Communication Games with a Microcomputer
World Language English, 3, 2, 1984
communication games depend upon the principle that one player knows something
that the other player doesn't; the game consists of transferring the relevant
information from one person to another. In a typical map game, for instance, the
first player has a map that gives the location of various places, the second
player has a map that shows the streets but not the places and has to find out
where they are. This type of game has been popular for some time and derives
from the primary school techniques employed to develop the language of native
children in such books as Talk Reform
and Concept 7-9. The present article describes how many of these games
can be played on a microcomputer.
explosive growth in microcomputers means that they are fast becoming a
commonplace in schools and colleges. An increasing number of teaching techniques
have been discussed with reference to English; Tim Johns has described the use
of 'exploratory' exercises in which the student has. to find out the rules of
the language stored in the computer; John Higgins has devised simulation
exercises such as Murder; an article of my own shows how EFL drills may be adapted to
the classroom. Here, however, we are concerned with one of the central
techniques in the communicative repertoire. The programmes to be discussed have
all been written for the Sinclair ZX81 with IK memory; this is the smallest,
cheapest and simplest of the micros that are available and has .apparently
sold over half
a million. Since it only has a tiny IK memory the programmes cannot be very
complicated; if, however, reasonable exercises can be devised even for this size
of computer it is clear how wide the horizons may be for larger microcomputers.
Since one of the problems for those interested in this area is seeing actual
programmes rather than reading discussions of computing in general, one complete
programme and notes on three more may be seen at the end.
then are four simple communication games for the microcomputer.
What's left on the menu?
student is a
customer in a restaurant; the waiter asks him
shows him a menu of four items "Soup, melon, prawns, and avocado". The
student asks for
the waiter tells him
"I'm sorry we don't have any soup left. Anything else?"
In fact only one of the items on the menu is left. Everything the
customer wants is off until he asks for
waiter now asks
"What would you like for your second course?"
shows a menu of "omelette, sausages, spaghetti, steak, and fish".
Again everything the customer asks for is off, until he mentions
"steak" and goes on to the sweet course where he has to choose between
"ice-cream, cheese, cake and fruit" and finally discovers only one
game combines a
simulation of a restaurant with a guessing game. It practices a small
range of vocabulary items for food within a simulated conversational exchange.
The actual items can be adapted to the student's level and interests; since the
customer only sees the menu for a few moments he has to memorise and call up the
items out of his memory.
programme is restricted in that there is only one preset right
choice for each course; with a slightly larger memory the computer may choose
randomly from the items for each course every time the exercise is gone through.
However, even the simple programme here can be adapted to cover scenarios in
shops, or travel agents, or theatre ticket agents, where the customers can
request a range of items. Even in this simple form the computer can handle the
principle of missing information that has to be found out by the student.
Changing your money
the student has to work out the currency equivalents for various sums of money.
If a computer first asks
which the student answers, say'
To which the student answers by
"How many dollars to the pound?"
the student feeds in the current exchange rate
The exercise itself starts by asking:
many pounds are 35 dollars?"
the student guesses
"No, 35 dollars are £23.35"
"How many dollars are £700?"
the student has to work out this sum. And so on. The computer is
randomly choosing amounts
between 1 and 1000 in either currency. This example using dollars and pounds may
be quite hard for mental arithmetic and an easier, if untrue, exchange rate can
be substituted. The student is being put in the situation of working out
exchange rates instantly, something that can be of functional use to him in the
second language situation. In this game the computer is using its mathematical
functions applied to a particular task; there may be few other mathematics tasks
that will be useful in second language teaching, with the possible exception of
arithmetic type exercises using English when the student is first learning
computer asks the student
"What's John's birthday?”
student types the name of a month
is told whether this right or wrong. When he guesses right the computer asks:
the student tries out the dates of the month till he gets it right. Then the
computer goes back to the beginning, selects another birthday and the process
starts again. This really only practices the names of the months; using ordinal numbers
rather than cardinal for the dates is impossible within the small memory, but
can of course be included in longer programmes. The same type of programme will
deal with any sets of lexical items - "Guess Mary's favourite colour",
"Guess Peter's nationality", "Guess Sarah's favourite food".
Within the IK memory it will only deal with a single set at a
time and that must not be too large; using more memory several
lexical sets could be combined together. This game therefore uses the
computer’s ability to randomly choose one out of a set of pieces of
information, essentially like 'real-life guessing games in which one person has
to think of a number or choose a card and the other has to guess what it is.
4 Find out the number I'm thinking of
computer asks the student
"What number am I thinking of?"
student has to
find it out by asking questions with "more" or "less" such
"Is it more than 500?"
computer tells him whether he is right or wrong and in the end tells him how
many questions he has taken to solve the puzzle. Like the last game, the student
has to find out a piece of information; the difference is that he has to use
actual questions and that he can gradually narrow the possible answers down till
there is only the right answer left. So the game provides structural practice on
a particular point of comparison and puts this in a communicative setting where
a piece of information is waiting to be discovered. It also adds a competitive
game motive in that a score is given at the end. the students can try to beat
either their own best score or that of their friends. Variations on this game
within the IK limits are "Find out my weight"("heavier/lighter"),
using either English weights or kilos, "Find out how much money I
have in my pocket" ("more/lees"), using English money
or the students' own currency, and "Find out my height"("taller/shorter").
