Naturally, I immediately saw this as a great way to cut the costs of bringing games into the classroom. Furthermore, various incarnations of The Sims have always been a feature in my game-based lessons so in this post, I am going to quickly share some ideas for utilising this game in language classes.
Game: The Sims 2 (EA)
Available on: PC/MAC (free download via Origin until July 31st, 2014 though I'm sure it will be available somewhere on the web after that ;))
Official website: http://www.thesims.com/
Suitable for: young learners (supervised)* and adults (elementary and up)
Necessary materials: working version of the game, student access to the game for group/homework activities
There is little language in the game itself beyond the game interface with your 'Sims' speaking to each other in indistinguishable 'gibberish'. However, it offers many chances to create a context for language learning and, thanks to that lack of in-game language, that learning can be productive and student-generated.
*Before continuing, I should point out that there are some aspects of the game to be aware of if you are using it with young learners. There is the option for characters in a relationship to 'make whoopee' and they also may appear undressed albeit with pixels placed appropriately to prevent them being seen fully naked. The game is rated as suitable for 'young teens and up' but with adult supervision, it can be played and enjoyed by slightly younger children as well.
Here are some of the ways I and/or my students have brought The Sims into our classroom life over the years, usually by creating and taking screenshots of things at home and bringing them to school but many of these ideas could be replicated in-class as well should the opportunity arise:
At the start of the game, the player is invited to create an avatar. There are various options such as gender, hairstyle, facial features, age and so on. This creates great opportunities for describing people and asking questions about characters.
I have written posts about some of these activities before so rather than repeat myself, I'm sharing the links for you to check out.
Lesson Plan: Introduce your virtual self
Lesson Plan: Who (avat)are you?
Gaming Glossary: Avatar
- A Day in the Life
Sims in the game have a routine. They have jobs, the younger Sims have studies, they get hungry and need meals, they get bored and need entertainment, they get tired and need to relax. All of this makes for a great 'day in the life of...' activity. Students can write about their Sim's daily life and add some screenshots or they could even narrate a screencasted video.
Alternatively, they could share special moments in their Sims' lives such as birthdays, starting a new job, going on a date, or other life events. Compiling screenshots in a virtual photo album can be a great way to do this and practice some present simple/continuous contrast at the same time.
- My House
Most of the game revolves around The Sims being on their 'lot' where they build and furnish a home for themselves and their family. This provides a nice context for one of those staples of a language learning syllabus - home and furniture. I first came across the idea of using The Sims this way when a colleague of mine who is also a gamer used screenshots of a house he had made in the game to teach different rooms and basic furniture items to his 2nd Graders. They recognised the game and student engagement went through the roof!
As well as teaching vocab in this way, students could be asked to 'show and tell' their in-game home in the same way (less of an intrusion than asking them to show photos of their actual home but still highly personalised) or they could be asked to create a 'dream house' using the game. For more of a challenge, they could be given a set budget of in-game currency (items have to be 'bought' and then placed) to create their home and the results can then be compared in class.
- Family and Friends
Again, this is not an idea of mine but one that came from a student a few years ago. My class had a project assignment to produce a booklet about their family and/or best friends. They were encouraged to include photos or pictures and to present details about each person. On presentation day, one girl came to class with a project based on her character in The Sims. Each page had a screenshot and information about who the different Sims were and their relationship to the girl's main character.
That was a lovely project that showed initiative and creativity and it inspired me to make a 'family tree' based on my own in-game character at the time (this was 5 or 6 years ago and the Powerpoint I made is now sadly lost), which the students enjoyed a lot - much more than my real family tree or the made-up ones I had shown other classes in the past!
- Dreams and Aspirations
Another feature of the game is that each Sim can develop skills and pursue career paths. This provides a neat starting point for a lesson on dreams and ambitions - ask your atusents to create a new character, choose his/her personality and then 'map out' his/her life. What are this characters' career aims? What does he/she want to acheive in life? Students write a composition based on this new character (great practice for future forms) and then they can be given time at home to play through the game until the character is old and then report on whether or not their 'vision' for this Sim's life matched up to what actually happened in the game.
Another writing activity that can be inspired by elderly Sim characters is a biography review of that character's life. This works especially well if changes in appearance and key events have been recorded through screenshots over the in-game years. Personal and professional landmarks can be celebrated (or perhaps dark secrets can be revealed!) and it all provides a contextualised setting for practicing past tenses and forms like 'used to' for comparing past and present.