ESL Game Breakdown: Almost But Not Quite Mario Kart

Almost but Not Quite Mario Kart is one of the more beloved ESL review games I have run into. Like Bowling, it features a typical “not game, but gamified Quiz/Test/Worksheet” format. Which follows a pattern much like
1) Ask Question
2) Answer Question
3) Receive rewards, some of which will enable you to hinder opponents.

You can look at all the materials, suggestions, rules, worksheets etc for Mario Kart on Englipediea. http://www.englipedia.net/Pages/JHS_Textbook_Game_ABNQMK.aspx

I actually am not a fan of this structure, but, it results in games students like, which is the most important thing in designing classes. Mario Kart falls more specifically into a “race style” ESL game where students get a worksheet/question of some kind, do it, get it checked by the teacher, move their character to the next space and then do the next question.

Winner is whoever finishes the race, or is the furthest when it finishes, is the winner. Mario Kart adds items to the standard race game, some items move you forwards others move opponents back. Curiously, and probably a slight oversight by the person who made the game, Mushrooms are significantly more powerful than shells.

Because of the presence of items, Mario Kart’s worksheets have more questions than spaces, 26 questions to 20 spaces. Meaning a team might not need to answer every question in order to finish up the race. Which, I think is a good thing, because it means teams don’t need to focus on questions they don’t understand, or can take time to think on them.

Another thing I really liked a lot about Mario Kart, is that while obviously it rewarded knowing your English, a bit of cleverness offered you a huge advantage, groups of 4, 4 pages of questions, these are not accidents. Students could be doing up to 4 questions at once. Many of the teams were not doing this, but often some of the students that were not great in the classes were winning because they thought about using their time best.

While ESL games should test English, I do feel there should be space within them to use strategy of some kind. In this case effective time management. Having 4 players being able to work on different problems at the same time can mean some teams are playing a wildly different game though, which can be an issue. But sometimes not, especially when it comes to more difficult questions, so there is some balance here.

Although that raises a question, why allow, or even encourage a secondary skill to influence the game when the point is English? Which is a fair question. I think it is important to note the context these games are run in, classes where not all students want to take English classes. So some concessions have to be made for them. Allowing some clever thinking or use of a secondary skill to be of aide as opposed to JUST English is also good. The Bowling game (ALTINSIDER) has a great example of this with the actual bowling part. Being good at English is great, but if you can’t bowl, you are only good for points. Meaning that those students who aren’t so good at English but GREAT at bowling, has so much incentive to try and answer even if normally they wouldn’t. How much you decide to take that to heart is a different matter though.

While I don’t think Mario Kart has as much to offer lessons wise as bowling, it does have a little bit.

Visually tracking score is more interesting to many students than simply using point values
We can break down worksheets into smaller, checkable chunks to create a strong sense of progress in activities like this.
Theme matters way more than it should.
A little bit of randomness, and the chance to sabotage someone else is something that people love.
Allowing secondary skills to be useful will help those not solely interested in English.

So, go forth, and play Mario Kart… In March when review games are life.

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