Using Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? to Teach Writing Skills

As Mike Williamson and Penny Pence suggest, the use of computer technology can promote a sense of ownership over and a willingness to take risks with writing. Both results are generally seen as effective means for developing writers to improve the effectiveness of their writing. Although Williamson and Pence concentrate on native language learners and the use of computers to improve their writing, there is no reason to think that the same results cannot be achieved with second language learners. Shortly, I will discuss some examples from my class activities.

One way to encourage writing risk taking is to provide second language learners with writing situations that are enjoyable and where the content and language of their writing is relevant and meaningful to them. I've used the problem solving computer game Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? in my attempts to set up this kind of writing context for intermediate and advanced second language learners and have met with some success. Briefly, at the beginning of each game learners are told of a theft committed by an unknown thief. The object of this game is to assume the role of a detective, determine the thief's identity, determine where in the world the thief has gone, follow him or her there, and make an arrest---all within the very real context and under the very real pressure of accomplishing this task within a certain time period. New information is given to players with each advancement in the game. Learners must read the information provided on their computer screens and decide whether it is of use to them, and if so, of what kind of use. This information may pertain to the geographical, social, or political context of the country they are visiting, or it may provide clues to the thief's identity and whereabouts. Discerning the difference can help promote critical and analytical thinking skills.

For example, Carole Self, an anthropologist, and Reginald Golledge, a geographer, argue that Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? can help sharpen the spatial skills needed in the study of physics, chemistry, mathematics, and other science courses, especially among young women, who have traditionally been discouraged from pursuing scientific careers because they were thought to lack the necessary spatial skills.

Maureen Robinson and Annette Schonborn discuss using the Carmen Sandiego games for teaching geography, art, problem solving, and vocabulary. Pat McCartney describes how to enhance the implications of these games by building in generous amounts of creative fun and writing activities like journal writing, character sketches, letter writing, writing a book, and report writing.

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