About Costello-Quest-based Learning

Costello-Quest-based Learning is a unique teaching package that combines a conventional paper textbook with a computer game on CD-Rom. The CD and textbook depend on and complement each other. Costello-Quest-based Learning has been written by teachers who enjoy using computers in their classes, but don’t like the computer to take over the class. While there is a lot of EFL/ESL software available on the market, we find that there is very little software that lends itself to classroom use. Most software is better used as a self-study tool that requires minimal teacher-student or student-student interaction. Costello can be used just like any other classroom textbook, the only big difference being that the main textual input comes from the software rather than the book itself. You can have students use the software in class (either individually or with groups working around one computer), or assign the game-related tasks as homework to be followed up in class.

The software itself is a text-based adventure game that presents the students with a series of tasks, called 'quests' which are designed to be challenging and fun, while at the same time presenting language that will be the basis for study within the textbook. The game is made up of textual descriptions and written dialogue, and contains no graphics other than simple icons indicating that characters are speaking, or that a text can be listened to.

In the days where graphics of a sophisticated nature are so common, you may wonder why this is so. The answer is that this game is designed not for entertainment but for education. In particular English language education. We are focussing on language and strudents spend more time looking at the language when they are not distracted by graphical monkeys bouncing around the screen and the like. Such eye candy may look fun, but our experience is that students benefit more when their attention remains focused on the language they are trying to learn. We believe that the text-based nature of the software benefits language acquisition in 3 main ways:

  1. By describing scenes and situations in text it forces students to use their imagination to create images in their head. This represents a second level of linguistic processing that builds on reading for meaning. If images are presented on screen then much of the understanding will come through the images rather than the language.
  2. By keeping the game text-based the language itself becomes part of the challenge of the game. This means that there is much greater motivation for students to read the text because the enjoyable game aspect of the software relies on it.

  3. Making the story your own, through your imagination, is actually more enjoyable and satisfying than having the images ready-made on a screen. The enduring popularity of books, especially within the fantasy realm, underlines this point.

Although Costello is an adventure game the storylines are not fantasy oriented in a way that would restrict vocabulary. In fact only one quest (chapter 3) has a fantasy theme. The chapters in the book are as follows:

Each chapter is split into 5 parts:

Part 1 – Before you explore
This part introduces students to the theme of the quest, and presents students with some of the key words and expressions that they will read in the quest. Introducing the language that students will encounter in the quest is an important preparation stage and they can refer back to this section while completing the quest.

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Part 2 – The quest
This part provides students with tasks to complete while they do each quest. The tasks all focus on meaning, and ensure that students really pay attention to the language they encounter in quests, and do not simply look for the fastest way to get through a quest area. In addition at least one of the tasks in each chapter forces the students to not only read the language on the screen for understanding, but also to interact with the game text in order to get the answers. For example, in Chapter 6, Task 5 shown below they must look for hints to the answers and then 'Look at' objects that are described within the game text in order to see the answers.

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Part 3 – After you explore
This part offers activities for discussion and reflection based on the quest. Teachers who want to include a conversation element in classes will want to use these activities, but teachers who want to use the textbook only for reading and writing practice may wish to omit these tasks.

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Part 4 – Language focus
This part picks up on language structures that feature strongly in the quest, and that students have already processed for meaning, and encourages students to look more carefully at language form. Most of the structures analyzed here can be found in several of the quests, and students who take the time to repeat earlier quests will find many examples of language that perhaps passed unnoticed the first time they did the quest.

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Part 5 – Summary
This section should normally be completed as a homework assignment. Students are asked to write a report in English about what they did in the task, and how they felt about it. As the real-time nature of the game leads the present tense to feature strongly in quest text, a balance can be achieved by asking students to use the past tense to report their quest experience. The length of reports, and how reports are evaluated (i.e., whether the focus is more on content or accuracy) should be decided by the teacher according to the needs of students. These reports can be written using the online Costello report writing/grading system or at the teacher’s preference can be traditional paper submissions.

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Please feel free to email us with any questions, no matter how small!