Technologically and linguistically adventurous EFL teacher, trainer, writer and manager

Richmond have recently released a series of readers with a difference, called ‘Richmond Mazes’, written by Alastair Lane and James Styring. They are:

  • based on the idea of choose your own adventure, where you make choices that determine what happens next in the story.
  • available as a book or an app. If you choose the book, you can download the audio to accompany it.
  • aimed at young adults and adults learning English, with the first four titles set in work situations.
  • currently available at elementary and intermediate levels. There are two books at the moment:
    Escape from Pizza Palace (Elementary) – book / app
    Crisis at Clifton (Intermediate) – book / app

I was given a code to try the app version of ‘Crisis at Clifton‘ out, thanks to Ela Wassell. This is how Richmond describe the story:

You have just started a new job at a fashionable advertising agency in Sydney. From the first day you learn that the company is in crisis. If your client doesn’t sign a new contract, the company will go bankrupt. You must create a successful new advertising campaign, keep your client happy, deal with your colleagues… and save the Clifton Creative Agency! You will find lots of useful business vocabulary presented in a natural context in this maze. As well as improving your English, you will learn lots of interesting things about the advertising industry. Good luck finding your way through the maze!

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It took me about an hour to go through the whole story, and I found a lot of things I liked about the format, not least the fact that even though it was quite late, I kept reading because I wanted to know what would happen next. I used to love choose-your-own-adventure books as a child for exactly this reason!

The story is illustrated throughout, with characters looking straight out at the reader, so it seems like they’re talking to you. This is the first page, which sets the scene for the story. It’s one of the longest texts in the version of the maze I went through, with never more than a single iPad screen’s worth of text before you make a decision or click on ‘continue’.

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At the end of most sections, there is a box offering you a variety of choices about what should happen next. This means students have to think about what they’ve read to be able to make the right choice, instead of just reading passively. They have to pay attention to key language to help them understand. You click to go to the next section, and you can click ‘back’ at any point.

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If you make a different decision after clicking ‘back’, the app notifies you and asks if you’re sure. You can see all the decisions you’ve made in a handy summary by clicking on ‘My route’ at the bottom of the screen. You can go back to any of these decisions by clicking on it.

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The stars show bonus points, which are available in every chapter for making the best decisions. In the book there are special pages where you can record any information you need to, including your bonus points and extra information that will help you later.

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If you make a bad decision which will cause problems for the company, you see a message which tells you the problem, and takes you back to the start of the chapter.

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I only got 5 bonus points through the whole story (out of a possible 16), so when I got to the end I was told “To improve the ending you have to win more bonus points”. This takes you back to the start, so you can try the story again.

I like the fact that you can try the story again and again and it will give you a different outcome each time. I think it would be quite a challenge to find all of the bonus points, and could be motivating for students.

Words which could cause problems are all clickable, with simple definitions appearing. They are underlined throughout the story, not just the first time they appear.

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All communication which is referred to is presented in the relevant format. For example, an email looks like an email:

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There are also newspaper articles, memos, and other text types business English students might expect to encounter. Voice messages are recorded, not written out as text. There is also the option to show a tapescript if students need extra support.

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The voices are a mixture of Australian and other accents, including German. It’s refreshing to hear voices which aren’t just standard British or standard American pronunciation.

The story is written in the second person (‘you’), but I didn’t notice until I was on chapter 4, meaning it was very natural.

My only reservation is that the title and style of the story may not seem serious enough for some professionals. I think it would be particularly suitable for business English students who are still training, for example at university.

Overall, I enjoyed using the app, and I think it would be a motivating way for students to practise without realising that they’re working and learning at the same time. I’d really like to see something similar for general English students in the future.

Update (in response to a question): the app is £4.99 from the Apple store. I’m not sure if it’s available on Android.

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Comments on: "Crisis at Clifton – Richmond Mazes" (1)

  1. Alastair Lane said:

    Hello Sandy and thanks for your wonderful review of our book. I also always loved choose- your-own-adventure type books. It was a real thrill to get to write one for real.
    I’ve always thought that a key thing about the books is re-reading, so we designed the maze so that the wrong paths would be quite different to the best route through the story. We also built in the option to be wrong, so sometimes the student can be quite blunt to people or say the wrong thing just to see what happens. That way we can use the electronic format to give added power to the student as reader. I’m really pleased you enjoyed it. Poor old Dagmar…

    Like

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