I teach Core French to junior and intermediate students in southern Ontario. I am always looking for new and innovative ways to get my students communicating in and learning a second language. So when I heard about how people were using Minecraft as a teaching tool, I had to start investigating it further.
A year a half ago was the first time I used it with my students. The project was co-created with my students and was one reading and writing task out of a whole unit that focused on students being able to give and understand directions in French. With the success I saw, I shared the project here on my blog and with other teachers in my board. One teacher in particular, Jaclyn Myers (@mmejmyers) took to Minecraft immediately. Her students immediately implemented the maze activity. She saw such success with the project she challenged her students to brainstorm other ways they could use Minecraft in class to align with something they had already learned in French or that they wanted to learn about.
They had been learning how to talk about their families in French, so her students came up with the idea of building houses in Minecraft. Students built houses, spawned characters to represent the different people in their family and their pets and at the end had to present the rooms in their houses and where people were in the house. Throughout the building process, Jaclyn would circulate and ask questions to students. For example: ‘Où est ta mère?’ and ‘Il y a combien de salles de bains dans ta maison?’. Again, with this project she saw a lot of success.
This was the inspiration for the project I started this year with my students when I returned from maternity leave. Throughout the past year Jaclyn and I have been getting together in the evenings to plan out other ways we could use Minecraft in our second language classrooms. Having another person who is as passionate about finding ways to redefine the Core French classroom as I am has been truly exciting and motivating!
After hearing about her Family & Housing Project, I got thinking about how I could relate this to something that I traditionally teach my students. I struggled with the idea of them giving house tours, just to give house tours, as I wanted their experience to still be authentic.
A big part of learning a second language (which is reflected clearly in the new Ontario FSL Curriculum), is student awareness and appreciation for different cultures.
This idea became the basis for the project.
We want students to learn about dwellings from different Francophone Countries. We will research houses from these different countries. Students will replicate a typical home in Minecraft and then give a tour to the rest of the class, teaching their peers about the dwelling, the different rooms, what it is made of, etc. In the end, we will look at the differences between dwellings in these different countries and those in Canada.
Building Background Knowledge & Language Skills
In order for students to be able to talk about houses confidently, I felt I needed to build their language competence around the necessary words & expressions. Students also require many opportunity in advance to practice these structures in context, in order to build this competence. I wanted students to have the opportunity for giving a tour of a house before the final cultural example, therefore while building this competence, I had students recreating their own home in Minecraft. What did this look like??
Essentially, I began by introducing different the rooms in a house along with expressions such as “voici”, “il y a”, and “La maison a….”. During every class, the first 20 minutes were focused on using these language structures in context (for example, using picture prompts to get kids talking), while the second 20 minutes were devoted to building their actual home.
While students built, we started introducing “All French Time” at small and manageable increments. This was something Jaclyn has done with her class since the beginning of the year, and was a learning experience for me. She recommended starting the time for 1-2 minutes at first. We created an anchor chart that the students could reference to get through the first few minutes, and added to this list as we found a need for different words and expressions while playing Minecraft. Students were also required to change the language settings to French, so different materials appeared in the target language. In the month that I was back, most classes reached 11 (out of 20 minutes) of all French time successfully. In the future when I do this again, I will spend more time getting kids talking while interacting in and throughout Minecraft time.
After students were able to successfully identify different rooms in a house, I quickly introduced how to properly identify whose room is whose in French. Our oral activities then incorporated this, as well as the structures mentioned above.
Finally, during our 20 minutes of spoken activity, I introduced prepositions so students would be able to talk about where rooms were located within their house. Again, I incorporated this into activities and tasks that would reinforce the language structures in context so students were required to manipulate the words and expressions in a variety of different ways. I was also trying to build their competence related to spontaneous talk.
One of the downfalls that I encountered, was that since I have only been back to work for 4 weeks, I have not been able to give the type of feedback and refine their spoken skills in the way that I typically would. These time restraints have caused me to rush things a bit, which I definitely will not do in the future.
One thing I did throughout the progression of their builds was join my students worlds. I have to admit, the first time I joined, it was because I was curious as to the progress being made on their houses. It was not until I joined that I saw the true advantages of joining their worlds. I started using the Chat Box feature in Minecraft to ask students questions about their house, what they were working on, where things were located. Essentially, to reinforce the same language concepts that we had been working on orally in class. What an authentic way for these students to communicate about what they were building, in the target language!
