The Reading Matrix
Vol. 1, No. 1, April 2001
In the Wild West
Suggestions for a text-based CALL lesson
by Rolf Palmberg
Åbo Akademi University in Vaasa, Finland
The lesson plan outlined below is based
on a computer program entitled In
the West (click to download). The program
introduces an alternative approach to reading comprehension,
offering the students an opportunity to practise their ability
to read for global as well as specific information and to
develop their speed-reading skills and memory for detail.
When the program starts, the students have
100 points at their disposal. The opening screen is blank
and the students must choose whether they want to view the
In the Wild West story or answer questions about it. Each
viewing time costs 10 points and the text is displayed only
for a limited period of time (15 seconds the first time
and a couple of seconds less for each consecutive time).
Answering questions is free and the students receive points
for each correct answer. For each incorrect answer, however,
they lose points. The questions appear in random order and
all incorrectly answered questions reappear at some point.
The program ends when the students have answered all questions
correctly or lost all their points.
Tell the students that they are
going to work on a text about the Wild West. Invite them
to think about the topic individually for a minute and then
prepare a list of those content words that they think will
appear in the text. After another minute or two, ask them
to compare their lists in pairs or in groups of three. Show
the students a series of pictures involving typical Wild
West scenes, prompting them for and/or pre-teaching them
vocabulary items needed for the computer program (e.g. buffalo,
gunman, inhabitant, newcomer, poisonous, rumour, ruthless,
saloon, snake, swing, and wanted).
Ask the students to work in pairs
with the program. Invite them to discuss (and agree on)
reading strategies which will enable them to solve possible
speed-reading problems. When the students have completed
the task, invite them to work in pairs and ask each other
additional questions about the story (the one who is in
turn to answer must not look at the computer screen).
Invite the students to retell
as much as possible of the content of the text without looking
at the computer screen (if the text is still displayed).
Ask the students to write a short story about the Wild West
(e.g. prompted by a picture displayed on the OHP). For homework,
ask the students to find jokes about the Wild West (to be
told to their classmates on the following lesson).
In the Wild West
Once upon a time in the wild West
there was a small town called Horsetown. The town had about
200 inhabitants, three shops and a big saloon where all
the men spent most of their time drinking whisky and playing
cards. The town sheriff, Billy Westwood, was a kind and
honest man. One day there was a rumour that Big Joe Bundy,
a wanted gunman, was on his way to orsetown. Bundy was a
ruthless person who would lie to his own mother. He was
known to have shot 36 men dead, most of them in the back.
Unfortunately nobody in Horsetown knew what Bundy looked
like. The following day, a big, dark man rode into town
on a buffalo, swinging a poisonous snake in his hand. He
entered the Shark Saloon, ran to the bar and ordered a double
Scotch. He finished the whisky in no time and was very surprised
to find that he was suddenly the only person in the bar.
A moment later, when the sheriff came to arrest him, the
newcomer hit him hard on the head and said: "I'm sorry,
sheriff, but it's time for me to ride on. I've heard that
Big Joe Bundy is on his way".