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Now's Co-operative Newsletter
26 April 2000, #07

Well if the meaning of communication is in the response then the last newsletter must have meant something. It generated more replies than any other so far. So many in fact that I can put out this newsletter a little earlier than usual. Who knows, we may even manage twice a month after all...


PS This newsletter is now reaching out of Japan and into Europe and Canada. So I'm trying to drop the references to English and Japanese and use the phrase target language and mother tongue (is it still OK to use this phrase?), if I make a mistake I guess you'll know what I mean.

Toilet Escape - the reaction!

Tate Yamashita:

The Toilet Game sounds good. I can see I'd have to brush up on my coordination skills to pull it off.

Matthew White:

As usual, your newsletter got me contemplating my teaching methods and trying to find new ways of making each English language experience a positive one. I have to admit, your "toilet escape" had me rolling. The game itself might have some negativity in punishing individuals for mistakes, but that can be rectified by simply giving points for each illustration of that particular card is put on the board/wall and not having any individuals out of the game at all. What I did appreciate was the use of the toilet itself. I believe the idea of trying to prevent slime from the toilet from reaching our young heroes is something that they will think is fun, even if they are all "slimed." One of the main challenges I have is making materials that can be reused through different applications. Thus, the toilet gameboard can be applied to different situations. I had considered making a game using a volcano spewing lava which the players had to help each other escape, but the threat might seem too real.

Bill Brooks:

It may get a bit disgusting but to add to the game, you can have a person sit on the toilet at certain times and that way it would prevent the children from escaping even when they get very close. Possibly add a flush card where the children would have to go back 2 spaces.

I think a number of ideas come from the above. Switching from one language to another is a challenge in itself. I'm still thinking about the effects of mixing the target language and native tongue together. My feeling at the moment is that there may be some benefit to having them operating together. It's a question of how to make the target language be experienced as a language. As I mentioned previously there's no necessity to use the mother tongue with Toilet Escape. An alternative is to play Simple Simon substituting the words "Don't...."and/or "Please...." Players should only respond to requests beginning with please and should ignore any others.

As the game stands I don't quite understand Matthew's idea of recording points on the board/wall. However, it would work if the spaces on the Toilet Escape board were numbered in a different way. Rather than numbering the number of children required to move off the space the number of allowable errors could be recorded. Then as the game is played and errors are made the number of errors could be recorded. When the music stops the number of errors made can be compared to the number on the game board. If the number of actual mistakes is less then the players can move on. Bill's idea of introducing chance is attractive. I've designed some cards. The idea is that rather than moving on automatically a card is chosen. In general chance makes games more exciting. Feel free to copy and use the following graphics:

Toilet Escape Cards

If the monster on the toilet card is drawn then the players can't escape until a flush card has been drawn. But this will send them back down the pipe 1 or 2 spaces.

"If we taught children to speak, they'd never learn" William Hull

Tate Yamashita:

The quote by William Hull has always been one of my favorites and coincides with my own experience.

I think the idea of mixing mother tongue and target language and mime is an interesting one. I'd like to try out this one about shopping when I get a chance.

Whenever I meet a non-native speaker who speaks English very well (for me this doesn't mean perfectly or necessarily with a large vocabulary, but simply someone I am able to comfortably communicate without feeling like I am an English teacher or an interpreter) I usually end up asking them why they speak so well. Invariably the response comes that they have been abroad on their own for a while or have some close friend who can only speak English. In other words, they have been placed in the situation of having to use English to communicate. Confidence in their ability to communicate even with a limited vocabulary together with the ability to use non-verbal skills like pictures, gestures, etc. is what sets these speakers apart for me. That's one reason why the shopping game interests me.

Matthew White:

As for using the mother tongue in the classroom. I think that limited use would be fine, but once permitted it might be hard to stop. Signs/icons displayed in the classroom are one possibility. A sign that signifies when "English/Japanese/gestures" are to be used might assist with this. Didn't you mention something like this before? I know that you promote the use of icons in the classroom.

I did, and I do. I like to use symbols because they create structure. Structures can help students to understand, for example, when they are practising and, when they are communicating. Children, especially, need some indication of what is expected. I always use a parrot symbol when I want them to repeat. They can quickly learn that when the parrot symbol isn't present that something else is required other than repetition.

As for the shopping game I tried this out for the first time at a presentation for Niigata Jalt. I felt pretty excited to see the whole group trading using different forms of communication. Here is the game:

Bazaar (adapted from What's Next? Vol. 1)

Procedure: divide the class into two groups, bears and kangaroos. Give each player some money, some items, and a shop card. The shop card indicates what language the shopkeeper will use. There are three languages, English, Mother Tongue and Mime. The language used depends upon the number of items in the shop. You can copy the shop cards below. You'll need one for each player.

Set up the room so that each player has their own shop space. Chairs make good shops. Each group takes turns being customers and shopkeepers. Bears go first. To buy something the bears will need to use the correct language. The shopkeepers (the kangaroos) should only respond when the correct language is used. After one minute blow a whistle. The bears return to their shops. The items they have bought become the goods in their shops. Now the kangaroos close their shops and go shopping. So kangaroos can only buy from bears and vice versa. To encourage interaction make it a rule that a player can only buy one item from one shop. Play for a while but stop while the game is still fresh.

