Before we jump in to the actual lesson planning part, let’s set up a scenario.

Let’s imagine that I’m an elementary school media specialist in the state of North Carolina. Animals are a key part of the 4th grade science curriculum in North Carolina. At my imaginary elementary school, a fourth grade teacher has approached me. She’s interested in inquiry learning and wants to incorporate popular culture into her class; she’s noticed that her students seem especially interested in Pokemon. Some of them have even been sneaking their Pokewalkers into school hoping to rack up more steps to help them in the most recent Pokemon releases, HeartGold and SoulSilver.

She knows that Pokemon look a lot like animals and she thinks she can somehow put that to use in her animal unit plan, so she turns to Google. A search for “Pokemon lesson plan” brings up JP’s post a little down the first page of results. She’s also familiar with the Thinkfinity project (let’s just assume it’s because I’m an awesome librarian and make sure my colleagues know about these resources). She performs a search there for “animals” and limits it to lessons for grades 3-5. She finds Animal Adaptations, which addresses adaptations and habitats – exactly what she wants to address in her unit.

Armed with these two lesson plans, she comes to me looking for any additional resources which might support her students’ research. I indicate to her that I’m very interested in games in education and ask her if she would mind if we collaborated more fully on this unit plan and offer to assist with the assessment of the final product as well. As you might imagine, she is thrilled to have an offer of help with that part of things. I give her a quick overview of the backwards design process, much like I gave in my previous post, and we set up a meeting to work through the backwards design template and create a unit plan with JP’s post and the Thinkfinity plan as inspiration.

Next time: Desired Results.

Earlier posts in this series:

Soon after I wrote Pokemon for the 21st Century Learner, JP at continued the Pokemon series he began in Pokemon 101 with the posts Pokemon 102 and Pokemon Project Based Lesson Plan Idea: Habitats. JP’s lesson plan planted the seed of an idea in my head. I would go one step beyond a project based lesson, and turn it into an inquiry-based lesson.

My work at LEARN NC consists primarily of reading lesson plans and aligning them with the North Carolina Standard Course of Study. This means I’ve read many lesson plans about animals and their habitats. It also means that first and foremost in my mind in any lesson planning project are the standards, both from North Carolina’s Department of Public Instruction and from the National Science Teachers Association (the relevant professional association in this case).

This focus pushed me to consider using backwards design to write my inquiry-based Pokemon lesson. Backwards design begins with the end in mind, asking three key questions:

  1. What do we want our students to know and be able to do?
  2. How will they demonstrate their knowledge and ability?
  3. What activities will support them as they move through this process?

It was my original intention to write a whole unit plan and then present it to you, The Internet, fully formed. But I’ve since changed my mind. I’m going to walk you through this process with me. So get ready, because we’re in for what might be a lengthy ride.

GameFAQs ( is a fully-searchable online archive of video and computer game information.  It is owned by the GameSpot network but independently operated by Allen Tynan, a member of the site since its inception in 1995 and a GameFAQs employee since 2004.  GameFAQs is free but ad-supported.  Strict policies ensure that ads are relevant and appropriate for all audiences.

GameFAQs provides multiple interface options.  For the user who wishes to find information for a specific game quickly, a search box sits immediately below the site’s logo, with a drop-down menu allowing the user to limit the search to a specific platform.   Those who prefer browsing may use the navigation bar labeled “Platforms” which lists all of the video game consoles in the two most recent generations as well as PCs and an “All Systems” option; the site also provides a dropdown menu on the same bar which includes several older platforms.  The user can then further narrow her options by selecting titles beginning with a specific letter of the alphabet or in genres such as “Action,” “Role-Playing,” and “Sports.”

The site’s scope is both broad and deep.  It includes user-submitted FAQs for games as old as the 1972 Magnavox release “Table Tennis” and as new as “Final Fantasy XIII,” with a US release date of March 9, 2010.  The full system list includes over 100 platforms for computer and video games.  The depth of FAQs varies depending on the game.  For the puzzle game “Tetris,” only general FAQs are provided, consisting of information such as game controls, pieces, and general strategies.  For “DragonAge: Origins,” a recent role-playing game, a nearly 40,000 word walkthrough guides the player through each plot element in the game; also available for this game are guides for specific character types, hidden content, the magic system, and item creation.

