Tech for Teach

Story Dice: Easy and Endless Speaking and Writing Prompts for the EFL Classroom

At the 2015 JALT conference in Shizuoka last year, I attended a presentation that highlighted a variety of online and digital resources for EFL teachers. As a huge fan of teaching tools that are easy and effective to use, Thinkamingo’s Story Dice application for iPhone and Android ($1.99) caught my attention right away. I bought and downloaded the app during the presentation and quickly saw its potential for creating interesting and challenging prompts for speaking and writing in my classes. In fact, I shared it with the attendees of my later presentation in the few minutes before it started, resulting in a short but lively discussion about its possible uses.

Since then I have been exploring how to use the Story Dice app in my classes at Tokai University. In this article, I will give a brief overview of the app and some suggestions for use.

As can be seen from the image above, the white dice with black images appear on a brown, wood grain surface. With a touch of the screen, a new set of dice appear on the screen, accompanied by the sound of rolling dice. One nice touch is that the sound actually corresponds to the number of dice on the screen.

You can easily change the number of dice on the screen from one to ten, and with a selection of over 200 images, the combinations are almost endless.

For the iPhone app, touching the button in the upper right corner labeled “MORE” accesses the settings to change the number of dice that appear on the screen, turn off the sound, or deactivate the “Shake to roll” feature.

For the Android app, swipe left or right to do the same.

The following are some EFL writing and speaking activities that I have successfully conducted in my classes using the Story Dice app:

One die

  • Students create sentences that uses the image.
  • Students create sentences using the image, then share with partner.
  • In groups, each student creates a sentence to share. Group votes on best sentence. Winner writes sentence on blackboard

Two dice

  • Students create sentences that includes or connects two images.
  • Students explain what the two images have in common or how they are different.

Four dice

  • Students divide four images into two groups of two and explain their reasons for their groupings.

10 dice

  • Students create a story that uses all of the images. If the teacher uses a screenshot of 10 dice, an appropriate story can be written beforehand to use after students write their own stories. The teacher’s story can be projected onto a screen or dictated to the students to be written down.
  • Students write the first line of a story using one image.  Their papers are then passed to the next student who continues the story using a different image.  The process is continued for all 10 images. The papers are then returned to their original students, who read the stories to themselves, their partners, or in groups. Groups can vote on the best story.

If you have used the Story Dice app before and have some good ideas, or you can see other ways to use it in your EFL classes, please feel free to comment and share below!

Tech for Teach

A Very Merry Minecraft Christmas [with Grandma]

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My son has an infatuation with Minecraft and watching Minecraft videos on YouTube. Some may find it strange that a parent let their child spend so much time watching YouTube videos, but they have been an important supplemental source of authentic English for our children.

Trying to raise bilingual children in Japan is challenging, so we try and find authentic sources of English wherever we can. However, we are careful to make sure they are watching safe Youtube channels. A great Minecraft related channel for kids is Joseph Garrett‘s channel featuring an orange cat named Stampy.

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Minecraft is a sandbox game, meaning players have a lot of control over the environment. In Minecraft, players and can freely build structures and make up their own games. It provides a lot of room for creativity. Think Legos, but digital.

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The First Person View (FPV) aspect of Minecraft, inspired me to try and connect students telecollaboratively using Minecraft as a virtual classroom. I thought that at the very least, learners from different countries could collaboratively build structures using English as their lingua franca. In fact, I spent nearly 6 months in preparation to teach such a course using a modification to the software created for teachers called MinecraftEdu.

Not only does MinecraftEdu offer great LMS style features, there is also a thriving community of educators surrounding it who share the worlds they create. There are over 100 worlds free to use in the MinecraftEdu world library. There are also a number of great mods available through MinecraftEdu which add interesting features such as support for teaching computer programming (computercraftedu), and quantum physics (qcraft).

Unfortunately my university’s computer center refused to open what is commonly referred to as the Minecraft Port (port 25565) through their server firewall, listing some very generic “security” concerns. This sent my research to simmer indefinitely on the back burner.

Recently, however, I have been using a private server to host minecraft interaction between my 7-year-old son here in Japan, and his friends in the United States. Collaborating with other parents, we use Skype (video off) as our Voice over IP to engage our children in telecollaborative Minecraft play.

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My son also plays Minecraft with his grandmother in the United States. Yes, that’s right, I said grandmother! Another grandson (U.S. based) had already installed Minecraft on her computer at home, and so it wasn’t too difficult to set up an account so she could try it out. She is highly motivated to figure it out, so that she can interact with her grandchildren in Japan. As Christmas approached this year, and grandma was feeling particularly detached from her grandchildren, we organized a special 2-hour Minecraft play session.

My son is not the only one who can play. His 4-year-old sister also interacts with grandma using the keyboard and mouse to move her avatar through a virtual world. Here they are playing hide-and-seek.

As you can see in the video, they are using English to communicate. Playing Minecraft telecollaboratively has increased our children’s pool of English speaking play partners, helped them keep in touch with friends who have moved away, and even allowed them to spend time over the holidays with grandma.

unnamed The kids have a lot of fun keeping in touch with family overseas using Minecraft. It’s become so much a thing in our house that we plan on making some customized “skins” for our Minecraft avatars so that they better represent grandma and the grandkids during their digital play. My son is happy with a zombie avatar, but for grandma, we may need something special.

More Articles on Minecraft in Education

News

U.C. Berkeley MOOC: College Writing for Learners of English

edx3MOOC’s have become nearly an overnight phenomenon, from educational rock-stars like Salman Khan, to infinitely less impressive fee based courses brandishing suspiciously self-capitulating titles such as Learn How to Make Money Teaching Online as a Professor. However, in the midst of the money changers and philanthropists lies the mecca of all MOOCs–the MIT and Harvard co-founded edX.org.

With offerings from the worlds academic A-list, an exciting array of disciplines to choose from and certificates of achievement bearing the name of your alma mater, the edX community of MOOCs puts all others to shame–all for the low, low price of absolutely nothing. And now, through edX.org, learners of English can take a college level introductory writing course from U.C. Berkeley ESL instructor Dr. Maggie Sokolik.

I am currently auditing the course to get an insight into the process of such a MOOC, and to see what I can learn from Dr. Sokolik’s teaching methods.  One thing I have noticed so far, just looking at the learning community surrounding Dr. Sokolik’s course, is the use of the on-line discussion forum by English language learners from all over the globe. It is wonderful to see students from Kyrgyzstan to Amsterdam banding together as a community of on-line language learners. Could this be the future of education?

Dr. Sokolik’s course is 5 weeks long. Interested students can register with edX and try for a certificate bearing the Berkeley X insignia. If the certificate does not interest your students the course can simply be audited. EdX courses recycle and improve, so if you missed your window you can try again the next time the course recirculates. berkelyX