Competition Revisited

Tim Gollins:

Isn't any game by nature co-operative, even a competitive game?

By definition a game is rule bound, but if people are following rules, aren't they co-operating?

And if so, shouldn't your news letter be entitled, non-competitive games?

But there again, Isn't the essence of a game, competition? Even if there isn't a winner ie. even if it does't matter who wins, 'players' are competing even if it's not with each other.

Sometimes it's useful to explore familiar ground. It can lead to greater understanding. So here goes...

First of all as for the name this newsletter's supposed to be about learning itself as well as just games. Though I have been thinking of borrowing an idea from AWAD and starting a AGAW (a game a week).

(AWAD: A Word a Day: http://www.wordsmith.org/awad/index.html)

I guess the difference between co-operative games, non competitive games and competitive games is the nature of the challenge. In competitive games the challenge is created by the opponent. In non-competitive games the challenge comes from the structure of the game. If players need to work together to meet the challenge then the game becomes co-operative. Take for example volley ball. In the original, the idea is to score points against another team. In bump and scoot volleyball the idea is for both teams to change sides while keeping the ball in play. When a player hits the ball they must scoot under the net to the other side. By changing the structure of the game it ceases to become competitive and becomes co-operative.

When I talk about competition I define it using Alfie Kohn's term of MEGA - Mutually Exclusive Goal Attainment. Under a MEGA structure when I pursue my goal I do so at the expense of yours. In short, I win by making you lose. It follows from this that I cannot really compete against myself. I can challenge myself and I can try to overcome personal bests but I do not obtain my success at another's expense.

I agree that competitive games involve co-operation in that the teams have agreed to compete. But then as George Orwell once remarked, "Sport is warfare, minus the shooting." How many people want to play World War III? As far as learning is concerned I think competitive games have problems. First kids in the classroom usually don't get the choice about what they play. So the argument about players agreeing to compete is a little thin. Secondly competitive games are usually won by exploiting the mistakes of others. But in learning, especially languages, we need to encourage learners to learn through their mistakes rather than suggest that their mistakes are wrong. Also the more information I keep to myself the greater my edge when it comes to playing the games. So competitive games tend to discourage sharing. Essentially it comes down to the atmosphere and feeling within the learning environment. So I think what is most important is choice. If kids want to play a competitive game or turn a non-competitive one into a competitive one I let them get on with it. But I think it's important to introduce them to non-competitive games as they often have little experience of them. Before they can choose they need to know their choices.

The (oh so long) Logical Journey of the Zoombinis

The Logical Journey of the Zoombinis is a computer game from Brøderbund. It's designed to teach mathematical concepts and logical thinking skills for ages 8 and over. Recently I found myself playing it and the experience proved interesting.

The game is non-competitive in nature. The player assumes the role of a guide helping the Zoombinis to travel from a prison island to a new home in a distant land. Along the way various obstacles are encountered which can be solved by using logic. Zoombinis travel in groups of 16 at a time and every time an entire band survives a whole stage of the journey a building is erected in their honour. There are 16 buildings to be won altogether.

I wonder about the buildings. They are recognition of a job well done and I think good work should be acknowledged. But at the same time I found they encouraged a rather careless approach. When a mistake is made a zoombini is usually separated from the group, but since 16 zoombinis must make it together to win a building that means that once 1 zoombini is lost it's most pragmatic to abandon the whole group and begin again. In turn this means that the player can end up repeating the same puzzles many times in quick succession. But this practise doesn't lead to greater efficiency or skill at solving the problem, more a mindless repetition of a successful formula. So rather than being mentally engaged in some of the problems I found myself reacting to them mechanically. How true, I wonder, is this of students stuck in English lessons?

Constructing a lesson can be one of the most difficult tasks for the teacher. Repeating the same activity too often or continuing it too long can, I believe, weaken some students understanding of the material being covered. The extra practise can actually serve to undermine the students' confidence and motivation. This is why I think it's good to check what students think about an activity. I think a good strategy is to acknowledge when students have mastered something before moving on or before introducing variations. Non-competitive and co-operative games have an advantage in this respect, in that usually it is easier to amend the rules. Nobody is going to complain of favouritism as they all stand on the same side. Experimentation can keep activities fresh.

I think it is also important to give students choice about activities. Having said this I usually avoid repeating an established game within a single lesson even if the students have 'lost' it. I tell them that we can try again next week (and then make sure we do).

As for the Zoombinis there are 625 of them. That's an awful lot of trips and with all 16 buildings won it's a long hard slog. What keeps me going isn't the animated fireworks which greet each homecoming band as they arrive, but the knowledge that I need exactly 16 zoombinis to start each trip and that 16 doesn't go into 625 exactly. I'm curious about what's going to happen. And perhaps curiosity is the greatest incentive of them all.


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