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.

Pre-computer work
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).

Computer work
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).

Post-computer work
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".




















Rolf Palmberg has been training FL teachers for more than twenty years at Åbo Akademi University in Vaasa, Finland. His publications include a book on CALL and a selection of communicative activities for learners of Swedish as a second language (co-written with Olav Palmqvist), some 50 articles in international journals and magazines, and about 50 CALL programs.