Game Smashing: Silly Shorts

Silly Shorts: Digital Version
Silly Shorts: Paper Version

Have you heard of app smashing? App smashing is when you use more than one app in order to accomplish a single purpose. According to the Edpuzzle blog, the term was first used in 2013, but I believe the concept has been around for much longer. I may not have been app smashing when I first started teaching (probably because I started teaching in the dark ages before everyone had a computer in their pocket), but I was certainly combining different tools in order to create a single educational experience. Today I’m coining my own term, game smashing, the use of more than one game in order to accomplish a single purpose.

Using elements of different games or activities to make a new one is nothing new, at least for me. My blog last week, Collective Noun Spoons, is a great example. I combined noun flashcards with the card game Spoons, to provide my students with the opportunity to practice singular, plural, and collective nouns. For this post, let’s leave the world of grammar and vocabulary behind and venture into another popular topic in the world of ESL: spontaneous speaking practice.

Everyone agrees students need to practice speaking more, and we try to give them as many opportunities as possible, but so often the speech produced lacks authenticity. It is either too planned/rehearsed, too formulaic, or just plain too read off of cards or game spaces. I want my students to practice speaking without being forced to use a particular grammatical structure (though this is need too, and we play a lot of games where they do have to use a specific grammatical structure) or a specific set of words. The problem is: what should they talk about? Anyone who’s ever lead a conversational group/class knows it’s not enough to simply sit down and expect the words to flow naturally. People need something to talk about, at least initially. I’ve also noticed that my students have the most authentic, and the most fluent, practice when they’re not focused solely on their speaking. If I can get their attention at least partially off of the speaking and onto something else, such as a game, they relax and produce much more natural and fluid language.

I tried using commercial games such as The Storybook Game and Silly Sentences, but none of them engaged my students the way I’d hoped. Some were too childish for my teenage and adult students, others didn’t allow for as much spontaneous language, and still others the students just plain hated. I was once again pondering this problem as I cleaned out (OK, rearranged, cleaned out implies I got rid of things) my teaching supplies. At the bottom of a box of things I’d forgotten about, I found my Story Cubes and Story Cubes Actions dice sets, things I’d once used to help students get ideas for their writing. I got to thinking these dice could also be used to generate speech, but simply rolling some dice and talking wasn’t enough to create the gamification that produced the best results for my students. The next shelf held the answer: several sets of classic children’s games, including Chutes and Ladders. My next thought was, “Why can’t I combine the Story Cubes with the board and dice from Chutes and Ladders to create a new game?” Thus, Silly Shorts was born.

Students roll the Story Cubes, speak, roll the number cube, and move along the Chutes and Ladders board, trying to be the first to the top. The game is perfect and can be easily adapted for any proficiency level. Lower proficiency students can use fewer story dice and share only a sentence or two. Advanced students can use more story dice and make use of the timer function on their phone to speak for 30-60 seconds. It’s simple to set up, uses things I already have, and produces a lot of relatively authentic speaking practice. The students have a lot of fun with it, and since they’re free to make up whatever stories they choose, there’s generally a lot of laughter and excited interjections from their classmates, meaning everyone gets practice–not just the person who’s turn it is.

Want to try playing this game with your students but don’t have all the pieces? No problem, when I reached a point where my class sizes were too big for the supplies I had, I made my own version of Silly Shorts. The pdf download includes a game board and two different options for getting the starting values (character, setting, object). Students can either roll dice (I suggest three different dice of different colors, one for each: character, setting, object) and check the reference cards, or you can use the included templates to print cd labels and build your own cd spinners (free building plans available). Students then use the designated character, setting, and object to form their sentence or story and, if successful, roll a number cube and move their piece.

Of course 2020 threw yet another curve ball at us and I had to take Silly Shorts digital. My husband wrote me a story “dice” script for Google Slides and now students can generate their character, setting, and object with just a couple of clicks. We have different ways of playing digital games (I explain them in this blog post, just scroll past the video), but since the goal of this game is speaking, we always take turns and use audio responses, not text.

Somehow I doubt the term game smashing is going to catch on, but that’s ok. I just love listening to my students as they practice their English and have fun doing it. Do you ever game smash in your classroom? If not, give it a try and see how it goes. Happy teaching, everyone!