For those who may be a little uncertain as to precisely what word processing entails, the answer can be put in a
nutshell - the most basic word processor is a typewriter. So what is all the fuss about?
A word processor performs all the functions of a typewriter, but also does a great deal more. A word processor
may be an office machine in its own right with a large range of special facilities, but frequently (and certainly for
the situations covered by this book) it will be an ordinary micro operated with a work processing program and
almost essentially provided with a printer. The major difference between the word processor and the typewriter is
that the former has a substantial memory and the ability to display it, so that text which is keyed in (typed) can be
seen before being printed. The text can be corrected on the screen, centred, and words or paragraphs inserted or
deleted, etc. Then the text can be printed off as many times as desired, or one copy can be printed and then
subsequent changes made before more copies are run off.
What can the word processor do for children? When children write by hand they often do a rough outline first,
which is then modified and corrected; the changes involving words, lines or larger items of text. Adults often go
through the same process, producing a rough draft, editing it and then writing it out again.
A word processing program for a micro is provided on tape and loaded from the cassette recorder in the usual
way. ( in some versions the word processing program is available as a special ROM - a chip which has to be fitted
inside the computer; use of a disc drive can also be very advantageous). When the program is loaded, text can be
keyed in through the keyboard (i.e. typed in) and the lines of print appear on the screen as if they were being
typed on paper. He difference is that they can be easily altered as soon as they have been keyed in. Corrections
are made first, usually to modify individual letters or words (corrections to the rough draft). This can be printed off
for consideration or it may just be called up on the screen again. At this point substantial changes may be made,
such as editing any line of text. ( If a word is deleted, the rest of the line moves up to fill the gap; if a word or
letters are to the inserted, the line moves along automatically to create the extra space.) Whole lines can be
inserted or deleted. In some instances whole paragraphs can be moved from one location in the text to another.
Spelling and punctuation can be modified before finalising.
Children can come to associate creative writing with the use of pencils or pens and all the physical difficulties of
writing with these. They should therefore start word processing early. Even so, difficulties may occur because of
unfamiliarity with the keyboard and limited speed using two fingers, so that creative brains are slowed down
initially as much by the machine as they may be with a pencil. Some difficulties may be reduced by practising on
typewriters before coming to the micro, and elderly typewriters will often be loaned to schools by parents.
With a word processor any child will be able to produce a clear, clean text with no evidence of crossings out, bad
spelling or bad handwriting - one copy for their creative writing book, one for the wall and one to take home to
their parents. The appearance of the final product will be equally good for all children. Frank Smith in
Understanding Reading writes: 'Word processors give young writers control over wayward ideas and over
technical problems like spelling and editing. They can get on with the important aspect of writing - producing
The word processing program should be selected to suit the age of the children and three programs of the many
good ones available are mentioned here - Primary Pen, Wordwise and View. Primary Pen has advantages for the
very young. Letters on the screen appear as double height and they are green on a black background to make
them particularly legible. There is space for only thirty three characters in a line and seven lines on the screen,
although lines can be moved by scrolling, i.e. the lines of text roll up or down. This limited format is excellent for
very young children. Printing on a printer gives twenty one lines per page, but many of the advantages of word
processing at this age can be obtained without using a printer.
Wordwise is suitable for older children and has been used in a project by North East London Polytechnic
assessing word processing in the primary school. In a part of the project with forty eight fourth year primary
school children the conclusions reached were:
Results of the project have been very encouraging so far. There has been a very high level of enthusiasm shown
by the pupils who remained motivated throughout. A study of the texts produced and of the processes which were
involved has given us some confidence in saying that word processors are well worth looking at in terms of the
language arts curriculum. The teachers involved in the project have subsequently introduced word processing as
a component of their language policy.
View, another word processing program, is supplied in the form of a plug-in ROM - to be inserted inside the case
of the BBC Micro. This has the advantage that the program does not have to be loaded each time it is to be used,
and that almost the full RAM memory is available. In one mode View will give an 80 column display as is
necessary for A4 size paper. But the screen will also scroll horizontally so that 132 characters are possible. View
has a full range of facilities and really operates like an office word processor, although to achieve this a disc drive
is required, as well as a printer!
The BBC Micro and others with typewriter keyboards are particularly suited to word processing. For the Spectrum
the improved version of the keyboard is preferable or the purchase from a dealer one of the more standard
keyboards which are available as extras.
Other word processing type programs have a particular subject orientation. In one the program assists the
preparation of the front page of a newspaper - one of the children can then also take on the role of editor! In
another the program provides a page framework looking like a Prestel page (see Viewdata on page 106) with the
facility for introducing both text and graphics in colour.
