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Community in Crisis
Pros: In-depth, real-world scenarios and lessons that get students thinking, reading, and writing.
Cons: It might feel slow to some students.
Bottom Line: A clever, real-world, and civic-minded context to learn and practice ELA skills.
Community in Crisis is ideal for ELA, ESL, or Social Studies classes, but could be handy for summer or after-school classes, or even homeschool. And there's a unified version of three similar games called Read to Lead that includes Community in Crisis. Teachers should first orient themselves to what's included in the game episodes. To do so, you can play through, or just check the episode's goals, Common Core standards, assessments, and before/during/after suggestions. These provide a nice preview for prep. It'd also be worthwhile to check out the additional resources on the website; there's an almost comically extensive collection including assessments, pacing guides, vocabulary lists, student worksheets, certificates of completion, and lesson plans. Since there are ways to make the game work for individual learning, classroom instruction, or group projects, this is an experience that could be a couple of classroom periods or extended over a few weeks. In addition, teachers get 24/7 support over email. Once you've got a plan in place, add students manually or set up a quick class, which generates 30 anonymous student accounts. These can all be individually set for text-to-speech options and replay/retake options. If you want your class to focus on certain episodes, the others can be turned off. The dashboard also gives access to student performance reports and more.
Community in Crisis is a point-and-click, story-based literacy game where students take on the role of director of a community center dealing with the aftermath of a hurricane. It's part of the Read to Lead series along with After the Storm and Vital Signs. Students will need to work with their staff to prioritize relief efforts to best serve individuals and the community as a whole. Students must talk with staff and citizens, keep an eye on their to-do list for problems to solve, and decide which actions to take first. The game includes 12 episodes, which take 20-30 minutes each.
Since it's a point-and-click game, students visit various locations, click on hot spots, and engage in dialogue with characters or complete tasks. To help, there's an in-game cell phone featuring a handy to-do list, messages from characters, a glossary, and notepad. Much of the game revolves around making specific choices in conversations with other characters. Some responses will be appropriate to the situation while others may cause additional problems. The trick is to try to progress the story in a positive direction, and then investigate the building and town to gather information and address new issues. In the first episode, for example, students organize staff and volunteers to help find a missing boy while dealing with the initial storm aftermath and loss of power.
Near the end of each episode, there's an in-game assessment that flows naturally from the storyline and doesn't feel like a separate activity. In this assessment, students need to exercise their text analysis and reasoning skills while also writing real-life correspondence such as emails, thank you notes, memos, and invitations. Some of the assessment is instantly scored, but there are also open-ended questions where students have to write responses from scratch. Those responses are sent to the teacher dashboard for review.
Unlike a lot of other games in this space, Community in Crisis' learning activities and assessments are completely integrated into play and flow naturally from the storyline. The result: Students don't feel pulled out of the story and forced to take a quiz, complete an interactive, or take a test. They cover skills such as close reading, evidence-based writing, and evaluation of arguments. Students will need to weigh decisions based on facts and do plenty of textual analysis to aid their decision-making. They'll also learn leadership skills by interacting and responding to the fellow characters -- a cast, it should be mentioned, that's refreshingly diverse. There's also a nice mixture of automated, on-the-spot feedback to some assessments and teacher-based feedback to open-ended writing submissions. With that said, this is still a point-and-click adventure that could feel slow and laborious to some students, especially with all the reading involved. However, if it's set up well and mixed with class discussion, it could connect with most students.
There are a ton of extension materials to use, but even if the game is played without them, students will still get something out of the experience. If used in conjunction with the extensive curricular supports, however, Community in Crisis is an incredibly rich resource that could be a cornerstone of a semester -- and all for free.