Return to the forbidding planet

7th July 1995 at 01:00
Students of English as a foreign language should benefit from a new CD-Rom, writes Nicola Jones. Zargon Zoo. Age group: 11-16. By Paul Shipton. Published by Heinemann in conjunction with Plum Productions.

CD-Rom for teaching English Pounds 34.95 One CD-Rom which will run on both Macintosh and PC. Needs 4mb of RAM. Windows 3.1 and System 7.0

Our classroom books are coming to life, one by one, on computers. Heinemann has joined the growing number of educational publishers presenting its existing titles on CD-Rom. Zargon Zoo, by Paul Shipton, a level 2-graded reader, written for learners of English as a foreign or second language, has been animated with sound and interactive moving images.

Zargon Zoo lends itself well to this kind of treatment. It is a lively story presented in comic-strip style, about a boy who is kidnapped by the Zargons, little green people from outer space whose ears change colour if they become too emotional. The boy is kept in a Zargon zoo, where he is given a television, plates of beefburgers and some records, but no record player. The Zargons find him amusing but not surprisingly he wants to go home. The Zargons have a heart and release him in the end, so it all ends happily ever after.

The CD-Rom has two options which have become quite familiar in these titles. Either the story can be read to the students without any interaction, or they can "play", and the manual suggests that this option is "much more fun". The playing involves them going through each page and clicking on parts of it for interaction. This could have been an excellent opportunity for developing vocabulary, but in most cases, clicking on something induces an interaction which, while being amusing and contributing to the story to some extent, doesn't seem to have a great deal of educational purpose.

Heinemann New Wave readers are graded from levels 1 to 5 and assume a core of vocabulary for each level. The multimedia version supports this by producing a list of "important earth words" on every screen, but the opportunity has been missed to make more learning points.

The balance between making learning fun and just having fun is a difficult one and the interface between designers, teachers and publishers is one that is only just beginning to develop.

That being said, there is a lot to recommend this title. For any young foreign or second language learner, to hear the written word is a bonus and the fact that sentences can be played over and over again, supported by animated graphics would be beneficial to their learning.

The text is read in a lively and interesting way. I particularly liked listening to the Zargons, who have a rather endearing intonation without sounding too robotic. The disc would particularly appeal to young teenagers, with its loud music and occasionally irreverent burpy noises.

Zargon Zoo can be played on both Macintosh and PC, which is a bonus, but it worked best on a 630 Macintosh. There is a colouring book, where students can colour pages of the story and print them out, and some teachers' notes for "pre", "while" and "post" reading activities are provided.

This is a story which features male characters throughout, which I have no objection to per se. However, it is rather a pity that the only image of a female, shown when the boy is being questioned by Zargons to find out about earth, is of a large busty blonde in a red bikini.

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