicly on boardgamegeek.com or other community websites as a way to promote authentic, situated participation.
  • Compare their map with other groups. Explain how it developed.
  • Compare their map with real-world contexts.
  • Submit the play session video on YouTube.
  • Tweet your personal reflection of the game, again, transferring their play session into another medium, participating authentically with the wider game community and gaining important digital literacy skills.

References

York, J. deHaan, J. & Hourdequin, P. (2019) It’s Your Turn: EFL Teaching and Learning with Tabletop Games. In H. Reinders, S. Ryan, & S. Nakamura (Eds.) Innovation in Language Teaching and Learning: The Case of Japan. Palgrave Macmillan, UK