A2. Listening to Interact: interpret messages accurately while interacting in French for a variety of purposes and with diverse audiences
- via daily conversation with Teacher during class
- via conversations with peers while building in Minecraft
- via oral activities during first 20 minutes of class
A3. Intercultural Understanding: demonstrate an understanding of information in oral French texts about aspects of culture in diverse French-speaking communities and other communities around the world
- to be met when students research the dwellings of different Francophone countries – watching videos or listening to audio texts with the information
- also to be met when students build and share their findings with their peers – they will be listening to one another’s video presentations in French
B1. Speaking to Communicate: communicate information and ideas orally in French, using a variety of speaking strategies and age- and grade-appropriate language suited to the purpose and audience
- giving a tour of their home orally
- sharing information about the home or dwelling from another Francophone country
B2. Speaking to Interact: participate in spoken interactions in French for a variety of purposes and with diverse audiences
- daily conversation with teacher during building time (about resources used, what rooms they are working on, where things are located)
- daily conversation with peers during building time (asking and answering questions about one another’s work)
B3. Intercultural Understanding: in their spoken communications, demonstrate an awareness of aspects of culture in diverse French-speaking communities and other communities around the world, and of the appropriate use of French sociolinguistic conventions in a variety of situations
- present information about the dwellings from another country in French (talking about similiarities and differences to Canada)
D1. Purpose, Audience, and Form: write French texts for different purposes and audiences, using a variety of forms
- have a written conversation in the chat box with teacher (answering questions based on work, talk about rooms and where they are located)
As the end of the year quickly approaches (and classes have been out on field trips) I have tried to gather some examples of the students house tours before we progress to the cultural piece.
Technical Issues & Solutions
We use Minecraft Pocket Edition. Having access to a class set of computers is just not a possibility, therefore there is no way for me to use Minecraft Education Verison with my students. While Pocket Edition definitely has limitations in comparison, we make do with what we have. Here are a couple of technical issues that we ran into, and how we solved the issues.
- Students love using Minecraft, which definitely improved student participation and engagement in my FSL class. However, due to this, students would drag out building for as long as they could if they were allowed to. Solution: As a result of this, I would do is set a specific time restraint on how long they had to build this house (i.e. 2 hours broken up over 6 classes). If it means that they need to scale down the size of their house in Minecraft, then so be it, but in my opinion, the technology (just like if they were building a diorama) can’t outweigh the language task.
- Students were joining one another’s worlds and destroying things. Our solution: turn off multiplayer.
- Games are saved to a specific device when using Pocket Edition. Sometimes students just grabbed a device and started playing. Solution: if your devices aren’t numbered, number them. Then denote a certain device to a certain student.
- There aren’t enough devices for each student to have their own. Solution: Run spoken activities throughout class as centers. If you set up four centers (one of which is Minecraft building), students will be working on their language structures while still having the opportunity to build.
Students are finally finishing up their houses and their tours. I asked students to explore Google Maps, Street View and pictures from housing from Chatham and Toronto. I want them to explore the similarities and differences between the dwellings in urban and rural areas. I then want them to come up with some different questions that they are left wondering after looking at and discussing these things. From there, we will begin to research the different dwellings in different Francophone countries. While we have not started this part yet, I anxiously await to see the results that come from it if we don’t run out of time before the end of the year. I am trying to streamline some of the information I give the students, to help cut down in the amount of time it will take to do the actual research online. I am excited to see how they will then take what they learned and share this through Minecraft with their peers en français. I knew this was going to be an aggressive goal in the short time I had before the end of the year, but here’s to trying! 🙂 If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact me.
“In addition to strengthening students’ ability to communicate, learning another language develops their awareness of how language and culture interconnect, helping them appreciate and respect the diversity of Canadian and global societies. When a student is exposed to another culture through its language, he or she begins to understand the role that language plays in making connections with others. Learning an additional language not only challenges a mind, it also teaches understanding, encourages patience, and fosters open-mindedness.” – Ontario FSL Curriculum Page 7