Using Warhammer to Teach English

After I graduated from college I received a grant to teach English in southern Kosova for the 2010-2011 school year.  I lived and worked in Prizren, the country’s second largest city, in the southern region of the country near Albania.  I was primarily guest teaching in a local primary school (grades 1 through 9), teaching in 37 classes and approximately 600 students.  My favorite time, however, was teaching an extracurricular class to students with high English ability.

I taught this group in the American Corner in Prizren, a U.S. State Department program for local libraries.  Although the group fluctuated somewhat in size, there was a core of five or six students I met with once or twice a week.  They were grades 6-9.  In our second meeting, I asked them if they wanted to work on a project together (as opposed to just watching films and conversing in English).  This project became “If I was Born in the Warhammer World…”

My main tool for this project was the new Warhammer rulebook.  We started the project by having assigned readings about the history of the Warhammer world, and then I gave them each a questionnaire.

This survey was primarily a vocabulary exercise, but it also allowed them to express themselves.  After they finished the questionnaire, I tallied their responses, and gave them a few options.  The first option was always whatever they wrote as a response to the last question (“Please write what species you think that you would be”), but the others were based on racial characteristics of the (many) Warhammer armies.

The students then wrote a biographical story of their Warhammer life experience, and drew a picture of themselves as a lizardman, ogre, wood elf, Chaos champion, and so forth.  The story then went three a multiple-draft writing process (this was one of the main focuses of the lesson arc) and the picture went through a coloring and mounting sequence.  The entries were then all combined in a book and the students received copies of their own and everyone else’s work.

Here I present the stories and pictures collected in the “If I was Born in the Warhammer World” class project book.  I start with the one I did for myself, only because I used it as a template and example for the students to give them idea of what we were working on.

I thoroughly enjoyed this part of my time in Kosova, and I think the students enjoyed it and learned from it a lot as well.  I know that there are many things I learned from it – and certainly not all about Warhammer.  I found the Warhammer rulebook to be a great resource for teaching, because the artwork and fully-developed-nature of the world to be very enthralling, interesting and inspiring to students.  I am very proud of the work they did, and I will always remember the time fondly.

I used Warhammer to teach English.

A Game with Movement Trays

I recently built some modular movement trays for the old Skull Pass forces.  Today we played a game of Warhammer with them (about 722 points per side), and they certainly made it smoother!  Goblins won; the defenders were killed to a Dwarf…

When we originally painted the forces, we used a number of paints from the now-bankrupt Ral Partha company, and are unable to recreate the colors now.  But we were able to get close with mostly spray paint.  The movement trays for my Bretonnian army will be painted to match exactly (goblin green, bestial brown, codex gray).

Dwarf Thane (side project)

Over break I painted up this Dwarf Thane, and had a rather good time doing it.  I really enjoyed the Battle for Skull Pass set a few years ago, and this figure took me back.

Bretons in Red

I finally finished the first four Men-at-Arms and Pegasus Knight for my fledgling Bretonnian muster from Artois.  This is the first time I’ve painted strong warm colors for an army.

I am very pleased with the first Pegasus Knight.  I painted in sub assemblies, and when I put it all together it was a shock how awesome it looked.  The Men-at-Arms are from the smaller of the two planned units, the red and yellow (and orange) marking them as Baron Gilderaux’s Voulgiers.

Why 40k is a Good Thing

Now, I normally want to avoid putting stuff on the blog like this – I want the hobby material to be the focus, to the exclusion of everything else.  But I think a reaction to the recent article about 40k players in a Greek newspaper is not a bad thing to post here.  The article’s translation is on BOLS (as is my response below, where I originally posted as a commenter): here is a link.  My response follows below:

Ok, I did find this article really…sloppy.  Biased.  Sensationalist.  It seems to have some weird agenda, obviously.  I am wary to quote anything, because I know it’s an unofficial translation – no offense to Antipope of course, it’s just the nature of the beast, when careful dissection is at stake.

Then again, I don’t want to dissect this.  But I do want to say: this is a good opportunity to reflect on the nature of the universe, the background story, the ideas expressed within – really, the worldview expressed within. A “question the assumptions,” type thing.
Now, I obviously love the universe, love the fiction, love the stories, love the intellectual stimulation, love the hobby.  All I mean to say is, I think it’s important to take a step back sometimes and ask yourself, wait, where are all the non-caucasian descendants of Terra?  I think a question like that is important.  On one level, it’s not dissimilar to “fact checking” to better understand and experience the universe, like, “is Ork blood green?” (here’s looking at you, author of Brunner the Bounty Hunter!)  But it’s also bigger than that.  Because it can lead to insightful growth in yourself, and it can challenge the universe to improve.
There are some big worldview issues raised in 40k.  Is democracy the best form of government?  Is violence a viable tool of government?  Of interest groups?  Of individuals?  Are symbols important?  Is intent important in action?
Now, I really don’t think I have answers to any of these questions, at least not ones without qualifiers and doubts.  But what I am trying to express, and please excuse my lack of articulation, is that thinking about these questions leads to a lot of personal development.  It changes you, and I think that’s the kind of edification that’s good for people.  You step outside your own experience and gain a better view of the experiences of other beings.
And, this is what I do believe: thinking about these big questions and growing from them is the precise way to avoid societal descent into fascism (as one, oft overused, example).  But playing 40k has certainly led me to investigate my own assumptions and beliefs about that question a lot – can one person make a difference? can personal growth outgrow societal fads? can systems be changed actively? – and I think that is for the best for me, to keep questioning.  To keep growing.
Forgive me for lack of a better citation, but I’ll end by paraphrasing a Greek philosopher: “to entertain an idea without espousing it is a true sign of intelligence.”
Addendum:  I’d also like to say that this is why I like Henry Zou’s fiction so much.  He brings important questions into the mythos.  His works are probably my favorite 40k fiction because they bring in themes of imperialism and oppression, sexism, art, culture, choice, trade, ecosystems, etc.

A Finished Knight

The first newly-painted model in a long time: a Bretonnian Battle Standard Bearer.  Perhaps the beginning of a new army…