Thoughts and Discussion

Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? is a demanding game for second language learners. They must turn often to resources and realia like almanacs, atlases, dictionaries, and maps for answers to problems they encounter while playing this computer game. But each time they consult these kinds of resources, they are presented with "real life" language challenges and decisions. By learning to work through these challenges, and make these decisions, learners become more competent with their language abilities and skills. The end result is that they can increase their communicative competence.

With regards specifically to writing, I've found that using Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? in intermediate and advanced second language writing classrooms can provide "useful and meaningful" (Andrew Wright, David Betteridge, and Michael Buckby 1-2) scenarios in which learners can improve their effective writing skills. Writing activities are encouraged through the keeping of journals during the process of playing the game and through the collaborative construction of a detailed written analysis of problems encountered and decisions made to solve these problems. As a result, learners not only have to think about what they are doing while they are doing it, but also have to think about what they have done in order to communicate their activities clearly and effectively through writing at the end of the activity. These writing activities, especially the journal writing, can be extended beyond the time spent interacting with this problem solving computer game by serving as the basis of writing in other content areas. In all cases, the teacher can place emphasis on the development of a clear thesis, the support of this thesis through the use of details and examples, and the closure of the arguments presented through the writing of an effective conclusion.

This last point is important. Despite the opportunities for fun and play afforded by such problem solving computer games and the creative teaching and learning opportunities of my modeled pedagogy, and certainly beyond the glitz involved with using computers in second language writing classrooms, it is still necessary to work on basic writing skills, either through direct teacher-learner contact or the use of computer technology. Using problem solving computer games like Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? as teaching-learning resources can help increase learners' willingness to take risks with their writing, and their willingness to rewrite, to rework, or to make changes in their writing by situating their writing in interesting and challenging contexts. One way to create and maintain this scenario is to keep in mind these guidelines when considering using problem solving computer games in your writing classroom.

When choosing a problem solving computer game, look at it from both the teacher's and student's perspective. These basic questions should guide its use in writing classrooms.

"Improving Second Language Writing Skills with Problem Solving Computer Games" (Examples)
by John F. Barber, Ph. D.