Engaging Students in Oral #FSL Activities Using #Minecraft

Morgan (@mlle_purdy) is currently teaching grades 5 through 8 Core French for our board.  While she is currently in a long-term occasional position, it has not deterred her from taking some amazing risks with her students and trying some different things.  The staff and students at her school truly appreciate her innovative and reflective teaching style and I know the #fsl community appreciates her willingness to share.  Here are her reflections from our Minecraft collaborative project.



When I was first asked to be a part of this Minecraft group, I was a little nervous, but extremely excited because I have seen the benefits of using it in the classroom, but had never implemented it myself. I was also excited to be able to do this with a group of teachers who could provide guidance and feedback throughout my journey. Being a ‘new-ish’ teacher and new to the school I am teaching at this year, I was open to all the PD I could get.

Attempt #1

I start every year with my students doing a “Je me presente” unit. The students are introducing themselves and for grade 7 and 8 this year, I added some difficulty and had them also introduce their at least three of their family members. If they did not have three other family members, they were allowed to introduce pets or friends as well.

 

 

Once students showed that they could successfully complete tasks related to the success criteria, we moved onto Minecraft. As a class, they were told that they were not able to begin Minecraft tasks until they had mastered the language needed. I didn’t create any success criteria specifically for Minecraft for this assignment, but in hindsight, I should have. Creating this success criteria would have helped students stay on task and realize what they needed to do.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In their Minecraft projects, the grade 6s were responsible for choosing 5 things about themselves that they would build, while the grade 7 and 8 students were responsible for building a house/structure with rooms to represent each family member.

 

Grade 6 Example

Grade 7/8 Example

 

To build up to this point with vocabulary, we had been working as a whole class on how to introduce themselves.

Vocabulary we focused on included:

  • je m’appelle,
  • mon anniversaire est,
  • j’ai ___ ans,
  • j’aime,
  • je n’aime pas,
  • mon émission de télévision préférée est,
  • ma nourriture préférée est.

 

We changed mon/ma and je to son/sa and il/elle when talking about family members. We had a vocabulary sheet that we worked from and I had also posted it to our classroom website for them to access at any time if they lost their sheet or preferred having it on their iPads to look at.

 

After completing these projects, the grade 7 and 8 classes moved onto a different topic without a Minecraft project, but the grade 6 classes continued with Minecraft in a different way.

 

The grade 7/8 students struggled to stay on task while participating in Minecraft activities. They looked at it like it was just a game and some went way above and beyond with building their assignments that it was almost impossible to complete them. They were also not using the proper language when completing the assignment. What they built in Minecraft was beautiful and amazing, but when it came time to present what they created, their language skills were very low. To them, they were more interested in Minecraft and less interest in French.

 

In the future, I hope to be able to introduce Minecraft assignments to intermediate classes again, but definitely differently. I would start small with various assignments so that they could complete them quickly and not go overboard. Small activities would give them a taste of Minecraft but would not overpower the language aspect. I chose to move on with Minecraft with the grade 6 classes only because they were very motivated by Minecraft and their completed work was very well done. They were also coming up with various different activities they could do with Minecraft in French so that we could keep using it.

 

Attempt #2

 

The grade 6 classes had shown me from our previous project that they were able to use Minecraft appropriately and for their benefit, so that is why I had them continue on and not the grade 7 and 8 classes.

 

I spent a lot of time reflecting on what went wrong with the first Minecraft assignments and what I should change this time around to make things better – not only for me, but for the students too.

 

This time my focus was on Les Directions – but before we could begin Minecraft, the students had to be masters at the vocabulary.

We focused on expressions such as:

  • tournez a la droite/gauche,
  • continuez à la rue ______,
  • continuez jusqu’à la fin de la rue,
  • la destination est à la gauche/droite,
  • commencez à ______,
  • *building* est à la gauche/droite de *building*, etc.

 

On top of directions, we also discussed important buildings that each city has to have. We came up with many, but to only name a few: la banque, le poste de police, le caserne de pompiers, la bibliothèque, la maison, l’immeuble, la boulangerie, l’épicerie, etc.

