Location: Connected Classroom
Skills Focus: Building a farm
Language focus: Animals, crops, colours, numbers, prepositions of place etc
Farmville may be old news and the 80 million player mark long surpassed in 2010 (posted in Joystiq Feb 20th 2010) but this didn’t stop my two classes of 7-8 year olds and another class of 9-10 year olds playing, learning and using English and moving on from ‘Old McDonald had a farm’ to ‘Mum, Dad – I’ve got a farm in my English class’.
What is Farmville?
For those of you not familiar with Farmville, it’s a farming simulation social network game which has proved to be one of Facebook’s most popular games. You start off with an empty farm which you can expand on as you earn in-game money and experience points (XP). With the farmville money you can buy things and with XP you level up as well as earn money the better you do. How do you earn farmville money and gain XP? Basically, you grow and harvest crops, animals and trees and earn money. As you plant and harvest and complete tasks (e.g. Harvest something 100 times) you gain XP. Gain enough XP you level up and get a farmville dollar. Farmville coins are the basic most common easiest to obtain tender while farmville dollars difficult to come by. A lot of your in-class discussions will revolve around how to get them and how and when to spend them.
How do you use this with a class of language learners?
Well, working with a class we co-operatively agreed on which crops to plant, animals to buy and then negotiated various other farm management issues. This included when I needed to go online to harvest crops and animals (especially if such actions took place between classes) and how to organise the layout of the farm. Young learners aged between 7 – 9 years responded very well to bringing Farmville in to the syllabus and from that age on interest begins to wane.
What makes Farmville appeal to Young Learners?
Many course books aimed at Young Learners tend to feature similar language areas. Animals, food, colours, numbers and transport are a staple. For me Farmville contained all of these and also allowed learners to be both creative and empowered inthat they could take control of the farm management system be it with me at the helm. That is, I asked and elicited what they wanted to do and I did it for them. In this way, communication became paramount and a conduit by which learners built their farm world.
Where’s the Language?
Let’s now look at how various elements of farmville harvested langauge within the classroom.
(*seeds & Trees)
Planting, harvesting, ploughing (*plowing) and harvesting crops are essential to the game. You can buy crops at the market and then plant them on your farm. There are several distinct categories of things you can buy at the market and then each of these categories are subdivided into several specific categories. For instance, by going to the market and clicking on seeds and trees you can buy seeds, trees, fruit *(fruits), vegetables, grains, flowers (*blooms). Each of the individual crops can be seen pictured, named and with important in-game information. Here’s a screen shot (left) of six items in the fruit category.
As you can see a Bell Pepper is yellow, takes 2 days (in real time) to harvest, you earn 198 farmville coins when harvested, you gain 2 XP and it costs 75 farmville coins to buy for each plot of land you plant the crop on. The stars underneath are earnt by harvesting an increasing number of crops over three levels.
What shall we buy? I think we should buy . . . + noun
How much/ How many? Numbers
How long does a/an . . . . take to grow? Hours/ days
When can I harvest it/them? Telling the time/ days of the week
What colour is a/an . . . ? Colours
Where shall I put it on the farm? Put it . . . + prepositions of place
Language to express opinions, disagree & disagreeing
Verbs – plant, harvest, plough, put, get/ buy, etc
Animals are also bought at the market in the same way as crops. The market also has a picture of each animal, it’s name, harvest time information, earnings and XP. Here’s a screen shot(right) of six farm yard animals in the fruit animal.
See language section in ‘crops’ above. Also:
What sound does a . . . make? It goes . . .
What does a/ an . . . eat? It eats . . .
What do you call a baby . . . ?
Where does a/ an . . . live? Nationalities (see screenshot above), places & locations.
There are other things you can buy at the market such as decorations, farm aides and clothes for your avatar but to start with it’s best to stick to crops and animals and introduce other aspects of the game as you discover them either on your own or with the class.
How did we play and learn in Farmville?
I found that with me as the farm hand and my learners as the farm management I simply had to ask where I put things, why I should put them (if I thought learners should be capable of answering) and when I should collect them. If collecting or harvesting took place outside of classroom time i.e. In my time then I made learners calculate when I would have to do work on the farm (time and day) and if there was anything I should then do (plant more crops). I kept a record of this in a little note book which either I wrote down (dictated by my learners) or got them to write down (because I was busy dealing with other learner/ farm related issues). If learner’s forgot to tell me to harvest something I left it because a star appears above crops/ animals that are ready to be harvested. This is very visual so next class we could discuss why the work hadn’t been done. My answers would be “You didn’t tell me to”, or “Oh, sorry! I forgot”. Language my learners acquired and would throw back in my face at opportune moments:
Me: “Why aren’t you sitting down, Pedro?”
Pedro: “You didn’t tell me to.”
Me: Well I’m telling you now. Sit down!”
Me: “Marta, why didn’t you bring your work book today?”
Marta: “Oh, sorry! I forgot”.
Me: “Well don’t forget next time. Write it down so you remember.”
Usually the context, peer translation or sufficient use of tone, mime or gesture got the meaning across.
Trouble at Mill?
Once you begin to get the hang of farmville and have expanded beyond your humble beginnings you can begin to add buildings and decorations. Placing buildings on your farm can be particularly useful. Not only do they allow you to ‘tidy up’ and place animals inside them or store decorations but they also provide landmarks by which learners can describe where to place new items. Some of these buildings produce items you may need more of. For instance, there is a mill complete with water wheel which when built can be harvested for water buckets which in turn you need to grow the freebie tree saplings you get. Which in turn brings us to a point – buy a building and you need to collect the materials to build it. This can be a long and lengthy process so be prepared to take a long time over them. Learners may experience a little frustration over the time it takes to build them. You can of course pay real world money to upgrade your account, get farmville dollars and buy your building materials in bulk but that’s up to you. I don’t.
What were the highlights?
I liked using Farmville because I felt that learners use and understanding of English had begun to evolve and develop away from the purely functional and in-game, but this is all for the good, isn’t it? There were moments we even pushed on and into the realms of the conditionals:
Me: “If we (just) finish this page and that page in the book we can visit the farm”.
With a little presentation and practice learners (L) were replying with the 0 conditional:
L: “If we (just) do this page can we visit the farm?”
Moving on to the first conditional:
L: “If we visit the farm, we’ll do this page after.”
Me: “No! We do the book first and then we’ll visit the farm.”
I have to point out that course books do not attempt to teach learners this young or of this level any of the conditionals but in this environment and context they took to it like ducks to water. Also, I found that my learners range of language didn’t just extend to conditionals. Modals of obligation covered some of the girls belief that ‘We have to put a pond for the ducks’ and for a small contingent of the boys that ‘we should put a crocodile with the sheep’.
Interestingly learners would usually get quite involved in negotiating and trying to ‘bend’ the rules a little. This I thought was great and produced the moments of fun for all. For me, as long as English is being produced they could argue until the cows came home – or at least until they needed harvesting (harvesting cows does sound a little ominous – Zynga take note). You have to remember though that at the end of the day the class needs to do CLASS work. No work means no play. But then the play was actually work as well – they just didn’t realise it.
*In-game names. Farmville labels some noun groups with names you may wish to change to what you feel is a more appropriate word.