Pandemic

If you haven’t heard of the game Pandemic, then you should have.  The game has relatively simple rules and is as challenging as it is involving.  As a cooperative game, the players have to use teamwork to try and beat the game before it beats them.
<SPOILER ALERT> It is going to beat them.

PRACTICE:

  • the names of nations and places.
  • polite suggesting, agreeing and disagreeing as part of collaborative decision making.
  • using real conditionals for speculating about solutions to problems.

WHO IS IT FOR?

  • Intermediate learners and up (CEFR B1-C2)
  • Ages 12+

THE RUNTHROUGH:

In Pandemic, players cooperate to save humankind from four aggressive and fatal diseases.  They have to work together closely, use their unique abilities and carefully plan their moves if they want to be successful in finding the four cures and winning the game.

When I first used this in the classroom, it was as part of our school’s board game club.  This was a new idea and students enrolled on our regular courses were allowed to register and attend these sessions.  First off, let me say that I was amazed by both how effective it was as a teaching tool and also how involved and interested the students were.

I started the session by explaining what the game was and getting them to guess what it was about.  I gave them the glossary and other handouts (links to materials below) and then let them have a quick look before checking the pronunciation of a couple of items. They then opened the boxes and I played the official Z-Man video explaining how to set up and play, stopping after each major stage so they could set up their boards.

Source: http://www.zmangames.com/store/p25/Pandemic.html (ZMan Games)
Source: http://www.zmangames.com/store/p25/Pandemic.html (ZMan Games)

Once they had done this, they were ready to go!  I was astounded by how quickly and with how little preparation they were using some of the language.  Students who would never have known “treat a disease”, “infection” or “spread” were using them accurately and naturally with negligible input from me, because the context was all there in front of them.  Another bonus was that the pace of the game was perfect for allowing them to take a moment and focus on using many of the stems that they had been given in the useful phrases handout.

BEAR IN MIND:

  • This game is advertised as taking 45 minutes.  No.  That’s not going to happen.  Not even close.  A team of four learners are going to need at least 70-80 minutes to fail play their first game.  So it is quite time-hungry.  Because of this, you are probably going to have issues trying to rationalise this as a classroom choice.  I have only ever used Pandemic as part of our school’s board-game club.  Otherwise, it could maybe be a nice ‘one-off’ lesson, but I’d strongly recommend doing some work beforehand on the pronunciation and the target language.  If not, you may face some unhappy students.  Not because the game is bad – it’s excellent – but playing a board-game for an hour-and-a half-is not everyone’s idea of a useful English lesson.
  • Even though they get their role cards at the outset, they are not going to understand how they can use these abilities.  It’s worth revisiting these at the end, or even using the exact same 4 roles if you have more than one group.  This will reduce the amount of explaining you have to do on a one-to-one level, allowing them more time to get on with things.
  • Your students’ furrowed brows will make you think that they are having a horrible time.  They aren’t, they are just thinking REALLY HARD.  This is mainly a downside because of the disheartening view it makes from the teacher’s point of view, but trust me, they’ll want to play it again.
  • If you end up with the wrong group of people together in a team, then this game can be terrible if there is an alpha gamer in the group.  They will take over and it becomes a pointless venture from that point onwards.  Such individuals will need close monitoring on their behaviour, which with adults can be a little awkward.
  • Players will really suck the first time they play.  I did.  You will need to closely police all the teams, not really on the language they are using, but mainly on whether or not they are following the rules.  As well as this, they are probably going to lose the first time, but they will learn lessons and want to play it again.  That’s the downside; students will want to play it again and you might not be able to let them because of time restrictions.

ROUNDUP:

Pandemic is a classic for a reason.  It’s a great game which will really suck players in.  The main issues are that a) it’s expensive as you’ll need one copy for a four player group, and b) it takes a long time.  As a case study for why board games are effective though, it’s peerless.  Just set it up and watch the learning happen.

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