At Spence the game project began with Madlibs. At Computer School II we started with Mazes. In short order we introduced other types of games: puzzles, adventure games, and board games. Many projects were mixtures of these kinds of games.
Madlibs at Spence
Our work has been heavily influenced by Exploring Language with Logo3 by Paul Goldenberg and Wally Feurzeig. The authors examine natural language structure through Logo programming. In the past we have tried some of the projects explored by the authors, including Gossip, a program that randomly generates noun phrases and verb phrases to create sentences; Plural Nouns, which takes a singular noun as input and reports its plural; Conversations, and Madlibs.
We begin the fifth grade class with a Madlibs starter. By fifth grade the girls at Spence have had plenty of Logo experience, but have done little with the English language itself in computer class. Madlibs is a good project choice. It is an interactive game familiar to kids, usually has a funny outcome, is a rich English grammar activity and provides a great introduction to the use of variables and to Logo grammar.
Many of us played Madlibs as children. The game consists of a story that has some missing words. For each blank space there is the name of a part of speech. One player reads off these parts of speech and the other player, who does not see the story, supplies a word that fits the category. For example one might say "table" for a noun and "quickly' for an adverb not knowing the context that these words will end up in. When all the blanks are filled in the player with the pad reads the story with the other player's words plugged in.
With Madlibs pad and pencil in hand we were occupied for hours. However, we don't ever remember making our own Madlibs. It's not that you can't do it without a computer - but it never occurred to us to try. An Internet search will find many sites where people can play Madlibs by typing in the parts of speech. There are even some sites that let you "create your own" Madlibs story. But in this context, creating your own requires no programming skills. The website takes care of that for you. Creating Madlibs with Logo puts the students in total control as both programmers and players and enhances the activity in so many ways. The computer environment fosters a collaborative atmosphere and Logo provides immediate feedback and helpful error messages. Students realize the need for testing programs over and over again, debugging as they go along, offering and accepting constructive criticism from their peers.
Madlibs is a fun activity that reinforces one's understanding of parts of speech, pluralization and conjugation of verbs. By the fifth grade, the parts of speech have already been taught, but their labels - adjective, noun, verb, and adverb - are not yet internalized. Many kids have to talk it out loud: What kind of word is "happy?" What's an adverb? The students do have a good sense that words play different roles in sentences, but they can't always express rules of grammar in a formal way. This is where programming is crucial. When students test their Madlibs they are testing them for programming bugs as well as for English language bugs.
Students begin with the Madlib starter. It is simple and short. It introduces question, the concept of creating variables, and putting together words and sentences.
We use color to emphasize where the variables are.
to madlibs announce [Hi there.] question [Please type in a noun.] name answer "noun1 question [Type in an adjective.] name answer "adj1 question [Please type in a plural noun.] name answer "noun2 pr (se [The] :noun1 [is] (word :adj1 ".) [I really like] (word :noun2 ".)) end
We ask students to play the starter a few times, each time typing in different responses, until they get the hang of it. We look at the procedures and discuss the role of variables.
We suggest that the students first write an entire story. Then we give them some tips for turning it into a Madlib:
Students tackle the Logo bugs first. They must rely on their inferencing skills every time they get an error message. The most common types of errors that arise include missing brackets and colons, misplaced parentheses, and putting a space before a colon or after quotes. They know enough to make their Madlibs work. Using our starters and other students' programs, even if there is only a partial understanding of the code, supports the learning of Logo ideas. In time, with lots of exploration and project building, students will deepen their understanding of how Logo works.
Once the Logo code is bug free, students may think they are finished. However, the hard work begins when they engage with language at a deeper level. The ultimate goal of a successful Madlib is to end up with a funny story. There is a fine line between a silly story, and a story that just doesn't make sense because of the misuse of adjectives, nouns, verbs or adverbs.
Debugging English may be more difficult than debugging Logo. The computer only reports Logo errors, not English errors. It takes some sophistication to zero in on the troublesome places: when to call for a plural noun rather than a singular noun or what verb tense should be used.
Here's an example of a Madlib that works.
to madlibs question [Hello, my name is Olivia, what's your name?] announce [That is a very pretty name.] question [Would you like to play my game now?] announce [Okay.] question [Please type in a food.] name answer "food question [Please type in a color.] name answer "color1 question [Please type in another color.] name answer "color2 question [ Are you starting to get the hang of it?] announce [Good!] question [Please type in a shape.] name answer "shape question [Please type in a noun.] name answer "noun announce [ We're all done, you did great!] announce [Goodbye!] pr (se [There once was a cow who lived on a farm, her name was Spot. Spot liked to eat] (word :food ".) [Spot was definitely not an ordinary cow, she was] :color1 [and] (word :color2 ",) [her head was in the shape of a] (word :shape ",) [she slept on a] (word :noun ",) [and took baths in a bathtub. Spot was one of a kind.]) end