To practice the words & expressions, I used interactive dice with images on the SmartBoard.  I would roll the dice and the students had to answer a question based on what buildings showed up on the dice during that particular roll.   We would also do an activity where a map was up on the SmartBoard.  I would give oral directions and students would come and draw the path that they heard.  Sometimes we switched the roles and the students had to give directions and we would draw the path that followed the directions in order to see where we ended up. The students found this very engaging and were willing to participate every day and multiple times per class.

 

On top of classroom activities, the students were responsible for creating little activities in order to build their language capacity before actually using Minecraft. I had them choose two buildings that they would see in a city and put them in Explain Everything and then they had to record their voices saying the building name and whether it was to the right or the left of the other building. An example would be “La banque est a la droite de la maison”.

After they had perfected that and had more practice with directions, I had them take a picture of the map that I had drawn for them and that we had been practicing with in class and they had to take a picture of it and upload it to Explain Everything. Once uploaded, they had to give a starting point (Commencez à…) and then give directions to an end destination. They had to draw their route while giving their directions so that I knew that they understood what directions they were giving. This went over very well and I was extremely impressed. After this assignment was completed, I knew they were ready to move onto Minecraft.


 

 

For this Minecraft project, they were to get into groups and plan a city. They had to include French street names and essential buildings that they think they would need in a city. The plan had to be on paper so that they would always know what they should be building.

 

 

When I was planning this Minecraft assignment, I was unsure of whether they should build their cities in 3D or 2D. I decided to try it both ways. I teach two grade 6 classes and decided that one class would build 2D and one class would build 3D.

 

 

 

When presenting for the final task, the 2D class has to present from a bird’s eye view using a screenshot and Explain Everything. The 3D class has to record videos of them walking through and following instructions.

In hindsight, I think I prefer the 2D as it makes for easier sharing in the end. As I write this post, my students are currently finishing these final tasks. I am sharing screenshots of what I have seen so far, but I do not have actual videos of them sharing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2D Worlds

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3D Worlds

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Looking back at it, attempt #2 was much more successful than attempt #1. I believe I better prepared the students for what we were going to do and they felt more comfortable.

 

Challenges

The biggest challenge I faced with this project was that most of the time students were goofing off in Minecraft instead of doing as they were told. I found it hard to keep track of everyone and what they were doing. I later learned that I could join their worlds and see what they had been building. I did this in attempt #2 and made sure that they knew I was present and would randomly be checking up on them. This made them more responsible for their work and they lost Minecraft time if they were not on task. I also used this opportunity to ask them questions in writing on Minecraft about what they were building each day.

 

 

 

 

 

Another challenge I had was with the technology itself. When I was halfway through the first attempt, all of my class iPads got wiped and a lot of students lost their work. This was stressful for both me and them because then they had to restart. Other times, I would update the app and it would delete the worlds as well. This caused even more stress. To fix that, I ended up having them take screenshots of everything they did and at the end of class they would upload them to their Google Drive and then if anything happened to the iPads, they would at least have pictures of their work and we would work together to figure out where to go from there.

 

Benefits

 

Everyday I have students ask what we can do next in Minecraft. Sometimes they even cheer when I walk into the classroom because they are so excited for me to be there. This is definitely something I am not used to happening because at previous schools French has been the most dreaded subject and I am disliked by association.  Once we moved on from Minecraft, the grade 6 students have been coming up to me with many different ideas for how we can use Minecraft in our new units. They are very eager to learn and use Minecraft to do so.

 

The students also know that to get to the Minecraft activities, they have to master the language first. This was a benefit because they were always trying to do the best they could in order to get to Minecraft. This really helped them become motivated.

 

What’s Next?

From here, I am not certain where I will go. Students continue to beg me to do Minecraft projects. The grade 6 classes are working on vocabulary around shopping and and clothes – I may have them build a person in Minecraft, screenshot it and put it in Explain Everything and have them describe what the person is wearing. A colleague told me to let the students come up with activities and topics that they would want to learn in French and see if they could apply that to Minecraft in an educational way. I have tried this, but their ideas have not been the best yet. I am very proud of all the hard work that my students have put forth so far and how motivated they are to do well, and I definitely don’t want that to end.

