Virtual boost for literacy skills

25th April 2008 at 01:00
Fantasy adventure puzzle helps to raise primary pupils' game - especially reluctant boy writers

Fantasy adventure puzzle helps to raise primary pupils' game - especially reluctant boy writers

A fantasy adventure computer game - billed as "the perfect place to plan revenge" - is helping primary pupils to improve their literacy, particularly boys who are reluctant writers.

Aloyise Mulligan, a P67 teacher at Elrick Primary in Westhill, Aberdeenshire, described the benefits of using Myst III Exile as "motivational and inspirational".

"It engages the children and the reluctant writers, of whom we have many - especially boys," she said. "With boys aged 11, there is research that shows they go off reading."

Ms Mulligan's pupils had become so engaged with the game that they were writing without any pressure, she said. "Also, there's a collaborative feeling in the class. They all jump in with phrases and words and pick up from each other."

Three of her pupils presented a seminar at a conference on embracing new technologies for learning, held at Meldrum Academy and organised by Aberdeenshire's e-learning development group. They wanted to illustrate how their writing had improved after taking part in the pilot project.

Myst III Exile is a fantasy puzzle game that immerses players in colourful virtual reality landscapes which they can explore with 360-degree vision.

Jenna Rivett, in P7, explained: "Myst is a fantasy and strategy game and you are the character in the game - or, in the gaming world, an avatar. The purpose of the game is to catch Saavedro, the baddie."

The pupils have been playing the game as a class over the past year, exploring the landscapes and characters and using it to inspire creativity through drawing, writing and discussion.

Leanne Walker, a P6 pupil, said the game had great graphics that encourage children's art. "It also has great scenery which children can write about and get some outstanding words," she said.

The pupils showed "before and after" samples of their writing, demonstrating how their style and imagination had developed through working with the game in class.

More recent stories are more inventive and animated, with a more sophisticated grasp of narrative.

"We have a better vocabulary and we can make more paragraphs," said Josh Law, a P7 pupil. "Before, I used to write about a paragraph. Now I can write about a page."

Tim Rylands, an educational consultant and award-winning primary teacher, showed how he had used the game with classes to improve writing, which had a significant impact on literacy attainment. But he said children also acquired better speaking and listening skills and more confidence.

"Even the most reluctant writers don't seem to be able to stop," he said. "But, above all, it's a good laugh. We do what we call verbal jazz, making it up as we walk through the landscape. Somebody has hold of the mouse and somebody else has a go."

Mr Rylands said the game had other applications apart from developing writing skills. "We use it for music, art, science, problem-solving, group initiatives - it's across the curriculum really," he said.

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