Pros: Charming graphics and a sense of intrigue draw kids into the writing process.
Cons: Browsing others' stories could expose students to some age-inappropriate material.
Bottom Line: With some teacher guidance, Elegy offers an opportunity unlike anything else to get students to write stories and stretch their creative muscles.
Teachers can use Elegy for a Dead World as a whole-class experience or to encourage struggling writers. They could use the world and stories provided here as a jumping-off point to get students to come up with their own sci-fi ideas. Students could even design their own world to add to the game -- not actually, but in the classroom. Since each world is also inspired by the writing of Lord Byron, Percy Shelley, and John Keats, classes studying these works could make connections between the game worlds and the writers' poems and imagery. Between the blank writing prompts, fill-in-the-blank exercises, and grammatical activities, students will find plenty to occupy them.
If teachers preview some of the writing available on the site ahead of time, they could find a great opportunity to read stories written by other kids and analyze them. The nature of the game will also make many kids more willing to go back and edit their work to improve it. Keep in mind that the game does require Steam to run, which can present a problem in some schools.
Editor's Note: Elegy for a Dead World is no longer available.
Players are shapeless astronauts drifting through space. They can go through a portal to one of three worlds named after the poets Byron, Keats, and Shelley. From there, they explore the gorgeous and sublime ruins of a mysterious alien civilization, stopping at points along the way to add their own story. Students can use the preset prompts (for example, one area says, "They say everything comes to an end. Here, in the sand, the first colony __________"). Or they can erase the prompts and fill in their own words.
Either way, students are encouraged to create the story and context of these worlds and locations through writing, which they can choose to publish online for other players to see. They can read stories written by other players and offer "commendations" to the ones they particularly like. Other parts of the game allow students to create their own fill-in-the-blank versions of famous stories, such as H. G. Wells' "The Time Machine," and poems, such as Percy Shelley's "Ozymandias." The game also includes some grammar exercises, although these are of limited value.
Elegy for a Dead World won't necessarily teach students how to write, but it gives them a powerful platform to experiment with writing or exercise their writing skills once they learn them. The fill-in-the-blank prompts will be helpful to students who have trouble coming up with ideas or who just need a comfortable and engaging opportunity to express themselves.
The eerie landscapes and background noises are appealing enough to catch most kids' interest and keep them engaged in writing, and the prompts help avoid the dreaded "I'm out of ideas!" stage that often comes at the end of student writing. The shared writing feature allows students to see what others have made of the same prompts and publish their own work, although it's hard to monitor what other people have written on the site. Teachers will likely find the grammatical exercises less than useful -- they are all over the place in terms of topics covered and don't provide clear guidance on what's right and wrong.