Information Gap: A New Application in the CALL Environment

Albert Dudley, Nanzan Junior College

Key Words: Speaking, CALL
Learner English Level: High Intermediate
Learner Maturity Level: High School to Adult
Preparation Time: None to an hour or two
Activity Time: Ninety minutes
Materials: Two computers, a paint program

The use of various types of information-gap activities can provide students of all levels the opportunity and motivation to talk in the classroom (Doughty & Pica, 1986; Long & Porter, 1985). Although there has been much research conducted on the means and ways of eliciting conversation from students at the computer (Abraham & Liou, 1991; Dudley, 1995; Levy & Hinckfuss, 1990; Murillo, 1991; Piper, 1986), these projects did not utilize the power of information gap activities to elicit inter-learner conversation. This classroom idea is based on information-gap methodology and uses the computer as its information holder.

There are many types of gap activities: open, opinion, reasoning (Prabu 1984), one-sided and two-sided (Long, 1983). This classroom idea can utilize any and all of these to create exciting and innovative communicative activities in the CALL classroom.


At each computer students can be placed individually, in pairs, or even in small groups depending on the availability of computers and level of difficulty of the information gap activity. In its barest form, the computer monitors are separated so that only the student or students on computer A see monitor A, while the student or students on computer B only see monitor B.

The Task: Ask the students to draw the same pictures simultaneously on both monitors without looking at their partner's monitor. At the beginning of the activity the students are instructed to be in constant communication with their partners. For example, students cannot say "let's draw a house" and quietly draw their houses. Instead, the students must together choose where to draw the house, its size, and also the colours to be used. Students enjoy this activity and are very talkative while doing it.

Variation 1: After the students have drawn their similar pictures and compared them, change all the groups and erase (delete) one of the pictures from one of the monitors. Then ask the new partner to draw the picture while it is being described by the other partner.

Variation 2: Hand out dissimilar pictures of geometric shapes to a pair of students or to two small groups of students. The pictures differ only in the position of the shapes on the page. Ask the students to describe their pictures to each other and then use the same pictures to negotiate a new picture. To add a grammatical focus the teacher can place prepositions "in" and "on" on a few circles or triangles and so on. Thus, the students must first describe their pictures, then negotiate a new design together, and then draw the new picture on the computer.


Students in my classes enjoy this activity more than the paper information gap exercises, yet there are many questions about this type of activity that must not be overlooked. How does this CALL task increase the quality of the essential requirements of an information gap activity; namely, clarification requests, confirmation checks and comprehension checks? Furthermore, what aspects and combinations of the various modules of the multimedia delivery (audio, video, written) produce what types of student interaction and/or negotiation?

There are numerous possibilities of tasks that can be generated when placing the computers as described at the beginning of this article. This type of activity can also be used with various simulation software, e.g., SimTown or SimCity. I have also had good experiences using the software Spelunx with this type of set up. Activities could easily be devised to include sound as well as video. It is really a question of creativity on the part of the teacher.


Abraham, R. G., & Liou, H.-C. (1991). Interaction generated by three computer programs. In P. Dunkel (Ed.), Computer Assisted Language Learning and Testing (pp. 85-109). Newbury House.

Doughty, C., & Pica, T. (1986). "Information gap" tasks: Do they facilitate second language acquisition? TESOL Quarterly, 20(2), 305-325.

Dudley, A. (1995). Communicative CALL: Student interaction using non-EFL software. CAELL Journal, 6(3), 25-33.

Levy, M., & Hinckfuss, J. (1990). Program design and student talk at computers. CAELL Journal, 1(4), 21-26.

Long, M. H., & Porter, P. A. (1985). Group work, interlanguage talk, and second language acquisition. TESOL Quarterly, 19(2), 207-228.

Murillo, D. (l991). Maximizing Call effectiveness ill the classroom. CAELI Journal, 2(2), 20-25.

Piper, A. (1986). Conversation and the computer: A study of the conversation spin-off generated among learners of English as a foreign language working in groups. System, 14(2),187-198.

Prabhu, N. S. (1987). Second language pedagogy. Oxford: Oxford University Press.