The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim / Hoarding Language

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is an RPG (Role-Playing Game) by Bethesda. A remastered version was released on all platforms in late 2016.

In Winter of 2011, all the gamers you know disappeared. Were they hibernating? Had they succumbed to a months-long bout of food poisoning? Perhaps they’d all gone to Asia to teach English? What had happened was the release of the monumental Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.

Skyrim boasted an enormous map which you were free to wander from the start of the game. There were dragon eyries and dungeons full of zombie Vikings. You could learn magic, talk to almost every character, and (perhaps most importantly) grab everything that wasn’t nailed down.

A game that allows you to talk to werewolves or shoot fire from your hand isn’t what we’d call a realistic game by any standards, but there was something strangely unimmersive about being about to fill your pockets with handfuls of bees, buckets and mops, and several sets of armour. It would be quite possible to lug mountains of stuff around you for the entire game if Bethesda hadn’t limited the amount your character could carry.

If you are anything like me, both a brave adventurer and inveterate looter, your inventory filled up pretty quickly. And, like me, you would have started discarding the items based on their weight and sale value.

I don’t think it’s a jump to link the collectibles in Skyrim to the language that your students pick up in the classroom. You can surely recall the learners who obsessively write down everything that you say or note on the board or collate lists of unfamiliar vocabulary from the materials, on top of occasionally asking their classmates how to spell the word they just used. All of this goes into a trusty notebook, perhaps never to be looked at again.

When Hermann Ebbinghaus studied second-language attrition, he found that frequent repetition is necessary for remembering language. How likely are your B1-level Elementary students to routinely practice low-frequency incidental language like ‘marsupial’ and ‘abrasive’ gleaned from a class on TV (true story)?

So how can we get students away from this urge to hoard the linguistic equivalent of a wooden mop bucket? One thing you can do as a teacher is keep a fenced-off section of your board with key vocabulary for every class, and try dividing the zone into ‘must learn’ and ‘unimportant’ language. This will hopefully begin to train the students to be more selective about what they write down.

As always, getting students to start good practices autonomously is more of a challenge, particularly when it’s a commendable habit like note taking. You couldĀ encourage your learners to keep two different kinds of notes of new language. In the first kind of note-taking, learners record all the language they want from the class. They can alphabetise the language if they like. These notes can then act as a kind of personal dictionary.

In the other section of the notes, learners select a limited number of lexical items from their classes and organise them in some way – with a mind-map, drawing associations, put into sentences etc. The language should also be arranged by context or function. This is the section of notes to be frequently reviewed.

Learners can even work with a study partner to review each others’ notes and judge whether the ‘frequently reviewed’ lexis belongs there. Is it a high-value item that it will benefit your student to remember, or is it a waste of brain space?

If, right now, you’re rolling your eyes and groaning at the unsophisticatedness of my tips, why not leave a comment detailing YOUR favourite strategies for helping students to become more selective?

Previous Lesson from Gaming: Team Fortress 2 / Differentiation

Image from Bethesda.


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