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Role Playing Games in Teaching English – Introduction

My wife had been a teacher long before I ventured into the profession. I had, however, been an avid TTRPG (Tabletop Role Playing Game) player and runner. As I fell deeper down the rabbit hole of teaching English as a native speaker, the similarities between the two lives began to pop up more frequently. In this article, I’d like to share with you a glimpse of preparing and running a TTRPG. Perhaps you will find the process interesting from a teaching perspective.

First of all, what is a TTRPG? Well, it is a shared fictional scenario where a group of players portray characters and try to achieve a goal. Players describe their approach to the problem using their characters’ skills. The GM (Game Master) is a special player who determines how difficult it will be to achieve a positive outcome. For example, Jessica wants to jump over a large pit full of spikes. Unfortunately, she injured her leg earlier so the GM sets difficulty higher than normal. Players then roll dice to determine the outcome. There is a lot more to it but this is the basic gist.

As a GM you need to prepare a session for your players ahead of time. You need to provide the story, characters, setting and challenges they will face. It needs to be not so easy that it will bore them but not too hard that they will get frustrated and give up. Those of you who are teachers reading this may start to guess where I am going! You must also know your players. What are they looking for in the session? What is fun to them? What frustrates them? As GM, it is your responsibility to run a good game.

Preparing the session involves going on the internet, reading the rule books or books on the setting. On average about three hours of preparation goes into one hour of play. You’ll need to think about every aspect of what your players will encounter. Planning for when they go “against the script” is essential. What if you prepare for them a scene where a mother pleads for them to rescue her child…but they say no? Being flexible and applying forward planning is paramount.

So then the big day comes. You have snacks and everyone is gathered at the table. Now you have to run the game. All of your planning, while useful, has now become secondary to the players having fun and reaching their goal. You will push them out of their comfort zone, encourage them, help them without the players realising what you are doing. When your one to three hours are up, everybody (including you) should leave the table with a myriad of amazing stories and a feeling of achievement.

And there was me, starting out in teaching and realising that I had already been preparing many of the skills required to succeed in the field. The teachers among you will immediately recognise the parallels between running a TTRPG and prepping and running a class. Then I started to wonder. Did this run even deeper? Could I use a TTRPG to help improve my students conversational English, vocabulary, confidence, pronunciation and (the holy grail of the classroom) fun?

The short answer was yes, but the details will have to wait for the next article.

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