Following Pat McCartney's suggestions about using Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? to facilitate writing activities, I encourage second language learners to keep written journal of their experiences while playing this problem solving game. I ask them to write about the information they learn, the problems they encounter, and the strategies they develop for solving these problems. At the end of the game I ask learners to collaboratively prepare a written report analyzing their activities and decisions.
To facilitate these writing activities I divide learners into groups where each individual has a specific responsibility. One person is in charge of keeping track of all the clues. Another is the navigator, responsible for tracking the thief on a large world map. Another is responsible for writing the journal notes that will eventually be used to write the final report. And everyone is involved in deciphering the information provided by the game and looking for clues. This involves deciding what constitutes a clue and how it might be important to tracking down the thief. It is at this point that most of the group discussion occurs with learners talking back and forth about the meaning of a given piece of information, or if the meaning is not known, deciding what resources they will use to determine its meaning. For this reason, I think it beneficial to keep standard reference sources---dictionaries, almanacs, and atlases---in the classroom and easy to hand.
I encourage learners to keep a written journal to help them more successfully complete the game. For example, they must learn to recognize clues, either through their reading and understanding of the onscreen text, through research, or through discussion with each other. And learners must retain these clues for later use. Therefore, I encourage them to keep a "detective casebook" in which they record clues, decisions, and questions as their search for the thief progresses. At the end of the game, whether or not they have successfully tracked down the thief, these notes can be used to collaboratively prepare a case report detailing their process of tracking the thief. This report might include an analysis of how they made their decisions, what search strategies they used in which reference sources to fill information gaps, and how they negotiated solutions for the problems they faced. By learning to work through these challenges, and make these decisions, second language learners can become more competent with their language abilities and skills. And of course, by writing about these processes, they can move toward greater competence as writers. Specifically, these writing exercises and assignments can help teach second language writers the importance of a clearly stated thesis, supporting details, and effective conclusions. Finally, such writing exercises can help promote writing scenarios that are "useful and meaningful" (Andrew Wright, David Betteridge, and Michael Buckby 1-2) and more engaging for these developing writers. Here are some examples.
"Improving Second Language Writing Skills with Problem Solving Computer Games" (Pedagogy)
by John F. Barber, Ph. D.