The principle that it uses is the computer's ability to compare numerical
answers with a target that it has randomly selected.
four games show then that communicative type exercises can be adapted to a
microcomputer even of the
smallest kind. Though rudimentary in many ways, these
simple communication games can be interesting and 'communicative' practice. It
may of course be argued that the students are not strictly speaking
'communicating’ with the computer which is not a human being. But what this
criticism reveals is not so much a defect in the computer games as in this type
of communication game which sees the function of language at the exchange of
pieces of information rather than the creation of personal relationships, the
interpersonal function emphasised by the British tradition of linguistics,
Malinowski, Halliday, and Firth. A communication game abstracts out of language
everything but the information exchange. Hence, whether using real people or
computers, such communicative activities as the communication game are relevant
to a small fraction of the students' needs. Techniques such as these have a role
to play only as part of a broadly-based integrated viewpoint on language, not as
the be-all and and-all. Nevertheless provided we see the limitations of defining
language function just as communication of information they have a valuable if
minor part to play in language teaching.
four programmes were written and tested on a Sinclair ZX81 with IK memory. The
first is given in full; the short notes on the other three should enable the
reader to write the programmes without difficulty.
Game 1. What's left on the menu?
full programme appears below. Line 20 prints "What is left on the
menu?", line 3O pauses for about 2 seconds, and the screen is cleared
by line 40.
Line 50 sets
up a loop of 3, the three courses of the meal. Line 70
prints "What would you like for your ", line 90 adds "first” if
N equals 1 (i.e. the loop is going round for the first time), line 100
"main" if R equals 2 (the second time round the loop, i.e. second
course), line 110 "sweet" if N equals 3; then line 120 adds "
course?" Depending on N either line 13O, 140, or 150 prints out the menu
for that course. Line 160 is the student response, called A$. Lines 180, 190 and
200 compare it with the target for that course (that value of n).
If the student is right the programme jumps to line 260 which prints
"Yes, we have some ", plus the student response, the A$ (whatever the
student requested); after a pause of two seconds (line 270), the screen is
cleared (line 280) and on line 290 the programme either goes back to the
beginning of the N loop in line 50 or if N equals 3 and the meal is over, goes
to line 210 and prints "End". If, however, the student's response in
line 160 was found to be wrong in lines 180-200, the programme goes to line 210
and prints "Sorry, we don't have any" plus the A$
(the student's response) plus "left"; it pauses (line 220), clears the
screen (which also wipes out tie menu) (line 230), prints "Anything
else?" (line 240) and goes back to line l60(line 250) to await another
student response. An alternative way of handling this is to use a dimensional
array for the three target items.
"Menu" Programme for ZX81. IK
PRINT "WHAT IS
"LEFT ON THE MENU?"
FOR N=l TO 3
PRINT "WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE FOR YOUR ";
IF N=1 'HEN PRINT "FIRST";
IF N=2 THEN PRINT "MAIN";
IF N=3 THEN PRINT "SWEET"; .
IF N=l THEN PRINT "SOUP MELON PRAWNS AVOCADO"
IF N=2 THEN PRINT "OMELETTE SAUSAGES SPAGHETTI STEAK FISH”
IF N=3 THEN PRINT "ICECREAM CHEESE CAKE FRUIT"
IF N=l AND A$= "MELON" THEN GOTO 260
AND A$= "STEAK" THEN GOTO 260
IF N=3 AND A$="FRUIT" THEN GOTO 260
PRINT " SORRY. WE DONT HAVE ANY "; A$; " LEFT"
PRINT "ANYTHING ELSE?"
PRINT "YES, WE HAVE SOME "A$
2. Changing your money
requires two input strings for the types of currency and an input number for the
exchange rate; it prints "How many "; A$; " are "; X; "
"; B$; "?" The variable X is generated by a random number up to,
say, 1000. The computer has a formula for working out the correct exchange and
comparing it with the student's answer. To make the game more interesting, the
questions go both ways, i.e. not only "How many dollars are 50
pounds?" but also "How many pounds are 50 dollars?"; this is done
by randomly assigning the two input strings to A$ or B$ each time the programme runs
according to whether INTEG(RND*2)+1 works out as odd or even.
3. Guess John's Birthday
handled by a 12 dimensional array; the programme randomly generates a number
between 1 and 12 to be a subscript for the string to be selected. The dates are
also selected by the random generation of a number between 1 and JO, meaning
that not all months will be the right length! As the words for different months
range in length from three letters up to nine, trailing empty spaces have to be
eliminated by a loop including IP A$(N)="
" THEN LET A$(N)="" before they can be compared with the student
Find out the number I'm thinking of
programme randomly generates a number up to, say, 100 and compares it to the
student response by recognising "more" or "lees" and using
IF with <or> to compare the response with the target. The scoring system
starts from LET S=0 and increases the value of S (LET S=S+l) every time
the student makes a response, printing out the final value of S at the end.
V.J.., 'Structure drills on a ZX81, Modern
English Teacher (to appear)
J., & Gahagan, D., Talk Reform,
Routledge Kegan Paul
J., 'The use of the computer in English language teaching,' CILT Information Guide,
22 (to appear)
T., 'Exploratory GAL: an alternative use of the computer in teaching
foreign languages,' Birmingham English for Overseas Students Unit, University of
J., Norris, R.A., & Worsley, F.J., Concept
Seven-Nine, E.J. Arnold, 19?2