Lockdown Learning – Role-play Games Online


As most of the ELT world has been scrambling to get the hang of online teaching over the last month, a glance over to the Russian market could be more than useful. Collusion of the most positive kind.

Several ELT professionals in Russia are already online black belts. Contrast this to many ELT classroom experts – I’ve seen experienced ELT onliners who feel like distressed white belts in a rear-naked choke (jiu-jitsu – Google it) at the moment. Overwhelmed beginners, like wondering out into the big wide world for the first time with a warm CELTA certificate tucked under one arm all over again. I’m not mocking anybody, but we would learn more quickly if we learn from the experts.

Many fantastic, super-experienced classroom teachers/trainers are relative novices online too, so be careful who you look to for advice. If they don’t have the humility to admit that and analyse what they are doing from the foundation again, all they do is try to recreate their usual classroom techniques online. The rules have changed but they are playing their same old games, and they don’t always translate well from the classroom to the screen. One example – holding flashcards up to the camera isn’t the best way forward.

So where to, then? Mother Russia!

While researching for my ELT 2.0 article in Autumn 2017 (3 BC – Before Coronavirus), a Moscow-based Delta colleague informed me that the Skyeng company had nearly 1,500 teachers around the world giving Skype lessons to over 10,000 students, dovetailing lessons with online resources like their own vocab, listening and subtitling apps. Online teaching is nothing new in Russia. Learn from the experts. 

From January to May 2019 I was fortunate enough to work online for Enraid, a Russian company headed by several professionals at the Trendy English company in Moscow.

Elena Peresada and her team are passionate about gamifying learning – they have a range of brilliant ELT-focused table-top games on the market – and with Enraid they applied this gamification principle to roleplay quest games.

It’s engaging for students and teacher (Game Master) alike, and recreates the improvisation and courage necessary to take language from the sterility of the classroom out into the real world. As social psychologist Jonathan Heidt pointed out (citing work by Peter Gray at Boston College) on the JRE podcast:

‘We learn best by interacting with the world, from experience, we get experience from feedback…Imagine that you have 100 kids who learn to climb a tree by climbing trees. You take another 100 kids and you give them Tree Climbing class but you never let them climb a tree…I’d put my money on the kids who learned from experience.’ RPG quests are like learning by really climbing trees; classic classroom next-page-of-the-book ‘learning’ is far too often like fake Tree Climbing class.

Join the RPG in ELT Facebook group for free advice, materials and (coming soon) teacher-to-teacher live RPG training/gaming sessions. Here’s a demo of an RPG quest to give you a flavour, recorded during a webinar for 40 ELT teachers based here in Italy:

Any questions, let me know!


Saving the Princess RPG lesson plan

Other Zoom-specific, quarantine-specific lesson ideas for online teaching:

Woop, Woop the QuaranTEEN

Balcony Karaoke Lesson Plan: QuaranTUNE

Post-Lockdown Holiday Lesson Plan: QuaRESTine

‘Running into Trouble’ Lesson Plan: QuaRUNtine Lockdown

Never Forget: Lessons from Lockdown (Sam Harris’ DIY Google Doc)


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