With the Japanese school year winding up and my classes winding down I thought that rather than finish my elementary school lessons with the usual couple of review lessons I might instead try a board game. Over the last two weeks then I've been bringing in Settlers of Catan for the older kids, dividing their classes into four or five teams, and letting them play out a simplified version of the game.
We don't use the robber or development cards, and to make team play more interesting each student is given a role (harvester, trader or builder), and they must represent the team in that particular phase of the turn. To encourage greater participation all teams take turns gathering produce (i.e. roll dice one after another), then all teams trade in a plural session, then all teams build.
It has gone down really well, and it has been educational to see how the Japanese kids adapt to the situation.
Social dynamics in Japan are quite interesting, and this game stretches some of the children's ideas about co-operation and competition. While team members must co-operate with one another to understand the game, their roles within in, and their team's overall strategy, each team must also co-operate with other teams to a certain extent. But this co-operation of course is actually fuelled by self-interest, and once the kids see this underlying tension they start to get into the play and enjoy themselves. The division of labour allows students to try out different roles throughout the game session, and the role-playing itself subverts the normal pecking order in each class.
It has been nice to see the quiet kids, the shy kids and the no-one-expects-much-of-me-so-I'll-daydream-or-be-disruptive kids actively participating in an activity and having their contributions valued.
One particular kid who has had a bad year turned out to be the leader in his group and it was good for him and perhaps for his homeroom teacher to see that established patterns of behaviour can be changed by taking different approaches.
Anyway, it has been a worthwhile experiment - even if there was not always a great deal of English being used - and I think I'll try something similar again.