While GameFAQs is not the only resource of this type, it is unique in its affordability, comprehensiveness and accessibility.  Commercially available guides such as those produced by Prima and Brady Games only address one game at a time and have list prices in the $20 to $30 range.  Gaming magazines like GamePro do not have searchable archives and have cover prices of about $6 per issue.  Other online sources, such as IGN, include only general FAQs.  Unlike these sites, GameFAQs requires that most of its guides be presented in ASCII text format, ensuring accessibility and interoperability.  GameFAQs also includes social aspects such as message boards and a Q&A feature where users can respond to each others’ questions about games.  Both this and the fact that GameFAQs relies entirely on user-contributed content give young adults who join the community the opportunity to write for an authentic audience.

GameFAQs is a valuable resource for all gamers, but may be of particular interest to library youth services departments and middle and high school librarians.  Teachers looking for authentic audiences for student writing can take advantage of the community aspects of the site.  Young adult services librarians will find it useful both for individual patrons and as a support for gaming programming.  With its low cost and wide appeal, this resource is suitable for school, public, and academic libraries.

In his excellent post, Pokemon 101 for Teachers & Librarians, JP of answers the question, “What does Pokemon have to do with schools/libraries?”  I’d like to take that a bit further and, based on his points, articulate what it has to do with school libraries.

I believe that gaming is an excellent way for students to develop the skills, dispositions, responsibilities, and self-assessment strategies which will carry them into the future.  We can see exactly how this works for Pokemon by aligning it with AASL’s Standards for the 21st-Century Learner.  [Note: I have only played Pokemon Red and I never actually finished it; I have played the Pokemon Trading Card Game quite a bit.]

First, let’s address a couple of the foundational beliefs.

Reading is a window to the world.  If a student can’t read, she’ll have a hard time playing Pokemon, either the video game or the card game.  In both the video game and the card game, students are required to read descriptions of the individual Pokemon and their powers to determine which Pokemon to use as they battle their opponent.  In the video game, they also have to read as they engage in conversation with characters in the game.

Learning has a social context. In some versions of Pokemon, players can engage in multiplayer battles.  Players must trade Pokemon if they wish to complete their Pokedex, an in-game database which contains information about the individual Pokemon.  There is, to my knowledge, no solitaire version of the Pokemon card game; it must be played opposite an opponent.

Now, let’s move on to specific standards and indicators.

Learners use skills, resources, and & tools to:

1. Inquire, think critically, and gain knowledge.

  • 1.1.2 Use prior and background knowledge as context for new learning. As students play Pokemon, they build their knowledge about the game’s system and rules.  They can transfer this knowledge to new situations within the game and to other games in the series.

2. Draw conclusions, make informed decisions, apply knowledge to knew situations, and create new knowledge.

  • 2.1.4 Use technology and other information tools to analyze and organize information. As mentioned before, players must use the Pokedex as they play the video game to make decisions.  As JP mentions in his post, the community-driven encyclopedia Bulbapedia involves a significant flow of information which students might use to enhance their playing or contribute to from their own knowledge.
  • 2.1.5 Collaborate with others to exchange ideas, develop new understandings, make decisions, and solve problems. The social nature of Pokemon encourages this kind of behavior.
  • 2.1.6 Use the writing process, media and visual literacy, and technology skills to create products that express new understandings.  Bulbapedia provides players with the opportunity to do just this.  It also has a style manual, which will help students learn to write within certain constraints.

3.  Share knowledge and participate ethically and productively as members of our democratic society.

  • 3.1.3 Use writing and speaking skills to communicate new understandings effectively. Once again, the social aspects of Pokemon and opportunity to contribute to a community-driven encyclopedia come into play.
  • 3.1.4 Use technology and other information tools to organize and display knowledge and understanding in ways that others can view, use, and assess. I’m beginning to sound like a scratched CD here, but this is yet another example of a time when communication about the game, rather than the game itself, is relevant.
  • 3.3.5 Contribute to the exchange of ideas within and beyond the learning community. See above.

4. Pursue personal and aesthetic growth.

  • 4.1.1 Read, view, and listen for pleasure and personal growth. I think “Play” should be added to this indicator, but even if it is not, the other three actions are situated within the game.  There is a wealth of relevant non-game material as well, including both fiction and non-fiction books, a cartoon series, and movies.
  • 4.1.7 Use social networks and information tools to gather and share information. Look, another opportunity for social interaction surrounding the game to come into play!  (Forgive the pun, please.)
  • 4.3.1 Participate in the social exchange of ideas, both electronically and in person. See above.

There are many other ways in which Nintendo’s vast Pokemon empire can be used to enhance students’ learning.  How can you take advantage of this opportunity in your school library?