Word processing should be of particular interest in the hove. The availability of low priced reliable printers giving
reasonable quality print means that the domestic micro can be used for letter writing, accounts, address lists, etc.,
by parents, while at the same time enabling children to develop their creative writing skills in a situation where
(unlike school) the micro can be made available to the individual child for extended periods.
Databases and information retrieval
Like word processing, databases and information retrieval are terms which ought to be clearly understood, but
perhaps are not. Thus a database is a collection of information (here data = information and base = a collection)
and information retrieval means getting information out of a database. Computer terms are like sailing terms -
think of bow and stern for front and back - and use obscure words to describe simple things.
The word database is often taken to imply that the information is held on a computer, but this need not be so. A
telephone directory is a database. So is an encyclopaedia or a dictionary; a list of pop groups and their hits or of
soccer clubs and their match scores; a library, of course, is a very important database. A computer database may
be very large, so that it needs a big, mainframe computer or it may be very small consisting perhaps of only half a
dozen statements. But if it is held on a computer and used for information retrieval, it must be arranged in a
A simple form of database might include the first name, surname, sex and age of each child in the class, together
with street number, street name and location name of their home addresses. The information has to be collected
in a previously defined format and then keyed into the computer: since there are seven items of information about
each child, a class of twenty five children would mean keying in 7*25=175 separate items of information. Having
built up the database and got it into the computer what could one do with it?
The information retrieval program will enable questions to be asked and lists produced. Questions may be of the
single subject type like:
List the children living in a particular street.
List addresses of all girls called Jane.
Or of the multi-subject type:
List all boys called Chris living in a particular (named) location.
The information retrieval program can also be used to sort out information from the database in a particular form.
For instance, in the example given above it would be possible to extract the number of children of each age (in
months) e.g. two aged 72 months; one aged 73 months; four aged 74 months, etc., and then get the computer to
produce a graph showing the number of children in each age group.
A database program very suitable for this type of work in the primary school is Factfile and this can be used with
Picfile for producing graphs, pie charts, etc.
Inputting information is very simple as long as care is taken to determine precisely what information is to go in
and the precise definition of each item of information.
A whole range of educational points come up if children devise the input forms in the classroom. How do you put
index - M/F, m/f, boy/girl? What if the house does not have a number? What exactly is meant by location?
Databases and information retrieval are being used as a powerful educational tool in schools. In one country
primary school the whole of the parish register of about a hundred years ago has been put on file. All sorts of
exciting work is taking place as he information comes out. What did the people do? Is that the same house they
lived in a hundred years ago? How has the village altered?
In another school the 9 to11 year olds built up a database on school meals. With the full cooperation of the staff
they had 287 forms each with up to seventy five items of information! The 19,000 items of information were keyed
in by the children in two weeks, with minimal disruption to the normal routine; the operation was so popular it
was carried on through morning and lunch breaks. All sorts of information came out of the database. Favourite
meals, favourite foods, preferences for different sittings, comparisons with nutrition based on the MEP Diet
Databases of this size are liable to need a disc based system and a printer and to be essentially a school project.
The education al value is substantial and databases and information retrieval can cover a wide range of subjects.
These are the precursors to the databases used in real life by say the National Health Service, or any large
What of information retrieval for the home? Small databases can be built up by children or their parents for home
made quizzes. A quiz on dogs might have the following sorts of questions:
Which of the following dogs has the thickest coat?
2 Old English Sheepdog
Which of the following dogs has the longest tail?
Which of the following dogs has the biggest paws?
Quizzes like this are very much enjoyed by children; the computer counts up the score and may provide some
form of graphical presentation to increase the enjoyment, but their greatest value is in allowing children to learn
by creating their own quizzes. They will gain experience in putting ideas into a question and answer form and
learning how to develop clear classifications. When the quiz has been built up it can be saved to tape and used
again at will. No printer is needed for a simple program like this.
A program like Tree of Knowledge may be used in home or school to build up a different type of database, where
the input information is held in the form of a tree. This is building up an information tree, and involves logical
thinking to devise questions to show the differences between the rooms (or any other sort of information which
has been put in). The tree database can then be accessed like any other database to retrieve and analyse
information, but one of its intriguing education al uses is to use a variant of the program, which lets the computer
ask the questions. This it does in random order, e.g. Do you cook in it? Do you sleep in it? Your guess is?, etc.
With a fair amount of information in the tree the answers get more and more difficult and give rise to much
conjecture and discussion.
Databases in the home also have a serious use for all age groups, including parents. Address lists with separate
categories for overseas and home Christmas cards. Birthday lists selected by months or weeks to provide a timely
reminder. And many other things. Players in your football team, where they have come from, which position they
play, goals scored, etc. Each person concerned, child or parent, can have their own personal database on their
own personal cassette, so that only they will be able to get at it!