Proteus as a Writing Stimulus

I wrote this excitable blog post the other week about an amazing virtual exploration game called Proteus. This afternoon, I was pleased to use it in the classroom for the first time.

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As I mentioned, my intention for this game was to use it as a stimulus for writing. I had done a similar thing previously with the game Myst (based on the ideas of Tim Ryands, amongst others), but much of that had been teacher led. With Proteus I saw an opportunity for the children to participate purely in the exploration of the virtual world, without turning it into a long-term venture. (In the run-up to SATS I am eager to find enjoyable ways that allow the class to practise and improve the quality of their writing, rather than relying purely on previously-set writing tasks.)

Aside from the brilliance of Proteus, I’m still constantly impressed with the awesomeness of the internet itself as a way of making contact. Firstly, I was easily able to get in touch with the game’s author Ed Key, who was more than gracious about my plan to use the game in the classroom. In addition to this, I received a comment on my previous post from Darren Grey, linking to his Proteus-inspired poem. This impressively language-rich piece seemed perfect as a model for the type of descriptive prose that I was hoping to encourage the children to write. Darren was kind enough to give me permission to use this also.

So, before I introduced the children to the game (and indeed, without mentioning that we would be using a game) we began by reading Darren’s poem together as a class. I asked the children to think about the kind of place they felt the author might be describing. I then asked them to re-read the poem in pairs, highlighting any words or language features that they found particularly effective, or that they would like to ‘borrow’ for their own writing.

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Discussing and annotating ‘In Proteus’ by Darren Grey

After this it was time to let the children loose in the game. Most children worked, as usual, with a partner – sharing a laptop or desktop. I gave each pair a note-taking sheet, which they used while playing the game to note down their ideas. I suggested that they should try to note down vocabulary relating to the senses, using a box for each sense. Proteus provides a very stimulating environment, with rapidly changing times and shifting seasons, and I therefore hoped that this would prompt a range of expansive vocabulary.

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Taking notes during the game

It was interesting to be present while so many screens were displaying the game – there were fourteen computers, each at different locations on the island, along with the electronic whiteboard. The sound from the main computer was played over the speakers, filling the room with David Kanaga’s amazing reactive soundtrack. Other children used headphones. Most were glued to their screens, whilst a few stood back, taking in the view and noting their observations from multiple machines.

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On the big screen

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Used dual headphone splitters (from The Pound Shop!) to plug in two sets of headphones

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Children explored with enthusiasm and excitement. They soon found their way on to the island and quickly discovered what was and wasn’t possible. A buzz went across the class when someone found something new – particularly the more mystical elements of the game, including the standing stones, ‘fireflies’ and the changes in season. The animals (bees, crabs, rabbits) were popular too. During play, children took screenshots of their favourite locations (pressing the F9 key creates a ‘postcard’ of a location that you can revisit again later):

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Crabs on the beach!

Eventually, it was time to leave the game and turn some of their written notes into  something a bit more formal. (The level 5 skill below involved mixing features of different genres – the idea here was for the children to use some features usually used in poetry in a piece of descriptive prose).

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Levelled objectives for the writing task.

Here are some examples of the writing produced by the children by the end of the session:

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As the final stage in this writing process I intend to get the children to ‘up-level’ their own writing, producing a word-processed version of their text in combination with some of the images from the game. I’ll post some examples when we complete them.

[EDIT: See this new post for final pieces of work]

31 thoughts on “Proteus as a Writing Stimulus

  1. Wonderful! By the looks of things they seemed to really enjoy the game. I fear they were a little too influenced by my poem, but there’s some great original stuff in there. I especially love “my ears are overwhelmed by the beating heart of the island”. Whoever wrote that really got into the feel of Proteus.

    • The poem was great – in the short term they’ll be directly influenced by it (they had to write their own less than an hour after reading it – school is tough!), but in the longer term those ideas, words and phrases will stick and morph and combine with their own experiences to become part of their own vocabulary.

      That’s the hope, anyway!

      Thanks again!

      • Oh my, that is a tough timeframe to write a poem in, with little time for reflection. I was playing Proteus for months before putting figurative pen to paper :) Anyway, hope they enjoyed the task and if they learn anything all the better ;)

    • Thanks for your comment. Proteus is brilliant and deserves a big audience. (And you’ve just taught me a new word: oniric!)

      I remember, when I was at primary school, my teacher bought in on old bees’ nest she had found at the bottom of the garden. We spent some time investigating it – pulling it apart – and then wrote about it. I just see this as a slightly updated version of that.

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  3. Hi Chris,
    This looks fantastic, what a great way to develop children’s writing in the sterile SATs build up period. Is it available online? May pass on the idea to our Y6 teachers.

    Scott

    Ps – it’s a long time since we were practicing shouting in an mobile classroom!!!

    • Hello Mr Ellin,

      Good to hear from you. You can download and buy it online from here: http://www.visitproteus.com/

      Ah, delightful memories of that very special classroom. Looking back, isn’t it worrying how that person’s advice on behaviour management basically amounted to ‘shout at them really loudly’?!

      Chris

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  5. This was wonderful and inspiring!

    I think I’ll be trying something similar out with my own students. I work with learners of English as a second language so my students will be a bit older, but will probably enjoy it nonetheless!

    Thank you!

    • Thanks for taking the time to comment.

      I think Proteus could be ideal for stimulating ideas and getting ANYONE to use creative vocabulary. The fact that it doesn’t actually contain any language in itself also means its completely accessible. And I feel that the creative stimulation seems part of the process of playing, rather than as bolted-on afterthought (although I did obviously shoe-horn in those traditional teacherly objectives!)

      Oh, and its fun too!

      I’d be interested to hear how you get on if you do decide to use it.

  6. What a wonderful account! It’s really exciting to see games used this way and to read about children having varied and engaging educational experiences. I hope that my daughter is as fortunate with her teaching when she starts school in few months.

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  8. Really chuffed with this article too, while I’m at it: http://killscreendaily.com/articles/news/these-lucky-kids-get-play-proteus-school-and-write-about-it/

    (They like my hat!)

    There’s a quick mention in this Proteus review: http://mobile.theverge.com/2013/1/31/3936670/proteus-musical-exploration-game

    And the post was features on Rock, Paper, Shotgun’s Sunday Papers last week: http://mobile.theverge.com/2013/1/31/3936670/proteus-musical-exploration-game

    (This one generated a few thousand views!)

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