START with Interactive Fiction

Interactive fiction has an excellent shot at being the best preparation kids could have for the incredibly boring NAPLAN reading comprehension tests. I think there are some sensible approaches to explicit instruction of key skills for standardised reading comprehension tests, but even the best of them leave me cold as a teacher when I think about the true reason for having the explicit instruction in the first place. I am somewhat resigned, in the short term at least, to having to prepare kids for NAPLAN. However, I am keen to find ways to modify existing strategies to make them more engaging for students. That’s where the happy union of the START framework and interactive fiction come in.


Scharlach’s START framework (Students and Teacher Actively Reading Text) breaks down comprehension skills into 8 distinct and linear stages:

1. predicting/inferring
2. visualizing
3. making connections
4. questioning
5. determining main idea
6. summarizing
7. checking predictions
8. making judgments

Students also utilize a metacognitive reading journal where they are prompted to record their thinking according to these 8 stages. In her study, Scharlach concludes that it is the metacognitive step of the reading process that sees the greatest gains in later test performance.

The Engagement Problem

Unless the texts chosen for reading comprehension practice are of particular interest to the students, it is hard to find anything truly engaging about preparing for NAPLAN. If you consider engagement according to Schlechty’s model, borrowing from Daniel Pink, student motivation that hangs upon scoring well or simply following teacher instruction because that is what one does, will lack the long term effectiveness a teacher should strive for (or a student will enjoy).

Learning any skill ‘because it is on the test’ will always come a distant second place to learning a skill because it is in one’s immediate interest to learn it.

Games-based-learning is a education trend I have been wary of adopting, but I think there is real potential for interactive fiction to give kids engaging games to play that provoke an immediate need to learn comprehension skills. If kids want to win the game and progress through a text adventure successfully, the same comprehension skills required by NAPLAN are the ones most likely to help them solve the various puzzles they will come across.

Modifying START for IF

The START framework provides prompts for the reading journal to help students with their thinking as they read. In order to successfully modify this framework to suit interactive fiction, I propose adding alternative prompts to aid with interactive fiction problem solving. In a classroom, I would likely have these on a poster, with their original START counterparts, so students can be made aware of the cross over these skills have into all reading.

NB: In the context of IF, the reading comprehension strategies become useful at the point when a player is stuck. This usually means they have encountered a puzzle of some kind.

START stem Skill IF stem
 In this chapter I think… Predicting / Inferring  I think my immediate objective is…
 In my mind I see… Visualizing  If I explore the environment I see…
This reminds me of…  Making connections The objects I can access can be used to…


People usually do or say things like that when…

 I wonder…  Questioning  I wonder…
 I think the most important thing…  Main idea  My priorities are…
 In 10 words of less…  Summarizing  The current problem I have is…
 My original prediction…  Checking predictions  I have tried…it did not work because…
 My favourite part…  Making judgements  I am / am not pleased with that solution because…

I would recommend playing through one text together as a class, with the teacher modelling these strategies. I think Lost Pig is a wonderful place to start (play it online here). Once the thinking / comprehension strategies have been conveyed and practiced, I’d further recommend continuous free exploration of other titles throughout the year, letting kids choose their own adventures. If you are in the habit of assigning weekly / fortnightly comprehension passages and accompanying worksheets / quizzes, stop those immediately and replace them with interactive fiction.

[Edit: Previous article in this series can be found here: NAPLAN Reading Comprehension: Teaching to the test, the fun way with Interactive Fiction]

START with Interactive Fiction