By Mel Thompson
Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) was created by Gary Gygax (1974), out of his passion as a child of playing war-games and battleship. D&D is a fantasy tabletop role-playing game where participants play in a world created by the Dungeon Master (DM) or Game Master (GM). The players design their own characters by choosing the stats themselves, for example: height, weight, gender, job, weapon, clothes, etc. Once the characters are established the DM creates the story or background for the players and details what quest they embark on. Quests could be: investigate a robbery, defeat a dragon, etc. The DM and the players will roll the dice to decide how certain events will unfold in the story until the quest is completed. This is a brief summary of how D&D is played.
For my students (ages 4-8), D&D is a great game to play as it involves learning English through playing. I control the dialogue, scenarios, and story, while the students decide their characters` fate. This gives me great control without them realizing that English is being learned to play. The imagination is the limit with D&D, as long as you can make the encounters and story fun for children with a chance to fight monsters, win treasure, and save the day as a hero they will be enthusiastic to play while using English. Examples of my encounters to get my students to use certain speech or grammar such as verbs include the following prompts: do they “run at the goblin?”, “fight the goblin?”, or “wait for him?”
- D20 Dice for Instructor and students
- Whiteboard with Markers
- Draw out a map, monsters, and squares
- Prep time: 3 minutes
- To scale down D&D for the EFL classroom, the materials and rules need to be tailored depending on the age and level of your students.
Example D&D Game:
For my youngest students 4 to 8 years old, it begins they are a band of friends looking to find treasure, in a cave, where an “evil” troll lives. If they can make it to the end and defeat the troll they win the treasure, which in real life I give them a sticker, which they love.
To help them visualize this with English words, drawn on the whiteboard is the game board (around 20 to 30 squares), with spaces labeled: traps, monster, riddle, fool the monster, and are you…?, At the end of the tunnel (or last square) is a typical Japanese “Oni’ picture next to a chest of gold, which you tell the children is the troll/monster. The children`s characters can either be designed on magnets or drawn on the board. You teach them the words needed to play the game such as treasure, monster, cave, numbers, and etc.
D&D can be broken down to its simplest form the D20 system, in which the D20 (20 sided polyhedral dice) dice is used. To play, the DM rolls the D20 first. The students then roll, if they can get a higher number than the DM, they can advance together as a team. The children call out what number they roll to see if they rolled higher, which gets them to practice numeracy. An example would be if the DM rolls a 15, the students have to roll a 16 or higher to advance on the squares. If 3 students beat a 15, they get to move three squares through the cave. If one student beats the DM’s roll of 15, they move once space. If no student can beat the DM’s roll they move back one space. The rules don’t need to be explicitly explained, they will figure it out by playing and watching.
The squares that were used in this game are labeled below:
When they encounter the trap square, a trap is activated; everyone must act together to escape the trap. For this all the students perform Total Physical Response (TPR) such as swim, run, jump, hop, fly, skip, walk, jog, etc. to evade the trap. Have fun and over exaggerate the trap and tell them they have to escape. They excitedly perform the list of TPR, you say in order to evade the trap and continue the story.
This encounter is taken from the many folktales of the hero who answers a riddle to get past a monster, gate, or bridge. For your students’ level, adjust to what they can handle or what you have already taught them. An example, “It’s white and black, what animal is it?” They will respond with panda, penguin, or zebra. You congratulate them on passing the challenge and ask all the students in turn. The next could be, “It’s big and brown, what it is?” Answer is bear. This goes on until everyone has a turn and once everyone succeeds they can move on to the next square.
With this encounter the children see a glimpse of a monster and must scare it away by doing TPR actions such as yell, shout, clap your hands, stamp your feet, etc. You act as the monster. When the students have performed the actions (loud enough) you act as the monster running away. They feel they are stronger than the monster and revel in being the one to scare the monster away. After this they can move to the next square.
Fool the Monster
In this encounter the students come across a monster and he asks them questions about themselves but they must not answer correctly. This can be used in a variety of ways, what’s your name, how old are you, where are you from etc. They must come up with false answers such as “My name is Hanako, I am 33 years old, I am from China” and so on. It is fun to play and they relish in being able to fool the monster. Once every student has had a turn they get to move to the next square.
During this encounter the students come across an old monster, who can barely see and he ask them questions of “Are you….?” The first couple of questions should be created to ensure students` answer `no`, for example “Are you a panda?”, “Are you sleepy?” “Are you a girl/boy”, “Are you twenty years old?” They practice saying, “Yes I am” and “No I’m not.” They like the definite no answers as you pretend to be a blind old monster and when they all get a turn to answer `yes` they move on to the next square.
When the children get to the last square they must fight the evil troll, which turns out to be you the teacher! The young students will gasp in surprise that it was you the entire time. To defeat you they must roll a high number on the D20 dice, for example over 17. When a student rolls over the set high number, they must battle through `Rock, Paper, and Scissors` to see if they can attack the monster. This is a great way to battle and the children’s imagination will fill in the rest of the fight. If the `monster sensei` loses three battles of Rock, Paper, Scissors the battle is over and the monster sensei gives away his valuable treasure of stickers. Each student is allowed to choose one sticker. This gives them an incentive to want to play again in the future as it makes them feel that they won something special.
This is a template of the English used in D&D for my students; you can adapt the English or grammar to fit your kids or the lesson’s needs. Feel free to try new encounters and ways of getting the students to engage in English with this game.
As the instructor/DM, you can set or change the rules to help the students to progress while keeping the rules understandable to their respective levels of English. There are many benefits of D&D. You can make a continuous story with your students when you play. This is great as it will keep their interest and feel they are progressing through a story, which they are getting to make choices. For you as the instructor you get to craft a story that gets them to use the English you want them to practice. Dungeons and Dragons has given my students a wonderful way to play and use English instead of drills. It’s a great device to get them to practice English, while they are focused on playing a game.
Mel Thompson has been teaching in Japan since 2011, after teaching children in Gunma for 2 years earned a Diploma in Montessori Education and TESOL Certification for Children. He currently teaches children from ages 3 to 15 years old. He enjoys the Montessori philosophy of teaching children to learn through exploration and playing games. His interest include having fun, and finding ways of teaching children English outside the box.