An extremely useful and engaging resource for teaching and learning about digital literacy, ICT, and language, is the interactive multimodal fiction series Inanimate Alice. Some have declared that, “there is nothing else like it on the net,” and I tend to agree.
The main Inanimate Alice website <www.inanimatealice.com> allows students to interact with each of the multimodal episodes where user interaction is required to advance each story. The website also contains:
- A gallery of student and teacher created content, which students are encouraged to contribute to.
- A series of interactive travel journals which follow Alice, aged 18, during her gap year in Indonesia and Japan. The journals contain a mix of audio, visuals, films and interactive word games.
- Links to associated sites where students can download templates, images and sound effects in order to create their own Alice adventures, for example: http://www.inanimatealice.edu.au/assets.html
- A link to the development blog for the latest Alice episode so that students can provide input and ask questions.
Most educators are extremely familiar with the teaching and learning goals of language and ICT. However, many are not as confident when it comes to the idea of ‘digital literacy’. Digital literacy does not replace traditional forms of literacy, “it builds upon the foundation of traditional forms of literacy”. It is much more than just the combination of the terms, digital and literacy. A digitally literate person possess a range of digital skills, they have the ability to engage in online communities and social networks, they possess critical thinking skills, and perhaps most important of all, they are able to find, capture, evaluate, and interpret information. To follow is a short practical guide for how to use Inanimate Alice in an EFL or ESL context.
Some important things to keep in mind before teaching with Inanimate Alice include:
- Most episodes have been translated into Japanese, Indonesia, Italian, Spanish, French, and German. These translations are easily accessed and give teachers and students the opportunity to move between the student’s first language and the one which is being learnt.
- There is plenty of support for teachers that wish to use Inanimate Alice which includes a Facebook page, various classroom blogs, various teachers’ wiki sites, and educator packs which are available from the official Inanimate Alice website. Examples of these links include: Facebook, university sites (here, and here), ICT and educational reviews, and school blogs.
- There are currently five episodes completed, with a sixth in production, and a plan to make a further four. The episodes span Alice’s life from the age of eight through to her early twenties. The stories become more complex and more interactive as the episodes progress.
- There are many approaches that can be taken with this resource, which include: literature and narrative study, developing English language skills, development of reading skills, creative writing, group discussion and collaboration, digital literacy, social studies, and personal development.
One approach that I have employed is to use Alice as a way of introducing students to digital literacy, while at the same time developing their English language skills, reading skills and discussion skills. Whenever possible, I try to use a class blog or wiki as the means by which students complete work during a teaching sequence involving Alice. My teaching sequence usually follows the following plan, with each session being between one to five lessons long.
Session 1: Introduce the print version of Inanimate Alice.
- Discuss the title of the story – Inanimate Alice. What does the title mean? Do students recognize any words, or parts of words? What information can we obtain from the dictionary? What do we think the story will be about?
- Read one-third of the print version as a whole class. Have the students generate questions and ideas (T-chart) about the story as each part is read. Model questions and ideas as necessary (think aloud).
- Have students read the remaining two-thirds of the story in groups and allow them to discuss and share their ideas. Groups are asked to write down three important questions and three important ideas from the remaining two-thirds and post these on the class blog.
- Reflect on the work produced. Discuss inference and ‘reading between the lines’.
Session 2: Introduce the digital version of Inanimate Alice.
- Watch Episode 1 of Inanimate Alice using a Smartboard or data projector with the whole. I generally prefer to watch it first with no sound, and then a second time with sound. This enables me to discuss the different elements, and how the visuals and audio add/create different ideas and feelings.
- As a whole class compare and contrast the print version and the digital version.(T-chart, or through blog entries)
- Have students reflect on the various strategies they used to make sense of the two different versions.
From here, depending on how much time I have, I usually continue with sessions such as; Session 3: Narratives and the structure of stories, Session 4: Inference and reading between the lines, Session 5: Creative writing and writing an episode of Inanimate Alice, and Session 6: Making our episode digital. For ideas about how to expand these latter sessions, or for other approaches to Alice, I would strongly suggest looking at the two educator packs that are available for Inanimate Alice: Pack 1and Pack 2 These packs will aid you if you seek to use Inanimate Alice to teach digital literacy, character development, making connections, building schema, to teach critical thinking and evaluation.
The first pack contains resources and lesson plans, focusing on the development of digital literacy. There are four lesson plans in this resource, addressing:
- Connections between story and medium
- Linking narration and autobiography with sound effects and music
- Multimodality and autobiography
- Character development and progression
Each of these plans is supported by a number of ready-to-use student resources.
The second pack contains a additional four lesson plans supported by ready-to-use student resources. These cover:
- Exploring character development and paragraph structure
- Appreciating difference; cultural differences, oral stories and podcasting
- Adolescent and young adult issues, for example: peer pressure, friends and school
- Life skills; focus on transportation
I strongly recommend that you and your students take the time to interact with Inanimate Alice by visiting