Tech Tuesday: Contextualizing Narrative and Social Interventions (Minecrafting)

Minecraft Education logoMaybe you’ve heard of Minecraft. In the past several years, this gaming universe has become particularly popular with the elementary set, and also has sparked efforts to incorporate its visually engaging and spatially useful interface into educational contexts. This post was sparked by some questions from a reader of this blog who wrote me to inquire whether I use Minecraft in my work and as a language development context, so I thought I might elaborate on that here.

Minecraft Experience photoFirst of all, what is Minecraft? It is a sandbox (read: open-ended) video game focused on building, exploration, and resource gathering. Within the game, cubes represent various materials such as dirt, stone, water, and even lava. The game can be played in various modes including a creative mode focused on building, and a survival mode where the gathering of resources and solving of problems is needed to continue on within the game. Minecraft also has a multiplayer capacity where students can connect through servers to interact in the game and even engage in combat.

Complicated, right? My philosophy on technology integration in speech and language work has always been that tech is a tool to establish context, engagement, foster interaction and provide visual supports. It’s for this reason that complex, extended activities with technology such as Minecraft are not something I gravitate towards, though they are certainly possible if well planned. After all, we tend to have a limited amount of time for intervention with our students, and every minute is important. Additionally, I don’t feel comfortable floundering in technological applications or environments my students can navigate much better than I!

However, there’s room to do some crafting with contexts such as Minecraft, so to speak. Materials that replicate the look and feel, familiar objects and conventions of a topic like Minecraft can be used to spark engagement and storytelling, without ever using the actual game. This is a trick I do gravitate toward for my students—taking their interests and using easy materials as a sort of contextual shell (see also: Pokemon, Star Wars, and others).

Take, for example, the Minecraft animations produced by the YouTube channel Slamacow. These wordless, short films often convey Complete Episode narrative-level stories very useful in language and social-cognitive based interventions. Stick By Me provides a good start:

The story told here is an Abbreviated Episode for brevity, but you could, of course, extrapolate on events:

  • Setting: in the woods
  • Kick-Off: At first is annoyed by a visiting, persistent baby cow, but becomes devoted to him after the cow assists with an arrow wound
  • Internal Response (Feeling): Grateful, protective
  • Thought Bubble: Knows the cow must have a home
  • Plan: Get him home and keep him safe
  • Direct Consequence: The slime finds the cow’s family and later protects him from hunters, forming a solid bond with the cow.

I have several caveats to offer. First of all, be aware that the animations contain some violence, as you can see above, but it is easy to find clips in which this is mild and inconsequential (i.e. the characters quickly recover). Secondly, don’t be too concerned, in this case, about YOU understanding all of the elements of the narrative—it can provide a great mutual-scaffolding activity for your students to explain to you the role of, say, slime in the Minecraft universe. In addition to targeting the narrative elements above with Story Grammar Marker®, the clips can be used for developing Social Thinking® concepts such as “thinking with your eyes,” making a “smart guess,” understanding range of emotions and problem size, and other foundations for social interaction.

See also The Hungry Cow for more slime shenanigans, and Moonlight for a mindful journey (without a Kick-Off!).

For additional materials related to Minecraft and useful for narrative and social activities:

  • Search for Minecraft along with speech-language, social or psychology on Pinterest. Many clinicians have created materials such as 5 Point Scales using visuals from the game.
  • I’ve previously written here and here about the utility of LEGO in narrative language activities. Check out the LEGO Minecraft Crafting Box as one tool to get kids talking, building together, and storytelling.

Sean Sweeney
Sean Sweeney

Author

Sean Sweeney, MS, MEd, CCC-SLP, is a speech-language pathologist and technology specialist working in private practice at the Ely Center in Newton, MA, and consults to local and national organizations on technology integration in speech and language interventions. His blog, SpeechTechie (www.speechtechie.com), looks at technology “through a language lens.” Contact him at sean@speechtechie.com.



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