City stories (guest post)

When Dave told me about this project, I thought it was an interesting way for learners to find out about other cultures. Over to Dave to tell you more…

What is the Enxaneta and why does it take incredible bravery to climb? How did a group of peasants and traders kill a dragon? And what happened to the hermit and the witch?

The answers to all these questions and many more can be discovered in the stories of Barcelona, Brno and Split (in that order above!). Welcome to City Stories, where the history and culture of three iconic European cities meets digital technology, cognitive science and modern teaching methodology.

When you go to the ‘Stories’ page of the City Stories website you can scroll through stories from the three cities, or search according to level. Clicking on one that takes your fancy drops you right into the start of the story. But this is not just another reading text. Each story is a DER – a Digital Escape Room – where progress requires reading (or listening) to the text and then answering some questions. Once you have answered all questions in any one room correctly you can move onto the next room. You ‘escape’ when you clear the last room in the story.

A DER is an exciting, interesting and engaging way to collaborate and learn. Technology plays an important role in the creative engagement and motivation of students. Using the innovative concept of Digital Escape Rooms encourages students to participate in telling the story.

Engaging principles from cognitive science, our DERs utilise the ideas of scaffolding, dual coding and means students and teachers can manage the cognitive load; all leading to better learning outcomes. (For more on this topic, this is a great starting point Cognitive science approaches in the classroom: a review of the evidence)

Language teachers know that good stories are an amazing learning tool as they engage the audience and challenge them to think about and comprehend the information they are presented with. Furthermore, culture has always been an integral part of language education. Our project uses stories from different cities and countries, sending students on a unique cultural journey through our interactive digital platform.

Particularly when it comes to reading and listening texts, classes all too often move at the speed of the quickest students, leaving behind too many; or the slowest, leading to boredom and disinterest. DERs allow students to work at their own pace, get a real understanding of the text and be sure they have the correct answer before moving on.

This unique resource works on any mobile device, can be done individually, in small groups or projected for the whole class to see, giving the teacher genuine flexibility in using the stories.

Our project was a part of the Erasmus+ KA2 call for proposals themed around Creativity and Culture. DERs we produced during the project tell stories from three iconic regions of Europe, focusing on the main cities within each of these: Split represents Dalmatia and the beautiful Adriatic coast; Moravia is right in the heart of Europe with Brno as its cosmopolitan capital; Barcelona is the cultural centre of Catalunya. Discover hidden secrets about these cities and regions through 18 unique stories written by our teachers.

There is a strong demand in the language teaching industry for resources that are meaningful, motivational, modern and innovative. The City Stories project allowed us to develop resources that meet this demand.

Interested? There’s more!

We didn’t just create the City Stories, we have also designed and made a Story Builder for you. This means you and your students can write, design and create your own DERs! This could be a story from your local city, but it can be about anything, any topic, any language. There is a handbook to guide you through using the Story Builder, or you can just dive in and try it out.

We hope to see new stories from many different places, allowing language students to explore both language and culture, and improve their understanding of the world we share.

If you want to know what is the Enxaneta and why does it take incredible bravery to climb? Or how did a group of peasants and traders kill a dragon? And what happened to the hermit and the witch? Just click on the links to try the story.

Have fun learning 🙂


Dave Cleary is a DELTA qualified English language teacher and teacher trainer living and working in Brno. He came to the Czech Republic in the summer of 2000 and has worked here ever since. Dave’s first teacher training experience was to his peers, and for more than a decade he has written and delivered teacher training sessions at both international conferences and on local training courses. He is now Director of Projects and Innovation at ILC International House Brno.  

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