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What's the name of the game?

An authoring tool enables teachers to create a box of tricks for any language, says Alison Thomas.

The foot of the screen contains two columns of incomplete sentences, the top is reserved for the missing parts, which descend one by one before disappearing. Even at level three you have to be quick off the mark to make the match and three missed opportunities means sudden death. Level five is virtually impossible but I refuse to give in and try various techniques such as memorising a single column before starting.

Imagine what this game could do for your students' retention of language and it is only one of a collection that together make up the authoring tool TaskMagic. This particular template, called "Text Invaders", can also be used to match pictures and words or the questions and answers of a scrambled dialogue. Moreover, from one set of data the software automatically generates up to 12 different activities ranging from straightforward multiple choice exercises to sophisticated games.

Some, such as "Race Against the Clock", pose an individual challenge; others, like "Three in a Row", are designed for competition between partners or teams. "Text Invaders" is one of the flashier options together with "Asteroids", "Pool", "Millionaire" and "Maze". Gap fill, word strings, jumbled sentences and other activities that deconstruct text focus attention on syntax. Sound files can also be incorporated and some types of exercise can be printed off as worksheets or for use on the overhead projector.

This magic box of tricks is the brainchild of Martin Lapworth, former head of modern languages at William Parker School, a boys' comprehensive in Hastings. "I tried out Hot Potatoes but found it limited and wanted to create materials that exploited the potential of games. I also wanted to make it quicker and easier for colleagues to devise their own interactive activities," he explains.

Caroline Pepper, modern languages teacher and ICT co-ordinator at Hillcrest School in the same town, confirms that the software is accessible to all.

"The most time-consuming task is putting together sound and picture files.

Actually building a series of exercises takes a matter of minutes," she says.

Since the school acquired interactive whiteboards, TaskMagic games have become a regular feature in her classroom. Even her PowerPoint presentations include pictures and sounds compiled for the software, ensuring continuity of both language and stimulus. Simple matching activities provide a fun way of consolidating new language at the beginning or end of a lesson and when students have assimilated the basics she challenges them with a higher level or creates additional exercises containing longer phrases or more complex constructions.

"They love them, especially when they compete against each other in teams.

There are so many different formats that there is no danger of boredom setting in," she says.

Subsequent lessons might include the analysis of a short paragraph using the Mix and Gap tools followed by dialogue work to focus attention on question forms, a common weak spot. "After repeated practice of the models, they are well equipped to produce their own texts or conversations," she concludes.

TaskMagic goes down equally well in the multimedia suite, where individuals have access to the whole topic area and work through the various activities at their own speed. It has also proved successful with work-shy examination candidates. "Persuading them to learn things is a real problem and this is one way of getting them to practise the same language over and over again.

Even with a basic matching exercise, they keep trying until they get all the answers right," she explains.


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