Saving the Princess RPG – Prepositions QUESTantine

Exam preparation should be as engaging and true-to-life as possible. I made the following work with two of my teenage PET preparation classes on Zoom last Saturday (18th April 2020). Please use it if you’d like! (More lockdown-inspired Zoom lesson ideas at the bottom of this post.)

Prepositions of place are particularly useful for the ‘describe the picture’ in Part 3 of the PET speaking exam (how anyone thinks that is a useful life skill is beyond me, but it’s in the exam and sometimes I have to play the game to pay the rent).

Combining this vocabulary with a RPG (role-play game – a more general post on this here) means that students also practise negotiation/interaction skills and using language in unexpected and pressured situations, which is exactly what learners need to do to use language in real life beyond the relatively sterile safety of the classroom.

This lesson plan is a combination of a few good ideas I’ve been fortunate enough to learn from colleagues over the last few weeks, with particular thanks to Trendy English founder Elena Peresada for the RPG itself. Join the RPG in ELT Facebook group to keep up-to-date on webinars and teacher-to-teacher gaming sessions (live trainings!).

1) Lead-in – Get away from the screen

Step away from the screen for two minutes. Step out onto your balcony or stick your head out the window.

Close your eyes. What can you hear? Count the sounds. What you can smell?

Open your eyes. What can you see?

Once Ss are back, share the ideas in Breakout Rooms (BORs) and together as a whole group. Not just a bit of fresh air; this is entry-level mindfulness training, too.

2) Prepositions of place

Flowing on from the ‘What can you see?’ group feedback, use the Whiteboard function to elicit and add prepositions of place. What’s opposite your window? What can you see in front of the balcony? What’s on the roof? Above the roof? What’s on the right/left? etc. etc.

Follow this with a short BOR session in which Ss describe positions of objects in the room around them.

3) RPG – Saving the Princess

For the Enraid 20-sided dice, click here.

Step 1. Introduce the story: The Queen* of Lombardy called you for help. Her daughter, the princess*, is trapped in a castle being guarded by a dragon. The road there is dangerous, but if you succeed in rescuing her, you’ll be given anything you wish.

*Feel free to change the genders or gender-neutralize the characters if you’re so inclined. In any case, if a teenage girl rescues a princess. is it still an example of the patriarchal tyranny? Whatever – our personal thirst for ‘social justice activism’ shouldn’t get in the way of Ss’ learning. 

Step 2. Introduce students to the map that the Queen has sent you (CTAPT is Russian for START, but I joked with my learners that it was ancient Elfish from Middle Earth):

Saving the Princess

Step 3. Set up groups (two pairs in my first lesson, three groups of three in the second) and rename Breakout Rooms as Rescue Team 1, Rescue Team 2 or whatever the groups themselves choose.

Before setting off, they must decide what to carry with them in their rucksacks. Each person has space for three items. BORs – write items in chat box when back together.

Step 4. Send Ss the dice via the Zoom chat box . Explain that you’ll ask them to roll at any moment, and the higher the score, the more luck or success they’ll have in that situation.

Step 5. Screen sharing the map at all times so Ss have a visual, play the game and improvise as you go – watching the recording of another RPG might help to give you some ideas, but Ss should be using the prepositions regularly.

Example – Look around. What do you see/smell/hear (like our lead-in!)? Caterina, what are you going to do now? “Start walking along the road”. Great, you’re walking along, it’s a sunny day and you think it’s so easy, but then you see a huge hole, a type of earthquake crack, in the road ahead of you. Roll your dice, Giulio. “16”. OK, you’re pretty lucky, it’s only three metres wide and two metres deep (a lower number on the dice = wider and deeper). How will you get across? BORs in teams, Ss use what’s in their rucksacks, explain to whole group. Great. Ilaria, roll your dice. “6”. Oh dear – bad luck. As you were all crossing the hole, one of your items feel out of your rucksacks. In your teams, decide which item to sacrifice (or select an item a rival team will lose – the Games Master/Teacher must choose). BORs again…etc. etc. etc.

Other obstacles

A few ideas below, but the fun of teaching with RPGs is the personal creativity you can use to bring the quest alive and adapt it to your Ss e.g. don’t introduce snakes if you know somebody has a phobia! You also need to adapt the RPG to the time you have available by selecting the number and complexity of difficulties.

  • The walls – too high to climb, enchanted so start to fall etc.
  • The weather going bad – wind, rain, hurricanes etc.
  • An injury to one of the team
  • Teams go over the wall to take a shortcut but the forest is too thick or contains poisonous plants.
  • The crocodile – low dice number it attacks, high dice number it’s tame etc. (for a 20, it might even give you a ride over the river on its back)
  • Crossing the river – low dice number it’s fast and dangerous, high dice number it’s shallow and calm etc.
  • Day becomes night – low dice number and they need to camp out for the night. high dice number and the moon is bright enough to see and they can continue.
  • The dragon – fire/no fire, accuracy of shot, aggression level, weak spots.
  • Working together with other teams or continuing to compete. My learners this morning, each deciding in their own BORs, both decided that it would be better to collaborate to defeat the dragon. It warmed my cold heart!
  • The castle door is stuck or the princess is still asleep.

Step 6. You’ve rescued the princess/prince/gender-neutral object. What’s your wish? Most of my learners last Saturday chose a day or summer of freedom, quarantine-free. If nothing else, this period pushes us to appreciate the simple things we usually take for granted.

Adapt it as you need to, but I’ve used it with teenage intermediates and played it as a demo with adult English teachers, and it was engaging and challenging each time due to the flexibility of the Games Master in what they introduced. Not always easy at first, but practise with focus and you improve. There’s no secret sauce! Enjoy!


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Another RPG post:

Lockdown Learning – Role-play Games Online

Other lockdown-inspired lesson plans for online teaching:

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