22nd September 2000 at 01:00
STIG OF THE DUMP. pound;35 single user, pound;52.20 five-user pack, pound;70 site licence plus VAT. Topologika Software, 1 South Harbour, Harbour Village, Penryn, Cornwall TR10 8LR Tel: 01326 377771

It's always exciting to find appropriate software for independent group work in the literacy hour. This text-based adventure game lets children experience the importance of reading for understanding. It is based on Clive King's classic 1963 novel (Puffin pound;5.99), an established key stage 2 favourite. The software is a re-worked version of Marshal Anderson's 1985 innovative BBC game, although the new version features more sophisticated graphics, animation, sound-effects and spoken text.

Using knowledge of the text, children work collaboratively to solve the dilemmas faced by the central character, Barney, in a variety of locations over three days. The adventure is well-constructed and true to the book, but it is essential to have read at least the first three chapters before starting.

Children have to read, understand, then write specific instructions to participat fully in the game, although password-protected configuration allows teachers to make the software more or less demanding using a pop-up list of commands and spoken support.

Stig is time-consuming, but groups can save their position to complete the game over several sessions, or to protect themselves before trying out a risky move. Most mistakes won't prevent children from completing the game - although attempting dangerous actions, such as climbing the tree, will eliminate you.

The game has clear on-screen help for pupils and teacher and a booklet suggesting ways to use Stig in the classroom, although I would have liked some printed materials to use away from the computer. The software is easy to configure and use, but the recommended age range of nine to 13 is generous - those used to directing the antics of Lara Croft may find Stig of the Dump sedentary. But as a classroom resource to stimulate reading, comprehension and collaborative problem-solving skills, it is great.

Gillian Blatherwick is ICT co-ordinator at Rushey Mead primary school, Leicester

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