By Matthew Ong, HOD(EL), St Andrew’s Junior School
Many students find it a challenge to remember new words and unfamiliar jargons. Now there’s a fun and effective way to help them learn new words through play.
Children possess a unique curiosity towards learning. From a young age, they are inquisitive about phenomena around them and seek to discover many things on their own. However, the ability to read may not always come naturally. It often has to be explicitly taught.
The challenge is in designing a learning environment whereby instruction, autonomy, curiosity, and joy in learning can flourish together. This was at the heart of the endeavour when a team of educators in St Andrew’s Junior School sought to design and implement The Revenge of the LetterPillar.
Through a series of lesson studies in 2017 and 2018, these teachers found that students lacked the necessary strategies to learn, retain, and subsequently use new vocabulary. Many teachers shared that they tended to rely on traditional modes of instructing students on how to memorise and use new words. This was echoed by the students whose modus operandi for learning new vocabulary involved writing and verbalising new words repeatedly.
The Revenge of the LetterPillar is an online word game that attempts to offer a different approach to learning the English language. New words are introduced in very short stories centred around LetterPillar, the main villain who wreaks havoc in the Alphaverse with his wicked cronies. As members of the Sigrieta, the secret word police protecting the Alphaverse, students will have to defeat the word fiends to restore order.
In the first mission, students will familiarise themselves with all the words that are introduced for that week. This involves visual, auditory, and tactile stimuli to help students understand new words. Thereafter, students will have to earn Letterdollars by playing various word games in Missions 2 and 3, and use these Letterdollars to purchase consonants and vowels that are required to capture LetterPillar and his word fiends. Every fiend has a story that introduces the character and the main language component the fiend has disrupted. After the fiends are caught by the Sigrieta, the correct form of the language component is restored.
During the actual gameplay, students were found to be highly engaged and excited by both individual and team leader boards which showed the number of fiends they had successfully nabbed and the trophies they had earned together.
Vocabulary forms an integral part not only in the learning of a language, but in the articulation of ideas and concepts across all subjects. The Revenge of the LetterPillar is designed in such a way that allows other departments to incorporate specific vocabulary into the game so that students can learn them in a fun and memorable way. The Malay and Science departments are already exploring ways to utilise the game. In time to come, LetterPillar might find his way to disrupt the Malay Language and Science worlds too!