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Integrating Technology Across the Curriculum: Internet/Computer Writing Resources for a Content-Based Curriculum,
Michael Krauss, ISALC, Lewis & Clark College
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Simulating Real World Environments

When used with instructional materials and activities designed for ESL learners, computer simulations and games can provide a rich environment for language learning. Because simulations work best when used in small groups, students have ample opportunity to develop the small-group interactional skills required in university and business settings. In addition, simulations provide an excellent environment for writing because simulations often generate quantities of meaningful information about which to write. Students see the logic of analyzing, synthesizing and reporting on the results of a simulation and there is high motivation to share their findings with others.

Samples of Simulations and Teaching Materials


Samples of Simulations and Teaching Materials
Role Playing Simulations

Decisions, Decisions series by Tom Snyder Productions - provides excellent simulations on a number of topics which would be appropriate in ESL classes (Environment, Immigration, Colonization, Revolutionary Wars, Violence in the Media, Campaign Trail and more) at Each simulation provides an opportunity for students to read, write and discuss within a content area as they identify problems, use critical thinking and decision-making skills. Version 5.0 includes built-in writing module.

  • Decisions, Decisions On-line is now available and at no charge. The current topic (Sept. 99 is Gun Control). There is a different scenario each month and users can access past scenarios via an on-line archive("coming soon" as of this writing). This resource follows the same general format as the paper-based Decisions series, and also includes on-line video advice from the four advisors. The text-based materials (advisor memos, post-simulation quiz) are downloadable in PDF format. This is a great resource.

    Prejudice has been a successful simulation in a content-based course which I am currently teaching, Diversity and Civil Rights in the U.S. The simulation is set in a small town in which a local business is distributing racially biased materials, thereby inciting racial unrest among the inhabitants. Students are the collective "mayor" of the town and must make decisions based on the information given them by a cadre of advisors (also played by the students) who come from different perspectives (campaign manager, political activist, lawyer, and historian). The students must read informational booklets, each based on the viewpoint of one of the advisors. The simulations require only one computer in the classroom, are easy to use, and come with freely reproducible supporting materials. Here is a follow-up writing assignment based on the "Prejudice" simulation which I have used in class.


    For detailed lesson plans and classroom activities based on "The Environment" simulation by Tom Snyder Productions, contact Sidney Kinneman, University of Oregon, who presented "Academic Reading, Writing and Debating Through Computer Simulation Tasks" at TESOL '97.


    Suzanne Wright describes the results of research comparing two group of intermediate ESL students, one using a debate activity and the other a simulation (Tom Snyder's "The Environment"). The article concludes the following: 1) Contrary to students' perceptions, they do not learn less grammar and more listening and speaking skills during simulations (there were no measurable acquisition differences between the two groups). 2) Students in both the debate and simulation groups improved their critical thinking skills by a statistically similar amount. Further research is planned to determine differences in the type and amount of language used in the two activities. See Wright, S. (1998). The Effect of Simulations on Second Language Development. CAELL Journal 8(2), 3-10. Published by ISTE.


Gaming Simulations

SimCity and Sim2000 from Electronic Arts (follow the Maxis link) is a city - building program is another simulation which has worked very well in Computer Applications courses I have taught. Students learn to build simulated cities and get hands-on experience meeting the challenges presented in city administration: zoning, taxing, budgeting, power, transportation, pollution, crime, land value, etc. Students form "expert groups" after focusing on certain sections of the User Guide and they teach their skills to other groups. As a final project, pairs of students design and build cities together. Before starting, each team completes a Planning Objectives Form, in which they set goals and objectives for their city, the standard by which they will be evaluated. While building the city, students keep detailed records of their decisions (and the results) on Decision Logs. After approximately ten class periods, student then prepare written and oral reports (which are videotaped and reviewed with the teacher). Having tracked their decisions, and with the graphs and charts of their progress automatically tracked by the simulation, students can write a final report which analyzes and synthesizes the data and allows them to not only describe the city they have built, but to draw conclusions about its growth, and evaluate what they would do differently should they build the city again.

Business Simulations

Theme Park and Theme Hospital - Available only for DOS and Windows 95 so I have not used it at my school. At the Electronic Arts site, (follow the "Bullfrog" link - Note: you'll need ShockWave Flash and RealVideo to view their page). These games are multi-level, and at the advanced levels are full-blown business simulations. Theme Park allows the player to set up a park, placing rides, selling tickets, balancing accounts, even deciding on the ingredients for the lemonade. Theme Hospital follows the same idea, but the gamer is provided with a real world setting in which to construct and operate a hospital. Consideration must be given to every detail from buying furniture and equipment to researching cures for various illnesses. The goal is to establish a first rate medical facility that attracts the best staff and lures and cures hordes of patients, thus making the hospital a financial success. Cost for games = approx. $15/copy.

Capitalism and Capitalism Plus - Enlight Software/Interactive Magic. I have no experience with this CD ROM game, but it has received high reviews as a realistic simulation as well as an addictive game. As Chairman of the Board/CEO of a consumer goods company, you deal with a simulated vertical market, from mining raw materials through selling at a department store. Along the way, you can invest in advertising, R&D, and training of your workforce. A fully functioning stock market is also modeled. Capitalism is available for Mac and Windows, Captitalism Plus for Windows 95 only. Capitalism - $29.95, Capitalism Plus - $39.95


A Sampling of References on Simulation and Gaming

Black, M. C. (1995). Entrepreneurial English: Teaching business English through simulation. English Teaching Forum, 33 (2), 2-9.

Bredemeier, M.E. and Greenblat, C.S. (1981). The educational effectiveness of simulations and games: A synthesis of findings. Simulations and Games. 12 (3).

Crookall, D., & Oxford, R. L. (Eds.). (1990). Simulation, gaming, and language learning. New York: Newbury House.

Greenblat, C.S. (1975). Teaching with simulation games: A review of claims and evidence. In Greenblat, C.S. and Duke, R.C (Eds.) Gaming-Simulation: Rationale, Design, and Applications. New York: Halsted.

Jones, Ken. (1982). Simulations in Language Teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Jones, K. (1985). Designing your own simulations. London: Methuen.

Jones, K. (1987). Simulations: A handbook for teachers and trainers (2nd ed.). New York: Nichols Publishing.

Orbach, E. (1979). Simulation games and motivation for learning: A theoretical framework. Simulation and Games. 10(1).

Oxford, R. (Ed.). (1990). Using and learning language through simulation / gaming. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

Oxford, R. and D. Crookall. (1990). Learning strategies: Making language learning more effective through simulation/gaming. In Crookall, D. and R. Oxford (Eds.) Simulation, Gaming and Language Learning. New York: Newbury House.

Pierfy, D.A. (1977). Comparative simulation game research: Stumbling blocks and stepping-stones. Simulation & Games. 8, 255-268.

Scarcella, R. & Crookall, D. (1990). Simulation/gaming and language acquisition. In D. Crookall and R. Oxford (Eds.) Simulation, gaming, and language learning (pp. 223-230). New York: Newbury House.

Watson, D.R. & Sharrock, W.W. (1990). Realities in simulation/gaming. In D. Crookall and R. Oxford (Eds.) Simulation, gaming, and language learning (pp. 231-238). New York: Newbury House.

Westerfield, K., R. Tomlin, and C. Kieffer. (1985). Business Simulations in Language Teaching. Eric, ED 271 988.

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Updated: 9/30/99