Feel free to follow me on Twitter @Mlle_Purdy to follow my future endeavors!

 

4 Responses

  1. Amanda Teng

    Hi Morgan,

    Thank you for sharing your experiences using Minecraft to teach French. As a beginning teacher who just graduated from PDP in British Columbia, Canada, I am eager to learn as much as possible about how I can better introduce lessons and make it engaging and purposeful for my students. I never thought about using Minecraft as a teaching tool so it is very interesting to read about how you were able to make that a lesson. Thank you for being so honest about what worked and what didn’t work. One of my biggest fears with introducing fun activities like Minecraft is that my students will get off task easily. I am also curious about how you set guidelines on construction times. I am afraid that students would spend more time on construction and not enough time perfecting their french directions. I am also wondering whether I can use Minecraft to get students to practice other French language skills besides telling directions?

    Merci beaucoup!

    • Hi Amanda, Thanks so much for your comments. I am glad you have found this helpful. If you search Minecraft on my website, you should get all of our posts about using it in class and even some guest posts from other teachers I have worked with. When it comes to ‘construction times’, students had to ‘earn’ them. Our classes were heavily focused on oral communication. We would work on scaffolding the language through a variety of activities where they could practice using the language concepts in context. I would set up centres for something like this, so students would have the opportunity to practice a similar concept in a variety of different settings. This allowed me to circulate and observe students as they worked, I could meet with small groups or even one-on-one with students. We would do a few minutes of whole class activities as well, in order for me to be able to check in as we went. As long as students were participating appropriately, they earned ‘construction time’ after. Generally we were 20-20 minutes or 30 minutes working, 10 minutes building, depending on the class. I hope that helps. Feel free to email me with any other questions. And check out our website for other ideas around how else we used Minecraft with our students. 🙂

  2. Carolyn Sorial

    Hello Maria!

    Thank you for sharing Morgan’s thoughts and reflections on the Minecraft Core French oral project. It was great reading about fun and interactive activities that incorporate oral French production and those that students enjoy doing enough that they cheer when their French teacher walks into the room!

    I did have a question about the concept of ‘mastering the language needed’ before students could begin the Minecraft building aspect of this project. How was ‘mastered’ assessed in the classroom in order for students to begin the next phase? I’m curious whether they had a written or oral test on the language required and needed a specific score or something like that in order to move on. Moreover, if a student hadn’t ‘mastered’ the language, were they unable to work on the Minecraft project or were they then grouped with another student.

    Furthermore, I really liked Morgan’s reflections on how she could improve the next time she does this project. Having random ‘check-ins’ with students is a great idea that keeps them accountable to their work. I’m wondering whether she had any other ideas for this? Perhaps if each student had a short goal for every class, they would feel more inclined to stay on task.

    Thank you so much for sharing this, it is quite useful for emerging FSL teachers that need new, refreshing, and engaging ideas!

    • Hi
      I will forward your thoughts on to Morgan to respond. I know that for me in the past, ‘mastering’ the language meant other language tasks throughout the classes. I would circulate and take observations of the oral practice activities (centres), we would complete tasks along the way that students would have to do to demonstrate their understanding of scaffolded language and then build on that. (I.e. record themselves talking about a picture, recording conversations between friends, etc.)sometimes they would have written tasks that supported these same scaffolded languages. The tasks were really to hold students accountable so they understood that the Minecraft time was not just ‘play time’. that they would be required to talk in the target language about what they built. For me, they didn’t need to ‘master’ the language, as much as I needed to see progress was being made and that students were making an effort. Students who refused to participate appropriately during practice activities and activities that would enhance their language aquisition, would be provided alternative activities to complete that continued to work towards the learning goals. Students had to earn their Minecraft time as it was a privilege to be using it in class.

      As for the ‘check-ins’ I really like your idea of having students set their own goals! What a great way for students to take ownership of their own learning. Thanks very much for your comments!! It is greatly appreciated and I am glad you have found these useful.

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