Using Colonial Diplomacy in the ESL Classroom


(Pictured: Enoshima Sunset)


by Kevin Burns
(Machida, Japan)

Colonial Diplomacy is a game by the Avalon Hill Game Company, a game I have known and loved for many years.

I had often wondered: was it a game I could use in the ESL classroom?

I researched others who had used this game with mixed results.

One problem with its use, seemed to the use of L1 during the game, rather than English. Another problem seemed to be the passivity of some of the students.

I had no problem with L1 use. My students were an advanced class at my university, and though 90% of the students were Japanese, the 10% mix of non-Japanese students helped to encourage the use of English. So did my prodding to use it from the start! Ha ha

The biggest hurdle I found was taking a group of 21 old, non-game playing students, and creating an English speaking activity from this famous game.

Colonial Diplomacy involves a lot of communication. Players represent countries and must communicate with other players representing other countries: Japan, China, Holland, France, Britain, Russia,and Turkey.

I also like the fact that the game teaches players a bit of world history (as history tends to repeat itself), and geopolitics. It also gives students another avenue to use English in an interesting way.

Much of the first class was used to go over the rules,
splitting students into three person teams to represent each country, showing examples of play, and explaining negotiation.

I had assigned homework before playing: To read about Machiavelli, and Sun Tzu. I also explained, that while I liked playing games that involved politics, diplomacy and war myself, I did not like war in real life and wanted peace. I did this as some people feel uncomfortable playing a game that can involve conflict or war.

After the first class, I held a vote to see if students wished to continue the game into a second class. They narrowly voted in favour of this.

Day 2:

More negotiating followed. Some students really got into it. Others did not. Others struggled with understanding what was really happening. It is a difficult game to digest even for established “gamers.”

While I think students were able to enjoy the game days, and use some English in the process, I am not sure if I will pursue this game again, unless I get students who either know Colonial Diplomacy or who are interested in games and play them.

The big hurdle for me was not the language barrier. Some of these students are almost native speakers of English. It was trying to get a group of 21 non-gamers into the role of playing and representing the various nations of Colonial Diplomacy.

I`m glad I tried it! One day, I may again. I would love to hear your ideas below for game activities you have tried in the classroom, and how they went.

About kintaro63

Writer and teacher in Japan
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