Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Funding and unit 2: The narrative

The Office of Research and Development here at the university came through this week with news about a grant I had applied for in early March. The proposal outlined a plan for a new ESL course to be designed using Minecraft as a medium for instruction. The news is that the grant has been approved. The school is now funding the curriculum! Up until now I have been using supplementary materials to teach the course as a substitute for the Minecraft curriculum that is being described on the blog here. Needless to say, I'm quite excited that official support is being given, and that the students can begin to play.

In the rest of this post I'd like to share information about the second unit of the curriculum. As I may have mentioned in a previous post, each unit in the four-unit curriculum contains both a writing and a content/topic focus. The writing focus for Unit 2 is the narrative, and the topic focus is survival. The unit is structured with survival in mind, because I have read numerous testimony from other instructors who have had success with 'survival island' type scenarios.

The unit begins with a look at an adapted version of Robinson Crusoe. The language in the text has been modernized to fit the current age, so issues of authenticity aren't as great a concern here. Plus, the text is available in the public domain, which makes it easy to obtain and use. After some vocabulary and reading comprehension exercises, as well as a brief lesson on gerunds and infinitives (which Crusoe uses quite frequently), students are thrust into the world of The Island.

Students spawn on a wrecked ship and begin the process of gathering supplies and making it ashore, hopefully to find solace before night falls. Again, as with the construction project during Unit 1 (see first post, March), students are asked periodically to stop and write or orally express what they are doing at that moment. The idea is to provide them with opportunities to practice using gerunds as subjects and objects of sentences, as well as the present continuous tense. There are many activities that each of the twelve students could be participating in at any moment: fishing, mining, exploring, mapping, repairing a structure, building, gathering, fighting, etc. One of the handy classroom management tools embedded in the MinecraftEdu mod is the ability to freeze students' computers. Every ten minutes or so during the initial exploration period the instructor will freeze students computers and ask them (the students, not the computers) to explain the activity they are engaged in. A list of twenty or so suggested activities are provided for students, to give them suggestions and get them started on their work. For example, students may be asked to "find a shelter for the night," "repair the old lighthouse," "reinforce the unstable mine," or "hunt for meat for the group." Next to each is a check box. Students can check off activities as they are completed. Each one is intended to provide some structure to the overall activity, though students are certainly free to pursue their own quests.

At the end of each day each student is required to write a 1-2 paragraph journal entry about one or several facets of the day's events. This entry is modeled after the readings in the unit. Topics may include interactions with classmates, things that they discovered, what they learned about the society on The Island (there is some back story involved in the unit, to help create a sense of place), the process by which they completed activities, what they did during the night, and others. As they work on these journals they will be asked to make connections between their personal experience on the island and what they have read about survival from the readings. In addition, they will be asked to use the grammar discussed during the unit, in this case, gerunds and infinitives.

It is probably worth mentioning once more at this point that each activity in the book is clearly printed in labeled in the workbook for the course. The virtual world component of this course is carefully constructed to run parallel to readings and activities in this workbook. Sometimes the students work exclusively in the book, while other times they are focused on the game world. Often they work with both simultaneously.

The second reading in the unit is an (adapted) excerpt from the Swiss Family Robinson. Again, this text has made its way into the public domain, and is now available for use by the rest of us. The focus of their work on this text is infinitives. At this point they have spent two or three class periods working on The Island within Minecraft. They begin working with the language of compare and contrast, talking about what The Island looked like at the beginning of their arrival, and then are asked to describe its current state. Again, as they work with this language in-class they are asked to demonstrate their understanding by reproducing it in short journal entries. At the end of the unit they will have written three or four journal entries. The culminating piece of writing is a five paragraph narrative that tells a story about their experience on The Island. Aspects of writing that they are asked to include in their final essay are meant to draw from language learned in both Unit 1 and Unit 2. This includes topic sentences, supporting details, infinitives, gerunds, compare/contrast vocabulary, both the active and passive voice, and expressions of time. The essay will be submitted at the beginning of the first class of Unit 3: The descriptive essay. I'll return with my own description of this unit, as well as an account of how the topic focus, architecture and interior design, is integrated into the curriculum.

As always, thanks for reading. Feedback welcome.



  1. It’s really a nice and helpful piece of information. I’m happy that you simply shared this useful info with us. Please stay us up to date like this. Thanks for sharing.
    Buy Assignment

  2. I think that you have taken this matter far too seriously and you need to consider other ways of looking at it. Actually I am writing my UK Assignments and getting important points from different blogs and forums and This is my pleasure to being here on this blog..

  3. Nice post... I am searching about term paper on different blogs.

  4. Very nice and very well written post. You have different views and opinions. i m working on my essay, and i will learn a lot from your post. i was searching for some essay writing services for some points.Your post well be very helpful for me thanks you.

  5. Your post is informative and your blog is amazing.
    Cheap Writing